They say that a loss is an opportunity for gain and that a trial simply fuels the flames of passion. In my case, I have seen what struggle looks like firsthand, in the form of undergoing a forced eviction due to circumstances beyond my control.
In the middle of my final semester at UC Berkeley, with six classes to concern myself with near midterm time, I suddenly had to worry about soon not having a roof over my head. I sifted through Craigslist ads only to discover that there were few units I could afford on a student’s income. Those few that were priced within my reach quickly filled up. In order to avoid having to pay hefty “storage fees” for every day that I was late in moving out, I had to cancel my attendance at a close friend’s funeral in Los Angeles.
Ultimately, I did find another place. I was lucky. Too many tenants simply ache under the pressure of making enough to afford rents and move out of Berkeley, taking their unique talents and attributes with them. This trial left me with a newfound appreciation for the Rent Stabilization Board’s existence. A fire has been lit under me to ensure other Berkeley residents will avoid having to undergo the turmoil that can only result from a lack of security, equitability, and habitability in tenancy.
With Dona Spring’s sad passing, Berkeley—and the progressive movement—lost a giant. She left immense shoes to fill, and we must work together as a community to carry forward the bright torch she’s borne for decades. I want to do whatever I can to do my small part. As her appointee to the Labor Commission, and now its chair, I’ve worked to protect working families in our community—and as your Rent Board commissioner, I’ll fight to continue her legacy of protecting the most vulnerable among us. I believe that my unique perspective as a young UC Berkeley alumnus with degrees in mechanical engineering and political science, together with my passion for the pursuit of progressive policy, will be a well-matched addition to the body. But perspective and passion can only go so far. When I represent the needs of those tenants who struggle with hardships, I will never forget what that hardship looked like for me just four months ago.
In addition to fulfilling the responsibilities expected of every Rent Board commissioner, I emphasize three critical issues.
Interactive outreach to all Berkeley tenants
Historically, the Rent Board has been on the front lines of educating legions of Berkeley tenants on their rights and responsibilities and providing legal advice or dispute mediation in the unfortunate event when this becomes necessary. I will work tirelessly to help the Rent Board continue on an upward trajectory of outreach. This past year, as the UC Berkeley student government’s city affairs adviser, I worked with the Rent Board and various student organizations to organize the most successful Tenants’ Rights Week in school history. Collectively, we educated dozens of students on their rights as tenants and enticed many others to participate in a debate on Propositions 98 and 99. Through the use of novel outreach tools and various media, I hope to follow up this result with other victories as we educate tenants of all backgrounds about their basic rights.
A sound ordinance on seismic retrofitting
Most rent-controlled housing in Berkeley is incapable of withstanding a magnitude 7.0 or higher earthquake, of the sort that is predicted to occur along the Hayward Fault in the next 20 years. Soft-story buildings pose an additional risk of total collapse as a result of the nascent seismic activity. Both of these facts, if unresolved, will lead to gruesome results when the next “big one” wreaks its havoc on the Bay Area. To minimize the impacts on lives and livelihood, I would like to work with the Rent Board, relevant commissions, and the City Council to push for a strong ordinance that would secure all unsecured housing at a minimal cost to all parties involved, including the tenants.
Effective grassroots organizing at local level
Like the Labor Commission on which I serve, the Rent Board provides an important and irreplaceable resource, but cannot do everything from the dais. It is incumbent upon progressive Rent Board officials to complement their policy work by outreaching to those tenants who would otherwise fall through the cracks, encouraging them to organize against unjust conditions, and upholding the Berkeley law to protect them against any landlord-borne retaliation if they do so. I envision large delegations of tenants—not just from Berkeley, but throughout the Bay Area—who mobilize to use various negotiation and direct action tactics to effect change. We may never have the funds enjoyed by the Howard Jarvis Foundation, but we certainly have the heart, minds, and mettle to match it if all work together.
Though I am the youngest candidate and the only recent college alumnus thus far to have asked for the support of the progressive community, my experiences as a city official, a former three-year student government officer who has held both elected and appointed posts, and an active member of various community organizing causes in Berkeley have each endowed me with the tools to represent this city with policy depth and a passion for organizing. My successful record in reconciling opinions on People’s Park, crafting the nation’s first sweatshop-free ordinance in a medium-sized city, and bringing together neighborhoods for a fifty-attendee-strong safety walk-through attests to my ability to effectively integrate the needs of tenants into the mosaic of progressive values that make this city a household name.
This Sunday, Aug. 3, between 4 and 6:30 p.m., you will have an opportunity to speak with me at a progressive convention that determines which candidates will represent the Committee to Defend Affordable Housing (CDAH) slate this year. I look forward to seeing you at the North Berkeley Senior Center (1901 Hearst Ave.), and I hope for your support.
Igor Tregub is a Berkeley resident and a candidate for Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board.