Pro-tenant candidates leading race for Berkeley rent board

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Updated 11/05/2020: This article has been updated to reflect Alameda County election results released as of 5 p.m. Nov. 5.

Candidates Leah Simon-Weisberg, Andy Kelley, Xavier Johnson, Dominique Walker and Mari Mendonca are leading the race for Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board as of press time, where they will work to regulate rent, provide tenants with protections and maintain affordable housing.

The race is tight, with 12 candidates vying for the five available seats. Four of the seats elected are for a full four-year term, while Mari Mendonca, who was appointed to the board last year, would serve a shortened term ending in 2022, as of press time. There were two slates competing in the race, the Right to Housing slate and the Homeowners for Rent Board, as well as two independent candidates.

Alameda County has not released finalized results, and there are likely more mail-in ballots that have yet to be reported.

Simon-Weisberg, the current rent board vice chair, was leading Tuesday with 13.28% of the vote as of press time, running with the Right to Housing slate.

She has a history of protecting tenants from eviction in court, including through representing the Moms 4 Housing group, which fought to live in an empty home in Oakland “on the grounds that Housing is a Human Right,” according to Simon-Weisberg’s campaign website.

Simon-Weisberg was endorsed by the Sierra Club, Alameda County Democratic Party, the Berkeley Tenants Union and Mayor Jesse Arreguín, among others.

Currently a planning commissioner for Alameda County, Kelley received 12.41% of the vote, as of press time.

Kelley ran with the Right to Housing slate, with a focus on expanding affordable housing, helping community members pay rent and preserving diversity, after witnessing friends being forced to leave Berkeley due to high housing costs.

Kelley’s endorsements included the Berkeley Tenants Union, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilmembers Rigel Robinson, Kate Harrison, Ben Bartlett and Lori Droste.

Also on the Right to Housing Slate, Johnson, a legal fellow working in tenants’ rights at Centro Legal de La Raza in Oakland, received 12.14% of the vote as of press time.

Johnson campaigned on expanding tenant protections and building a regional housing fund to end the housing shortage in the Bay Area. He hopes to undo injustices that have resulted from Berkeley’s history of systemic racism and segregation as a Black queer person.

Johnson also serves on Berkeley’s Housing Advisory Commission as chair and was endorsed by City Councilmember Sophie Hahn and the Berkeley Tenants Union, among others.

After advocating for housing as a human right through the Moms 4 Housing movement in Oakland, Walker received 10.63% as of press time.

With a background in community organizing, Walker ran with the Right to Housing slate to protect vulnerable tenants and keep families in their homes during the pandemic. According to her website, her experiences being homeless, an advocate, a tenant and an organizer have prepared her to be a rent board commissioner.

Walker was endorsed by groups including the Berkeley Tenants Union.

A member of the Berkeley Right to Housing slate, Mendonca prioritized housing justice, extending rent control and increasing affordable housing in her bid for re-election to the rent board. She received 9.06% of the vote as of press time.

Mendonca, who grew up in Berkeley, was displaced for over a decade after she and her young children found themselves homeless. She is an advocate for union rights and against displacement and gentrification and also serves on the Housing Advisory Commission.

She was endorsed by various members of the community organization Friends of Adeline, as well as The Daily Californian’s editorial board.

Kate Finman is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.