Who is Berkeley rent board candidate Xavier Johnson?

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board candidate Xavier Johnson. Courtesy: Johnson campaign

Name: Xavier Johnson, 29, legal fellow at Centro Legal de La Raza

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 office because I believe we have the technology, resources, and power to make sure that everyone has access to safe and affordable housing. If we want to make housing a human right, we need to recognize that capitalism is not working. We need much more public funding in affordable housing to ensure that everyone has a home. We need to protect tenants and preserve affordable housing while also significantly increasing our housing supply. The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board is one of our strongest resources to prevent our children, family members, friends, and community members from being priced out of Berkeley. I plan to bring my experiences to the rent board to make sure our Berkeley family can stay in Berkeley.

Why are you qualified? Using my legal education at UC Berkeley, I have extensive experience advocating for tenants’ rights. At Centro Legal de la Raza, I represent tenants in front of the Oakland Rent Adjustment Program; I have helped more than 100 low-income tenants successfully contest more than $1 million in illegal rent increases. I bring a progressive lens to organizing, activism, and public service. As a former Congressional Aide to Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Chair of the Berkeley Housing Advisory Commission, and a leader of the local Sierra Club chapter, I know what it means to be a public servant while upholding truly progressive values. I am not afraid of realtors and landlords, and I look forward to advancing solutions that will help end the housing crisis rather than line corporate pocketbooks.

What sets you apart from other candidates? My identity as both Queer and African American drive my passion and my progressivism. By any statistical measure, the African American community faces some of the toughest challenges and barriers to success of any community within the United States. There is the wealth gap, the health gap, the education gap, the income gap — all of these are rooted in our country’s history of devaluing Black lives. These inequalities and inequities keep me up at night and are evident in West and South Berkeley in particular.

I also grew up in different parts of the country as a Queer individual. While I have always fought for Queer rights, I have always felt a tension between the Queer community and the African American community despite the fact that I believe these two movements have always had more to align with than to fight over.

We can meaningfully create change when groups work together to make society better for everyone. We cannot let one group fall behind for another group’s quick gain; we must all move forward together. Being a progressive means recognizing that we can all win together, that we don’t need to sacrifice environmental protections for jobs, that we can have both if we communicate and work together.

What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? I moved to Berkeley in 2013 to attend law school. Growing up, I remember hearing about the Black Panther Party in Oakland, the Free Speech Movement, and the rich history of Berkeley. I chose to continue living in the City of Berkeley because I found a community of people who have accepted me for all of my identities and values. I know that if we do not address the rising costs of housing, we’ll continue to lose community members and our rich diversity of identities and values.

What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? COVID-19 is devastating Berkeley’s diversity. We are losing lives but also losing community members as people and small businesses feel trapped in leases that most are barely able to afford. For those who have no income during this time, they are looking at growing debt. On top of COVID-19, we have a housing crisis. The market is not providing the housing we need because it is not profitable to build housing for working families. Finally, we have to address the climate crisis.

What are your ideas to begin to solve them? For those who have lost income as a result of COVID-19, many feel forced to choose between growing debt or leaving our Berkeley community. To protect public health, what we need is not just a pause to evictions and foreclosures but also rent and mortgage forgiveness at the state level so that people can have peace of mind and won’t risk public health by moving or continuing to work in riskier jobs.

In the city of Berkeley, the biggest gaps for new construction exist in new units for extremely low income and moderate-income households. We historically build about 90% of the above moderate-income units we need. This is because the market won’t build the affordable units, and there are not sufficient state and local resources for these income levels. What we need is a regional measure that will actually provide dedicated funding to continue to build housing across the Bay Area at these income levels. Without this, we will never truly solve the housing crisis.

Finally, to address the climate crisis, we need to find ways to build new housing in environmentally sustainable and equitable ways. We have all seen the devastating impacts of fires in California, and this is directly tied to climate change. We have to be willing to make changes in existing housing and to build zero-emission housing. This has to be incorporated into our zoning and funding, as well as a Green New Deal.

What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? Rent-controlled units tend to be in older buildings that do not have more modern accessibility features built into them to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. Elevators, accessible lighting, signs, and walkways are not required to be added to all older buildings under the current laws. We could provide funding locally as well as require accessibility within Berkeley so that we give everyone an opportunity to have safe and affordable housing.

How will you be accessible to constituents? I have been an active member of the Berkeley community as chair of the Berkeley Housing Advisory Commission. I have spoken at community events, participated in town halls, and completed phone call after phone call. I prioritize my time as much as possible to groups that are low income and lack access to resources because these groups are the hardest to reach and to get engaged in the community. I would ensure we are providing childcare so that our community members can access our meetings.

Why should voters choose you over the incumbent? I am proud to be part of the Right to Housing Slate alongside incumbents Leah Simon-Weisberg and Mari Mendonca, as well as candidates Dominique Walker and Andy Kelley.
I have been endorsed by the Berkeley Tenants Convention, the Alameda County Democratic Party, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, East Bay DSA, the Green Party, SEIU 1021, the Alameda Labor Council, the Berkeley Tenants Union, the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Friends of Adeline, East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club, East Bay Young Democrats, and a number of other progressive community organizations and leaders in Berkeley and across the East Bay. I am part of a coalition that unites both traditional Democrats as well as progressive Democrats because I know how to work with different groups to make change.

How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? I expect to spend and raise about $7,000.

Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. I have two major passions that some may be surprised to learn. As a child, I enjoyed rollerskating with my family, and in my adulthood, it is a pastime I definitely seek to continue again. Prior to COVID-19 and recent wildfires, I would try to skate about once a week, and if you are ever around UC Berkeley’s campus by the MLK Student Union, you have probably seen me rollerskating at some point.

I am also an avid fan and enthusiast of science fiction, space, and interstellar travel. I fantasize about one day being able to explore our galaxy, and I believe that a small portion of my progressive values stem from the idea that if human civilization is really going to continue we have to move past war and inequality to explore the stars.

Learn more about Xavier Johnson online: Website • Facebook

Read more about Xavier Johnson on Berkeleyside. See complete 2020 election coverage on Berkeleyside.

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