‘Fighting for the underdog’: Xavier Johnson runs for Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board

Xavier Johnson.
Xavier Johnson/Courtesy
Xavier Johnson is running for the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board with the goal of serving as a resource to aid and uplift impacted communities.

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After working for various organizations committed to advocating for tenants’ rights, Xavier Johnson is ready to “make the most impact” in the political arena with his 2020 campaign for the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board.

Following his realization that housing development in Texas did not particularly coincide with his values, Johnson moved to California and attended UC Berkeley School of Law. According to Johnson, his goal was to serve as a resource to aid and uplift impacted communities, which he accomplished by working as a tenants’ rights advocate at Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland.

Impassioned by housing issues, Johnson works at Centro as an legal fellow, representing tenants who are fighting illegal rent increases or facing bad conditions that property owners are not repairing, as well as tenants who have lost services, such as parking, even if they are a part of their lease.

Jackie Zaneri, a former co-worker of Johnson who describes him as “diligent,” believes that Johnson’s work at Centro would translate well to working on the rent board.

“Xavier would be an excellent commissioner,” Zaneri said. “Xavier has extremely relevant experience, he understands how tenant rights laws work, he understands how rent control works and he has represented a lot of low-income tenants who needed the assistance of a rent board.”

Aside from nonprofit work, Johnson was appointed to Berkeley’s Housing Advisory Commission, which advises the City Council on all housing matters and acts in a quasi-judicial manner to hear appeals, among other responsibilities, according to City Councilmember Sophie Hahn.

After Hahn appointed Johnson to the commission, he quickly gained the respect of his colleagues and was voted chair.

Just as she supported Johnson then, Hahn added that she is currently a strong supporter of his candidacy for rent board due to his good judgment and listening skills as well as his ability to see all sides of an issue while still holding progressive values, and because he is “always fighting for the underdog.”

In keeping with that fight, Johnson said he believes housing is a human right, a right that he hopes to ensure if elected as a rent board commissioner.

Right now, he said many are unable to secure that right because they have either lost their incomes or do not want to risk developing a debt if they cannot pay rent. One thing that the rent board can do to aid such people is to set the number of subtenants that can be added to a property to its maximum.

“I want to basically set the number as high as possible,” Johnson said. “The tenants can work together to bring more people to the space up to what’s actually allowed for habitability standards and basically just give people access to housing.”

With his campaign, he is also pushing for tenant protections and safeguards against illegal foreclosures as he thinks Berkeley should treat housing like it is something everyone is entitled to, rather than an investment opportunity.

As a Black queer candidate, Johnson said he is aware of the housing inequity that stems from a history of systemic racism and segregation. Likewise, as someone who has a real passion for progressive change and understands the history and the inner workings of the law, he believes he has the skills necessary to undo the injustices that have been done.

Contact Veronica Roseborough at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @v_roseborough.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Xavier Johnson works as an attorney at Centro Legal de la Raza. In fact, he works as a legal fellow.