The race between the two competing slates for Berkeley’s Rent Board is remniscient of of the presidential contest, with Tenants United for Fairness claiming they’re for “transparency” and “fiscal responsibility,” but with only one slate with the experience and conviction to provide you fair rents and eviction protections.
The Progressive Affordable Housing Slate is a dedicated group of three sitting commissioners — Igor Tregub, Asa Dodsworth and Judy Shelton — and the vice-chair of the Housing Advisory Commission, Alejandro Soto-Vigil. We’ve been working in the community on social justice issues for years, and it shows in our endorsements: the Sierra Club, Cal Dems, SEIU Local 1021, nearly every Democratic club, the Berkeley Green Party and Supervisor Keith Carson, among others.
Even more importantly, unlike the self-selected, Berkeley Property Owners Association-backed TUFF, we were elected to run by a grassroots convention of tenants, homeowners and landlords. The election was held at a public 2012 Affordable Housing Convention and Berkeley Tenant Convention in July and was open to all Berkeley residents. We were chosen by the community that we serve.
In contrast, the misleading TUFF could use some transparency. Public records show that Judy Hunt is actually a landlord, with several rental properties in Berkeley.
Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner Nicole Drake asserts in her statement that she wants “oversight” and “an elected Commission that is competent and applies due diligence.” But meeting these worthy goals would entail coming to board and committee meetings, something she failed to do for most of 2011.
The TUFF slate consists of just one true tenant and only one candidate with any housing policy experience.
Meanwhile, through our work on our respective commissions we’ve been exemplifying the very qualities our opposition calls for, such as:
Transparency: We were elected to the slate in an open process. Anyone who wanted to could observe the ballot counting.
Similarly, the city Housing Advisory Commission and rent board on which we serve are also open to the public, which is welcome to all full board and committee meetings. Decisions are publicly voted on, the only exceptions being infrequent, closed sessions involving personnel or other sensitive issues.
Fiscal decisions are public. All figures are available to the public.
Fairness: rent board employees, from the director to the line staff are selected from a list of openly recruited candidates. The City of Berkeley Human Resources Department compiles this list.
The board is equitable to both landlords and tenants. Small landlords, in particular, are viewed as a special type of property owner that merits particular assistance. The board regularly provides workshops tailored to their needs and keeps a lawyer at the front desk to answer technical questions.
Fairness also means that tenants are protected from baseless evictions. You can only be evicted in Berkeley for good cause. Your landlord’s ability to get higher rent out of a different tenant is not grounds for eviction.
Good government: The board has pared down its staff from 36 commissioners 15 years ago to 21 commissioners today. The staff is lean and efficient, with the best customer service in the city. The director has eschewed a raise two years in a row. We support a reevaluation of his salary when his contract expires.
Oversight: The director takes direction from the board in public meetings. Board members have frequent contact with the director.
The board receives yearly audits from an outside professional whom the City of Berkeley Auditor selects. Over the last few years, no issues were found.
Here’s what the Progressive Affordable Housing slate will do if we are elected this term.
We will continue to develop workshops and other outreach tools that help tenants and landlords understand their rights and obligations under the rent board ordinance.
We will push the city to adopt an earthquake retrofit policy for apartment buildings, which includes creating a city-state partnership loan program to help owners with the retrofitting.
We will expand our recycling program to smaller apartment buildings.
We will seek ways to improve the safety and habitability of rental units.
We will strengthen disaster preparedness and fire safety enforcement in rental units.
We will protect tenants in foreclosed buildings from eviction because foreclosure is not a good cause for eviction in Berkeley.
We will achieve these goals because we have the experience and the commitment to do so. Rent board attendance and voting records are public, as are the city’s Housing Advisory Commission voting records. We invite you to view and compare them.
For experience and a proven commitment to affordable housing, vote for Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Judy Shelton, Igor Tregub and Asa Dodsworth.
Judy Shelton and Igor Tregub are current rent board commissioners and candidates for re-election. Candidates Asa Dodsworth and Alejandro Soto-Vigil contributed to this op-ed.
Contact the opinion desk at [email protected]
A previous version of this op-ed stated that Judy Hunt, Jay James and Kiran Shenoy did not attend a single Rent Stabilization Board meeting prior to filing their candidacy. In fact, according to the candidates, Judy Hunt and Kiran Shenoy did attend board meetings prior to filing their respective candidacies.