Name: Wendy Saenz Hood Neufeld, 57, media coordinator (retired)
What office/district are you are running for? Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner
What is the main reason you are running? I was motivated to run when I discovered at my husband’s memorial service that I would be unable to return to my Berkeley home without paying my tenant a fee of $20,000. When my husband and I decided to temporarily leave Berkeley for a teaching opportunity, we chose to rent out our single-family home. When the lease was signed there was no law requiring me to pay thousands of dollars to regain possession of my home. Had I known; we might never have chosen to rent it. Instead of being able to take the time to grieve the unexpected loss of my husband, I was thrust into trying to regain possession of the one place I really needed to be.
Why are you qualified? By nature, I am a problem solver. By way of my former career as a media coordinator, I know the importance of seeing the whole picture and integrating all the pieces. With all that has happened in my life, obstacles don’t daunt me and I’m anxious to tackle Berkeley’s toughest rental housing challenges utilizing that experience and perspective.
What sets you apart from other candidates? I have been a tenant, a landlord, and I am currently a homeowner in Berkeley. I have a well-rounded perspective on the relationships that exist between all parties and the duties and responsibilities each has to housing. I think this not only sets me apart but provides an asset that enables me to propose policy that respects the various players.
What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? My late husband and I moved to Berkeley for his work 15 years ago. We initially planned to rent an apartment in Oakland, but our friend (and just about everyone’s favorite retired pediatrician, Dr. Howard Gruber) told us that Berkeley was the place for us. Affordable housing was hard to come by even back then, but we were fortunate when Howard found us a place to rent. Within 24 hours of making Berkeley our home, we realized we belonged here.
What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? The housing crisis, the housing crisis, and the housing crisis. There is not enough affordable housing. I’m concerned for the potential loss of housing through increased costs to build/maintain, as well as the potential for natural disasters to affect supply. The cost of housing affects how much families can allocate to healthcare, food, and education. It’s imperative that we increase our affordable housing supply in a way that retains the character and charm of Berkeley that everyone loves.
What are your ideas to begin to solve them? First and foremost, I want to define the problems. I’m passionate about data and the current rent board commissioners seem uninterested in using data to inform their decisions. Data isn’t antidotal, it’s factual. You can’t make fair and effective rental housing policy based on personal stories alone.
Tracking data and utilizing it to make decisions is front and center on my list of priorities. I want to track supply, evictions, turnover, pricing increases, dispute resolutions, in addition to tenant and landlord satisfaction of the rent board’s services. I believe this is the best way to identify the most pressing issues. I want to incentivize owners to build new units (without changing the character and charm of Berkeley) and bring forward existing vacant units to be used as long-term rentals.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? Berkeley is a world class center of education and learning. I want to harness Berkeley’s most abundant natural resource by fostering better relationships and more outreach between the rent board and the community. We have some of the toughest challenges related to housing in the state (supply and cost) and the greatest resource to help study all possible solutions.
How will you be accessible to constituents? Besides attending other public meetings that impact housing in Berkeley, I plan on answering emails of any of my constituents while keeping a phone line dedicated to the concerns and questions of community members. I will be here for both property owner and renter.
Why should voters choose you over the incumbent? Voters should choose me because it is time to bring a fresh voice of balance and reason to the Berkeley rent board. I’ve been a Berkeley tenant, landlord and am currently a homeowner. As a former state employee, I’m used to working within limited budgets and strict regulations. As a retired widow on a fixed income, I know how to stretch every dollar to get the most for my money and what it means to need affordable housing.
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? I only plan to spend what I can raise.
Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. Cooking is a real passion, which is fueled by Berkeley’s position as a Mecca for great food! I am also an avid whitewater rafter which will likely help me to navigate the rough waters of rental housing policy.