League of Women Voters holds forum for Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board candidates

Leslie Yang/Staff

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On Monday night, the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville hosted a forum for Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board candidates running in the upcoming November elections.

The forum consisted of all six rent board candidates — the CALI pro-tenant slate consisting of Christina Murphy, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Igor Tregub and Leah Simon-Weisberg and the FAIR Berkeley slate that includes Judy Hunt and Nate Wollman.

Through a question-and-answer format, according to Phyllis Gale — the vice president and voter services manager at the League of Women Voters — the forum was intended to inform Berkeley citizens not only about each candidate’s qualifications but also about what the rent board does.

(This is) an unprecedented housing crisis that is displacing families out of Berkeley,” Tregub said. “Everyone can think of one person affected by the cost of housing and Berkeley’s situation.”

Each candidate was given one minute to answer questions prepared from the audience, and they had two minutes before and after the question and answer to advocate for why voters should elect them. Questions ranged from explaining Measures U1 and DDtwo measures that would increase gross receipts tax for landlords — to discussing pressing issues tenants and landlords face.

The CALI pro-tenant slate advocated for keeping the rent control ordinance for affordable housing, increasing the services provided by the rent board and demanding more money for non-profit affordable housing developers from the City Council.

Soto-Vigil said at the forum that there was a need to hire more staff to the board in order to address the increasing number of tenant issues, such as protection against illegal eviction.

The FAIR Berkeley slate emphasized changing rent control policy in order to help landlords address the rising costs in maintenance, reducing the registration fee for housing units and supporting the need for more funds for environmentally friendly utilities.

At the event, Hunt emphasized a need for additional workshops for landlords to help them become more familiar with the rent control ordinance and increase transparency and accountability from the rent board.

One major topic discussed was Measure AA, a plan to amend the Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance. The measure aims to protect families with children from evictions during the school year. It also plans to provide evicted tenants with relocation payments, which are payments provided to tenants who have been evicted due to owner move-in.

The CALI pro-tenant slate supported Measure AA because it could help keep low-income families, the elderly and students from being evicted, Murphy said at the meeting.

Wollman said during the event that the FAIR Berkeley slate disagreed with Measure AA as it does not allow for property owners to return back to their homes.

Both slates emphasized that there must be cooperation within the board during the forum. Wollman added that tenants and landlords have to understand the supply and demand for housing in Berkeley and work together to come up with a solution.

“The Rent Board is essentially a regulator,” Simon-Weisberg said at the forum. “(It is) an issue of us all getting along (and) having good regulation with fair rules that are clear.”

General elections will be held Nov. 8.

Contact Gibson Chu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the FAIR slate supports withdrawing rent control in Berkeley. In fact, the slate supports looking into changes to rent-control policy, not withdrawing it.