Observing the Rent Stabilization Board election this year, I see how the election is so polarized, along ideological lines, that people have lost sight of what is required in the position and the qualities needed by rent board commissioners. It looks like machine politics in Berkeley. Voters should ignore grand ideological statements and divisive slates and evaluate each individual candidate looking towards who is the best candidate for the position based on their individual qualifications.
What is required of a Rent Stabilization Board commissioner is stated in the Rent Stabilization Board ordinance. It reads, “The purposes of this chapter are to regulate residential rent increases in the city of Berkeley and to protect tenants from unwarranted rent increases and arbitrary, discriminatory or retaliatory evictions, in order to help maintain the diversity of the Berkeley community and to ensure compliance with legal obligations related to the rental of housing. This legislation is designed to address the City of Berkeley’s housing crisis, preserve the public peace, health and safety and advance the housing policies of the city with regard to low and fixed income persons, minorities, students, handicapped and the aged.”
For me, the candidate who is best qualified, based on her years of demonstrated commitment to the Berkeley community and her decade-plus policy work on city policy commissions, is Carole Marasovic. She has the necessary experience of engaging with the local political processes and her temperament is well-suited for the Rent Board.
To be a Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner, you must have the depth and subtlety of intellect to understand Berkeley housing needs, at this uniquely difficult time under the pandemic, and have the composure in interacting with and responding to others with differing viewpoints. Commissioners should know the community and have lived in Berkeley long enough to understand the nuances of our culture and the diversity of people living in it to proceed to think and act creatively to solve our unique community’s housing needs.
A rent board commissioner must understand the real hardships people face who live on a fixed income or who are living in substandard apartments with landlords who would like to evict them and double or triple the rent for that unit. They must also understand the perspective and needs of Berkeley landlords. Their job requires that they act impartially and that they treat both landlords and tenants with equal courtesy, care and diligence. They will be required to establish policy direction and review cases of people with individual issues.
The economic inequities of our culture are apparent. It is visible in the outrageously high rents that have pushed out the diversity of racial and socioeconomic groups in our community. With the pandemic we are living with, we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. Low income workers are reported to be the most impacted by job loss which will make the disparity even greater. Our growing homeless population will continue to grow if we don’t act to protect tenants from displacement. At the same time, many small landlords are also impacted by the pandemic and their concerns need to be heard.
I have seen very well known and respected seniors and people with disabilities in my neighborhood who go hungry and are not able to keep warm in the winter because they are paying two-thirds or more of their income on rent. I have watched Cal students sitting in their cars at 11:00 p.m., working through the night on papers and studying. When they are through, they curl up in their backseat to sleep because they cannot afford both school and housing. These are the people that the Rent Stabilization Board was intended to protect.
For these reasons, I highly recommend voting for independent candidate Carole Marasovic, who is the chair of the Berkeley Homeless Commission. She is a person who understands the serious nature of the work and will do an admirable job in balancing the different perspectives as she helps us move through the pandemic and into the future.