The Berkeley Tenant Convention is a decades-old biennial event in which all Berkeley residents who fully support rent control are invited to nominate the progressive, pro-tenant slate for the Berkeley Rent Board. The sponsors of the 2020 Convention included the Berkeley Tenants Union, Berkeley Citizens Action, the Berkeley Democrats (NOT the Berkeley Democratic Club), the Cal Berkeley Democrats, the East Bay Democratic Socialists of America, Friends of Adeline, the Gray Panthers, the Green Party, the NAACP, Our Revolution East Bay, SEIU 1021, UAW 2865 (the UC student-workers union), the Young Democratic Socialists of America – UC Berkeley, and Young Democrats for Justice in Palestine – East Bay.
ABOUT THE CANDIDATES
The candidates chosen at this year’s convention are Dominique Walker, who works at the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment; Mari Mendonca, a lifelong Berkeley resident who was appointed to the Rent Board recently; Xavier Johnson, who is a legal fellow at Centro Legal de la Raza; incumbent attorney Leah Simon-Weisberg, who has worked for San Francisco’s Eviction Defense Collaborative and Tenants Together; and Andy Kelley, Communications Director at the California League of Conservation Voters.
They are calling their campaign the Right2Housing Slate.
You can watch the whole 2020 Tenant Convention on video at BTU’s Facebook page, and keep up with the priorities and activities of our candidates at their website: https://berkeleyrentboard.org
FOR MORE INFO
Tenant Convention Slate for Berkeley Rent Board “About 615 electronic ballots and 95 paper ballots were cast, this is an unprecedented turnout. Because of the pandemic, most efforts were done online.” http://berkeleycitizensaction.org/?p=1193
The Community Power Slate sponsors a Yes on 10 forum:
SUNDAY OCTOBER 21 – 3 PM South Berkeley Senior Center 2939 Ellis Street at Ashby
Community Power Slate
Elect a Pro-Tenant Rent Board in Berkeley
For over a quarter century, Berkeley progressives have come together to choose a consensus slate for the Rent Board. This spring, the Berkeley Tenant Convention chose local leaders John Selawsky (formerly on the School Board) and Paola Laverde, currently the Rent Board’s Vice Chair and an outspoken advocate for Yes on Prop 10. Also on the Community Power Slate for Berkeley Rent Board are James Chang, UCB junior Soli Alpert, and Maria Poblet, a founder of Causa Justa Oakland.
Berkeley City Council
BTU endorsed Kate Harrison (District 4: Downtown) and Igor Tregub (District 1: Fourth Street, North Berkeley BART). Igor used to be on the Rent Board and has always been a solid advocate for tenants. Kate is the wisest leader in Berkeley, with a lot of behind the scenes experience in San Francisco’s crazier days. She has done amazing work for affordable housing on the City Council in her very short term.
BTU also endorsedRigel Robinson, a newcomer whose website mentions nothing about renters in the housing policy statement. He is currently External Affairs Vice President of the ASUC and will fill the district with the most renters, taking the place of longtime tenant leader Kriss Worthington, who has endorsed Robinson.
“Rigel believes we need to build more housing, for all students, right next to campus, right now. As a City Councilmember, he’ll push for zoning requirements that allow for taller, denser buildings around campus — while fighting for more units that are affordable.” https://rigelrobinson.com/
Finally, BTU endorsedMary Kay Laceyfor District 8. Lacey will fight for renters in the district which has been represented by Lori Droste, who repeatedly voted to eliminate rent controlled units through demolitions and conversions to Air BnB. Lacey became known for her work on the Task Force to Save Alta Bates hospital.
“Protect against displacement by building targeted affordable housing for students, working families and those facing eviction… I am also fully committed to the Pathways Project and a ‘housing first’ solution to our homelessness crisis.” https://lacey2018.com/issues/
State Assembly: Jovanka Beckles
Rent Board: Soli Alpert, James Chang, Paola Laverde, Maria Poblet, John Selawsky (Community Power Slate)
Council District 1: Igor Tregub
Council District 4: Kate Harrison
Council District 7: Rigel Robisnon
Council District 8: Mary Kay Lacey
BTU-Endorsed Housing Measures:
Prop 10 (Costa-Hawkins Repeal): YES!
Measure O (Affordable Housing Bond): Yes
Measure P (Transfer Tax for Homeless Services): Yes
Measure Q (Rent Board Amendments): No Endorsement
Prop 1 (Affordable Housing Bond): Yes
Prop 2 (Homeless Prevention Bond): Yes
Prop 5 (Property Tax Break): No
Now, The Good News
At their 10th anniversary celebration, the statewide renters group Tenants Together chose to honor Berkeley’s own Julia Cato, who has worked hard with several groups – including BTU – to make sure the voices of seniors and tenants are heard by the folks who represent us.
Tenants Together also has a counselor trainingcoming up. I don’t think anyone does counseling for BTU since I left, so someone really should try to get the program up and running again! Tenants could use a peer advocate to help them navigate the bureaucracies that govern, even if California does get some better laws this election day!
More Worried About Trump than Lakireddy?
Get Involved on the National Level!
The Right to the City Alliance / Homes For All held their second national Renter Power Assembly this summer, with over 100 tenant groups coming together from all over the United States. Start by joining their mailing list to give renters a unified voice on national housing policy!
“If the housing crisis has been slow to register at the level of national politics, it’s not for lack of momentum at the grassroots. There is no major city in the United States today without a multitude of tenants’ rights groups, and “gentrification” has, in the span of a decade, crossed from left-wing academic journals into everyday language. From coast to coast, a loosely organized, intersectional, and bottom-up movement is coalescing around housing justice—the idea that housing is inextricable from a range of other issues like racial justice, poverty, the environment, immigration, and the rights of the formerly incarcerated.” https://righttothecity.org/
BTU Needs You to Push for Rental Assistance! The City Council is beginning to discuss how to spend money from the 2016 landlord tax, Measure U1.
You may have seen emails from our allies asking you to comment on Measure U1 funding for particular affordable housing projects, but we want you to remind the Council that a portion of Measure U1 funding is also designated for homelessness prevention. It was always the intention of the authors of the 2016 ballot measure that some money go to reinstate Berkeley’s rental assistance program and boost the number of low-income renters that can defend themselves against Berkeley’s many bogus eviction attempts.
BTU is calling for you to contact the City Council to ask that renters get their fair share from the new tax on high rents generated by Measure U1 – because rent control is Berkeley’s most effective affordable housing program! With about 20% of Berkeley below the poverty level, keeping folks in their rent controlled units is certainly homelessness prevention! The market rent for a new tenant in an older, rent-controlled two bedroom is already $2,600 and “affordable housing units” in developments like The Avalon (by Aquatic Park) rent for $1,445 for a studio – how is that affordable?
Please Email the Council something like this right away!
Re: Items 37a and 37b; Items 38a and 38b (July 11)
Rent control is Berkeley’s most effective affordable housing program. BTU calls for more local anti-displacement funding, especially more funding for eviction defense and rental assistance (the “Housing Retention Program.”) Berkeley Tenants Union believes that the portion of funding raised by Measure U1 that should be designated, per the measure, for “homelessness prevention” should be spent on programs which stabilize the housing of low-income renters and thereby preserve economic and social diversity. BTU does not support a delay in committing this funding during a housing emergency. Please prioritize more help for low-income tenants struggling to stay in Berkeley!
Also on the Agenda: Soft Story Update Item 43 Soft story means buildings that will kill everyone by collapsing in an earthquake. They were required to retrofit and have been told since 2006 that this would be required. They get really cheap city loans, too! But 24 have not complied and – thanks to pressure from BTU and vocal advocates like Igor Tregub – they are now being fined by the Building Department. “This report also provides an update on the status of mandatory seismic retrofits required by Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 19.39 for buildings with a soft, weak or open front (“Soft Story”) condition and five or more dwelling units. Soft Story building owners had a December 31, 2016 deadline to apply for building permits for seismic retrofits. Of the 86 buildings remaining on the Soft Story inventory, 62 buildings containing 617 dwelling units have now applied for or been issued permits. The Building and Safety Division issued warning letters of administrative citation on March 28, 2017 to owners who had not applied for a building permit and the first citations were issued to ten building owners on May 30.”
IN OTHER NEWS
Tenant Activist Elisa Cooper Berkeley has lost another important voice for housing. Elisa Cooper, who took on a major role representing Friends of Adeline on the 2016 Tenant Convention Planning Committee, was also a strong advocate for people with disabilities and those who have the very least in our community. She strongly opposed BTU charging dues and her voice will be missed when that issue comes up again this fall.
Rent Board Election: Campaign Finance Complaint At the July 20th Fair Campaign Practices Commission (FCPC) meeting, the Commission will hear a complaint registered against the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition for failing to properly record campaign finances. This is not the first time this has occurred. Because of the blatant repeat offences committed by this organization, the Berkeley Tenants Union feels strongly that in order for the Berkeley Election Reform Act to have any teeth, the maximum penalty should be imposed. Please support BTU’s letter by emailing: FCPC@CityofBerkeley.info BTU letter for FCPC
Is Berkeley Way Project Too Big? “The two-building project, set to take the place of the public parking lot at Berkeley Way and Henry Street, is slated to include 89 affordable apartments in one building and, in the other, 53 studios of permanent supportive housing, 32 shelter beds, 12 transitional units for veterans, and a first-floor services center with a community kitchen. City leaders have long described the $90 million project, a collaboration with the Berkeley Food & Housing Project (BFHP) and Bridge Housing, as “visionary” in scope.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/06/15/with-council-all-in-on-berkeley-way-homeless-housing-trust-fund-at-zero/
Another Way to Reach the City Council Our good friends at Berkeley Citizens Action are holding a town hall with (most of) the progressives we elected this fall! The meeting is Sunday July 16 at 3 PM at South Berkeley Senior Center – go tell them we need more funding for rental assistance and access to just cause eviction protections! Arreguin, Worthington and Davila are all renters! “Confirmed: Mayor Jesse Arreguín. Councilmembers: Kate Harrison, Kriss Worthington, Ben Bartlett, Sophie Hahn, waiting confirmation from councilmember Cheryl Davila.” according to BCA
Housing Fee: Rent Control and the Housing Crisis “ A very serious problem confronting the City Council is the limits of what a city can do since rent control was abolished by the California legislature in 1995. Unquestionably, decontrol mainly accounts for the incredibly high rents. Even if we accept the US Census underestimated count of the poor in Berkeley, which is over 24,000 –that’s too many individuals and families who can be accommodated by the relatively few available below market rate units. A Berkeley City Council member pointed out that the projects which have already been approved will meet only 3 percent of the goal for low income housing.” http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2017-06-30/article/45843?headline=The-affordable-housing-crisis-how-Berkeley-should-deal-with-it–Harry-Brill-
Housing Fee: Was It Really a Victory? “On the same night of San Francisco’s OMI victory, Berkeley retreated to its failed anti-housing past. The Berkeley City Council ignored the pleas of housing experts such as Karen Chapple of the UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project, environmental groups such as the Greenbelt Alliance along with ample public testimony and voted 8-0-1 to impose new housing development fees based on 2015 rather than 2017 cost data. Why would the City Council raise fees based on a 2015 feasibility study? Anyone familiar with rising construction costs since 2015 knows that such data is outdated.” http://www.beyondchron.org/sf-advances-berkeley-retreats/
Short Term Rentals held over by Berkeley City Council until Thursday July 7. BTU will post an update in a couple of days regarding the Mayor’s last-minute introduction of a proposed contract with Airbnb.
Durant Demolition approved under new demolition law which calls for mitigation of the loss of rent controlled housing through a fee to fund new low-income housing – however, the fee has not been set yet! Also, that developer has filed a lawsuit against the new version of the law.
Two Competing Landlord Taxes on Berkeley Ballot
“Depending on the business license tax rate increase, the CSAH measure would fund 40 to 70 units annually, while BRHC’s would pay for just 12, Barton added. The measures also differ on exemptions. The apartment owners’ measure raises taxes on every rental housing unit currently taxed.
“The additional tax would raise an additional $5 million a year from landlords over the current $3.5 million, for a total of $8.5 million a year, according to estimates by the Committee for Safe and Affordable Housing, which supports the measure. Apartments rented to Section 8 tenants, apartments with tenants in occupancy since before 1999, and certain other properties, would be exempt from the tax increase; there also would be a hardship exemption. The measure would prohibit passing the business tax increase along to most tenants. Proceeds of the tax increase would facilitate 45 affordable housing units per year.” http://www.eastbaytimes.com/breaking-news/ci_29974957/berkeley-council-oks-funding-measures-november-ballot
A draft of the ballot measure BTU supports will be reviewed by City Council on May 31.
The Berkeley landlords submitted their ballot measure petition to the City Clerk today. Now the Clerk will check a sample number of the signers – it could be some time before we hear if the petition was validated. They submitted 3,326 signatures; because it is a tax measure it requires 1,932 valid signatures.
The Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition was formed last summer by leaders of the Berkeley Property Owners Association as a 501(c)6 for lobbying, lawsuits, and other political activities. According to their website, they elect their Board of Directors by allowing each landlord one vote per unit, so the largest property owners control the group.
Daily Cal on the Tenant Convention “In 2012, a similar pro-landlord slate — Tenants United for Fairness — ran one candidate in order to combat allegations of a pro-tenant bias within the rent board. The following year, the slate allegedly did not submit campaign finance statements from prohibited organizations — including Premium Properties — to the city. Tenants United for Fairness agreed to pay a $4,000 fine to the city and has not run a candidate since Judy Hunt was elected in 2012.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/04/24/pro-tenant-convention-elects-slate-candidates-november-election-sunday/
While the Tenant Convention had 267 voters, BTU’s endorsements meeting for Council and Mayor had a lower, but still impressive, turnout of 109 voters. Although Kriss Worthington announced he was also running for mayor, organizers of the event from BTU and our progressive allies would not change the rules at the start of the meeting, so only one candidate can use our endorsement in each race, although voters in the November election can rank their choices.
BTU / BPA / BCA Endorsements Meeting in Daily Cal “Registered members of any of the three groups who had paid their dues were eligible to cast a ballot. Approximately 100 ballots were cast for each position. Voters were allowed to either cast a ballot for any of the candidates who spoke at the meeting or write in candidates….Worthington, who was seeking mayoral endorsement but has not yet registered for candidacy, asked for the groups to endorse two candidates for each position. Worthington said he is running for mayor in a formal political partnership with Arreguin.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/05/02/progressive-voters-meet-endorse-mayoral-city-council-candidates/