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Pro-Tenant Candidates Dominate Rent Board Field: By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday August 17, 2004

Last June, Berkeley Property Owners Association President Michael Wilson said emphatically that his group did not plan on running a pro-landlord slate for the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board in this November’s election. 

True to Wilson’s word, no pro-landlord candidate filed by last Wednesday’s extended deadline for four seats up for grabs in the nine-member board, ensuring that the Rent Board will continue the tenant/progressive leaning that has been present for the past six years. 

Instead, the filings were dominated by a slate of four candidates—Eleanor Walden, Jason Overman, Jesse Arreguin, and Jack Harrison—nominated by an informal gathering of progressives last June. There is also one additional non-slate candidate—a Boalt Hall law student—who wants to establish better relations between landlords and tenants. 

In addition to administering and evaluating Berkeley’s residential rent-related programs, the Rent Stabilization Board sets rent ceilings, makes rent adjustments, conducts administrative hearings, and issues rules and regulations regarding residential rent in the city. 

Retired patient health advocate Eleanor Walden, an Alameda County Peace and Freedom Party Central Committee member, is running for re-election. She was elected by the Rent Board members last February to complete the term of Commissioner Matthew Siegel. Stating that “decent housing should be a right, just as health care and education should be a right,” Walden says that “Berkeley has tried to live up to those values, but we run a hard race against corporate landlords and subservient politicians.” She promised to “enforce and expand our city’s protections against illegal evictions and unreasonable rent increases.” 

Jason Overman, director of Associated Students of the University of California Tenants’ Rights, calls high rents the cause of a continuing “housing crisis” in Berkeley. He called rent control “the most effective affordable housing program in history [which is] needed now more than ever” and pledged to expand affordable housing “not as [a] passive legislator, but as [an] engaged civic activist working to empower the disenfranchised.” 

Berkeley Housing Commissioner Jesse Arreguin also cited rent control as essential in Berkeley, and called “unjust evictions” and tenants being “forced into unlivable housing and fac[ing] problems such as mold, lack of proper heating and ventilation and roof leaks” as significant problems in the city. He said “strengthen[ing] tenants rights” was a key element of his platform. 

Labor attorney Jack Harrison says he “know[s] first hand how difficult it is for people who have reduced means due to disability to secure decent, safe, affordable and accessible places to live,” and says that additional residential rental problems have surfaced recently in Berkeley “in light of what the state has imposed on us in eliminating rent control on single family homes and imposing vacancy rent decontrol.” He called for support for “tenant’s rights to replace roommates and Section 8 tenants to be able to live in Berkeley.” 

UC law student Seth Morris, the lone non-affiliated candidate in the Rent Board race, said affordable housing was an important element in his campaign, with “reasonable rent ceilings and well-managed rent control.” Morris also said he wanted to “unify the rental community with a progressive educational campaign aimed at expanding access to its services through clinics, weekend workshops, and evening office hours.” Among other notables, Morris lists Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak and Betty Olds, once a pro-landlord rent board member herself, as references in his nomination papers.