Name: Mari Mendonca
What office/district are you are running for? Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner
What is the main reason you are running? I am running for the rent board on the Right to Housing slate. I believe we all have a right to decent, safe, secure, and affordable housing. The predatory nature of the market economy has been steadily displacing tenants as well as homeowners. Our neighbors have been forced to move away to “more affordable” communities while the market happily inflates the cost of housing beyond working class means. Folks who can afford the increases blame tenants and homeowners for their own displacement. The devastating effects of systemic “legal” structures like “redlining”, segregation and racism that have dictated every aspect of our current status is denied. It is an extremely important and crucial time to take action NOW!
Why are you qualified? In 2019, I was unanimously appointed to the rent board, and I am also a sitting member of the Housing Advisory Commission. As a renter and Section 8 voucher holder, I represent an important and underrepresented voice of our community. I have also been a union member, a committee leader with Unite Here 2850, advocating and working alongside co-workers defending their rights and to organize a union.
What sets you apart from other candidates? I am a dedicated, passionate member of Friends of Adeline who has fought for the rights and dignity of low-income people. Our work is ongoing in the fight for 100% affordable housing at both BART stations, in advocacy of housing as a human right, in mobilizing for housing justice in the form of policy changes that do not give benefit to developers over community needs, extending rent control to new units and a cap on the manipulated inflation of the market.
Today all of these issues are additionally compounded as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Gentrification and displacement were already a threat. Now, with the loss of jobs and the struggle of small property owners to pay their own bills and debts, land acquisition will be ripe for the pickings of corporate billionaires — especially in Opportunity Zones such as South Berkeley — taking away our ability to control what happens in our own community.
The undeniable inequities we face today bring into question the entire concept of how our society is structured. We must have the courage to face this and to create the changes needed to actually evolve into the sustainable community, economy and world that we need.
What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? I am a Berkeley native, born at Alta Bates Hospital. I attended Berkeley schools and graduated from Berkeley High School. I have always been a tenant living below the poverty line and experienced homelessness as a young mother. I was displaced from Berkeley in 1994 with no desire to ever leave. I had always known that I would stay in Berkeley and raise my children here. It was only after an over 10-year wait on the Section 8 waitlist that I was able to return.
What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? First is the continuing removal of African Americans and other people of color from our community, and the importance of changing the way Berkeley views development and who it should benefit. Second is how those governing our city see the community they are supposed to represent. Third is the disparities in housing, wealth, health care, education, and in treatment by the police that exist between the white population and the African American and other communities of color.
What are your ideas to begin to solve them? People and organizations from all over Berkeley need to recognize that the lens through which we look at these crises is distorted. While many are willing to accept that racism has a seriously destructive effect on our society, we need an equal willingness to turn that effect around. There needs to be a recognition that American capitalism is greatly based on racist concepts and was founded on slavery.
We need to demand alternatives that change the framework of how problems and solutions are viewed. Current policies of the City Council and city manager fail to recognize this reality and as a result will not serve the communities that need and deserve change the most. We need the people who work for us, the council and all those whom the city employs, to truly represent our needs, our concerns, our desire to have a society that serves first those with the greatest need.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? The belief systems that are at the foundation of this country have taught us to fixate on fear, scarcity and individualism. But our natural existence is one of interdependence. When we as a community work for the common good of ALL everything can thrive. My inspirational idea is that we have the potential, each and every one of us, to transcend those poisonous belief systems and create a community and world where everyone can thrive and that we can all be proud of.
How will you be accessible to constituents? I am a community activist which means I am accessible to all. I love to engage with everyone to explore and question the dynamics of our policies and how they affect our community and our planet. I love to have hard conversations and am not afraid to be uncomfortable in communication, especially if it can lead us to great solutions. We find our greatest strengths and our most profound insights when we engage deeply with a real commitment to explore, learn, question and create together.
What year were you elected and what have been your biggest accomplishments? I was unanimously appointed in November 2019. I don’t consider this work to be about individual accomplishments, but rather about what we accomplish all together. One thing I’m proud of is the resolution we passed in support of Black Lives Matter, recognizing the urgency and the responsibility of our city and all of its offices to actualize the reform of institutionalized racism immediately.
Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. I love films, especially documentaries and films that inspire, teach, and inform. I have a BFA in film and television from the Academy of Art University.