Rent Stabilization Board candidates vie for open board seats

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The struggle for affordable housing in Berkeley affects students and families alike, and this year, all six candidates running for the four open seats on the Rent Stabilization Board aim to make living in Berkeley a little easier.

Christina Murphy, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Leah Simon-Weisberg and Igor Tregub have joined together to form the CALI Slate, while Judy Hunt and Nathan Wollman make up the FAIR Berkeley Slate. Of the candidates, Soto-Vigil, Tregub and Hunt are the only ones with rent board experience.

Jon Vicars, vice president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, said the BPOA supports Hunt and Wollman’s FAIR Berkeley slate because the candidates are fair and balanced and have a practical perspective on how property management works, aided by Wollman’s experience in the business.

“We typically look for those that have some working knowledge of how property management works and not just purely administrative knowledge from theories,” Vicars said.

The Sierra Club favored CALI’s stance on tenant protection ordinances as well as Tregub’s ideas to promote efficient energy usage. Additionally, all seven of the current rent board members not up for re-election — James Chang, Asa Dodsworth, Katherine Harr, Jesse Townley, Judy Shelton, Paola Laverde-Levine and John Selawsky — support the CALI Slate for the election.

“To me, it’s very clear that (CALI) represents tenants,” Selawsky said.

Judy Hunt

Hunt was born in Alameda, California, and raised in Berkeley. She has been on the rent board since her election in 2012.

In her candidate statements, Hunt — who could not be reached for comment— said she wants to address the social justice issues preventing the creation of enough housing for all income levels, citing the city’s promotion of luxury properties in Downtown Berkeley while there are many residents still struggling to find homes.

She added in the statement that she wants to help younger people in Berkeley learn how to smoothly transition into rental housing as aging, longtime residents move out or require assistance.

In a letter to the editors of The Daily Californian, Hunt and Wollman wrote, “We need more representation on the Rent Board by people who appreciate both what it takes to find a place to rent at a price one can afford and people who have experience providing quality rental housing in Berkeley at affordable prices.”

Nathan Wollman

Wollman, who declined to comment, grew up on Northside on Belvedere Street and still has family in Berkeley. He is a property manager for Premium Properties and is the only candidate who has experience working for a property management company.

According to Wollman’s candidate statement and his website, the biggest issues Berkeley faces are the lack of housing and the lack of affordability, which he thinks must be addressed without having property owners “vilified.” He believes the apartments being built now should have been constructed years ago, especially now that demand for apartments is increasing.

Christina Murphy

Murphy was born in Berkeley and has lived here for most of her life doing advocacy work for low-income people.

The city’s biggest challenges, Murphy said, concern fighting discrimination against people who need subsidized housing programs, preventing constructive eviction and developing a good plan for building affordable new developments. She also wants to prevent new developments from displacing renters and has experience connecting underserved communities like the homeless with landlords and housing.

“I do outreach (as a housing coordinator), which I do 14 hours, seven days a week,” Murphy said. “I do this because this is the community I was born and raised in, and it’s really important to me, when decisions are made, that the community benefits.”

Alejandro Soto-Vigil

Soto-Vigil is from Richmond, California, but is a 2004 campus alumnus and, after finishing law school, moved back to Berkeley to raise a family. He has been on the current board since his election in 2012.

The most important issue, Soto-Vigil said, is overturning the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a California law banning new rent-controlled units and allowing landlords to establish new rent rates independent of rent ceilings after a unit undergoes a change in tenancy. He also wants to protect tenants from fraudulent evictions, a problem that he said is on the rise as the board’s list of clients expands.

“We need to increase (landlord housing registration) fees even more,” said Soto-Vigil, referencing the $234 housing registration fee that funds the board. “It’s basically our operating cost for rent, full time staffers and eviction defense service.”

He also wants to push for a vacancy tax on commercial properties, which he said will diminish the vacancy rate and discourage landlords from not renting their properties out in order to deduct a business loss from their income taxes.

Leah Simon-Weisberg

Simon-Weisberg is a tenants rights attorney from Los Angeles and has lived in Berkeley since 2009.

For Simon-Weisberg, the biggest issue facing the city right now is the increase in the number of evictions, as well as the fact that people who work low-income jobs in Berkeley cannot afford to live in Berkeley. Too many properties are being built in “profit mode,” according to Simon-Weisberg,  which makes it unaffordable for working people, mentioning an affordable housing strategy she favors called a land trust.

“Sometimes we’ve got buildings the landlords decide they want to sell,” said Simon-Weisberg. “Rather than selling them to speculators, I want them to consider essentially selling it to the tenants themselves, so the land is owned communally.”

Igor Tregub

Igor Tregub graduated from UC Berkeley in 2008 and has lived in Berkeley ever since. He previously served on the board from 2008 to 2012.

To Tregub, the most important issue is the insufficient amount of housing that is affordable for “everyday people” — anyone who is not bringing home a six-figure income. He said he wants to see more housing for people with lower incomes, especially for families that need houses with larger floor plans than are currently available in the city.

He is part of an ongoing project alongside city mayoral candidate Jesse Arreguin to develop a tenant protection ordinance against constructive evictions, including fraudulent owner move-ins, which involve the owner pushing tenants out by claiming they are going to live in the property themselves in order to turn around and rent it out for a higher price. Though he said these “insidious” strategies are uncommon, he said there has been a recent increase.

He also wants to help landlords receive access and financing for more energy and water efficiency measures to reduce their properties’ overall energy use with more sophisticated technologies.

“When people can’t afford to live in Berkeley, the entire community loses,” said Tregub.

Contact Ashley Wong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @wongalum.