Berkeley rent board supports housing framework, elects commissioner

Maya Valluru/Staff

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Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioners unanimously supported the proposed “Housing for a Diverse, Equitable and Creative Berkeley” framework and elected Mari Mendonca to replace former commissioner Christina Murphy at Thursday’s monthly meeting.

The rent board works alongside City Council to advance housing policies — specifically for low-income individuals and families, minorities, students, the disabled and the elderly — and protect against rent increases and unwarranted evictions, according to its website. The proposed framework, if passed, will support the targeted populations the rent board was created to serve. According to rent board Commissioner Igor Tregub, the framework will be voted on as early as the middle of November.

The framework aims to implement policies and institutions that will make 30% of the housing in Berkeley reserved affordable housing, with plans to have that amount eventually reach 50%. The city’s current affordability goal is 10%.

“The mission of the rent board is to support housing and city recommendations to be able to protect people of color, children, disabled people, and … approving this is helping us to live that mission,” said rent board Commissioner María Poblet. “Although so much more needs to be done … at least this is something that will allow the city leaders to be able to make a reality of affordable living.”

The framework explains the city’s four major existing housing programs and proposes strategies to expand these programs to better deal with Berkeley’s affordability crisis. These programs include increasing the construction of new nonprofit affordable units by using Measure O funds, increasing rent and eviction protections and requiring for-profit developers to include affordable housing units on-site instead of paying a mitigation fee and expanding the volume of renter subsidies.

“This is a really exciting document,” Tregub said. “I think this is the most aggressive framework on housing that I have seen anywhere in the nation.”

The election of Mari Mendonca is also a step toward empowering Berkeley’s underserved communities, according to many other commissioners.

Rent board Commissioner John Selawsky said he believes Mendonca understands the needs of South Berkeley residents and the displacement many residents are “going through right now.” As a Berkeley Housing Advisory commissioner, Mendonca recently assisted in drafting the framework.

“I went back and looked at the mission statements of the city … and it says a lot of lofty ideas about equity and justice and social justice, yet we’re not pushing hard enough to support those folks who are underrepresented and affected by the changing market,” Mendonca said. “The fact (is) that we’re not advocating for doing something to slow that market down and actually acknowledge the realities that people are living in, in terms of wages and the inflated costs of housing, and other things.”

Contact Skylar Schoemig at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sschoemig_dc.