Everyone but Mayor Lee sees SF's worsening "housing affordability crisis"

Homes should be for sale in San Francisco, but the city of San Francisco shouldn't be for sale.

There was a clear theme that ran through yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting from beginning to end, something understood equally by renters, homeowners, and politicians from across the political spectrum: San Francisco has a crisis of housing affordability that is forcing people from the city.

And the only person who doesn’t seem to understand or care about that is the person with the most power to deal with the situation, Mayor Ed Lee, who opened the meeting by essentially dismissing both short- and long-term gentrification forces and claiming “our city has some of the toughest anti-displacement laws in the country.”

It was a claim that Lee made twice, first in response to a question by Sup. Eric Mar about Plan Bay Area and the massive displacement of current San Franciscans that it would create by 2040. And it was also how he answered a question by Sup. John Avalos about rents that are now skyrocketing beyond what most San Franciscans can afford.

I followed Mayor Lee back to his office, asking him to explain his claim, and he cited the city’s “elaborate” rent control laws and the Rent Board recently hiring new personnel as he briskly retreated toward his office. But surely he’s aware that displacement is already happening and getting worse, I told him, citing Rent Board figures showing that evictions are now at a 12-year high.

Lee looked at me dubiously and said, “I’ll have to check the figures on that.” I followed up today with Press Secretary Christine Falvey to ask whether Lee did check those figures -- which show 1,757 evictions in the last year, up from 1,395 the previous, both numbers representing returns to the mass displacement of the last dot-com boom -- and I’ll update this post if/when I hear back.

“It shows he’s out of touch with what’s happening in San Francisco,” Avalos told me in response to the mayor’s remarks.

Lee seemed to bristle at the suggestion that his aggressive economic development policies might have a downside that he’s going to have to deal with at some point. He touts the 44,000 jobs the city has added during his mayoral tenure, even deflecting criticism that he’s too focused on the technology industry by citing estimates that every tech job creates at least four other jobs (seemingly oblivious to the fact that most of these are low-wage service sector jobs, the very people who are being forced from the city).

“I’m just hoping you’re not blaming the 44,000 jobs we helped created,” Lee told Avalos, saying that he understands the concern about the rising cost of living, “but those are 44,000 people drawing a paycheck and taking care of their families.”

Yes, Mr. Mayor, but those paychecks are having an increasingly tough time paying for housing in San Francisco. That concern animated the condo conversion debate that took place later in the meeting, voiced by those focused on the lack of affordable homeownership opportunities and those focused on reducing the city’s rental stock to create those opportunities.

“I don’t think saying ‘it’s good that we have a growing economy’ is enough to address the issue,” Sup. David Campos said during the condo debate, referring to Lee’s earlier remarks.

Speaking near the end that discussion, Campos summarized the concerns expressed by both sides and sought to put the legislation into perspective: while important, the condo deal is a drop in the anti-displacement bucket. “We are only dealing with the issue of affordability in San Francisco on the margins,” he said, later adding, “I don’t think we’re doing enough to deal with the fundamental issue of who gets to live in San Francisco.”

The debate on the condo conversion began with its original author -- Sup. Mark Farrell, who represents District 2, the wealthiest and most conservative in the city -- explaining his desire to help middle class people who want to own homes remain in the San Francisco.

“This is the most affordable form of home ownership in San Francisco today,” Farrell said of tenancies-in-common, the fiscally and legally precarious middle step between an apartment and condominium. Later, he said, “We need more affordable homeownership opportunities and not less.”

Farrell argued that “this didn’t need to be a zero sum game,” but that’s exactly what the stock of rent-controlled apartments is in San Francisco, where only housing built before 1979 is protected from the market forces that can drive rents up to whatever a landlord demands.

“We have a fixed rent control stock. Every apartment that converts to a a condo is one less unit,” said Board President David Chiu, who worked with Sups. Jane Kim and Norman Yee and tenant group to amend Farrell’s legislation to help both renters and homeowners.  

“These units were once the homes of tenants who were displaced,” Kim said, objecting to the notion that one person’s apartment should be another person’s affordable homeownership opportunity and arguing that the city should be building more condos for first-time homebuyers instead of cannabalizing the homes of the nearly two-thirds of city residents who rent.

Like Chiu and Kim, Yee said that he wanted to help the TIC owners of today without simply clearing out of the backlog and letting the condo lottery continue unabated, which would green-light even more conversion of apartments. “We want to curb the speculation,” Yee said.

That idea that the city should help people who live in the city, without simply feeding the speculative investors who profiteer off of housing in San Francisco, was a strong theme among critics of condo conversion.

A pro-tenant crowd packed the Board Chambers. Although barred by board rules from addressing the condo legislation directly (that occurred at the committee level), one commenter said, “Giving any more power to the real estate market in San Francisco should be considered a crime.”

To help ward off real estate speculators once the annual condo conversion lottery resumes in 2024, the legisation also limited future conversions to buildings of less than four units, instead of the current cap of six units, a change that Farrell resisted.

“This is not an academic exercise anymore,” Farrell said of the condo conversion restrictions that were added to the legislation. “This will negatively impact thousands of TIC owners in the city.”

Farrell’s original co-sponsor, Sup. Scott Wiener, had a more pro-tenant point-of-view, objecting to the changes that Chiu inserted on more narrow grounds. In his comments, he noted how close the two sides were and how they share the same basic goal: preventing displacement of current city residents.  

“The one thing we can all agree with is we have a housing affordability crisis,” Wiener said, praising the city’s rent control and tenant protection laws, but adding, “TIC owners are also part of this city.”

The price of dealing with the rapid growth in the city -- whether it comes to infrastructure or housing affordability -- was also a point that Wiener made earlier in the meeting as the board approved the term sheet for a massive office and residential development project proposed at Pier 70.

“We are not doing what we need to do to support the public transportation needed for those projects,” Wiener said, also referring to other projects along the waterfront (the Warrior Arena at Pier 30 and the Giants/Anchor Steam project at Pier 46) and in the southeastern part of the city. “We don’t have the transit infrastructure to support our current population, let alone new growth.”

It’s about striking a balance, as Chiu said he did with the condo legislation, and not just a balance between renters and TIC owners. It’s about striking a balance between how to protect the San Francisco of today while planning for the San Francisco of tomorrow.

Yes, that means working with market rate housing developers, and it also means diverting some of their would-be profits into the city’s affordable housing fund and its infrastructure needs. Yes, it means private-sector job creation, but it also means more public sector jobs and providing a safety net for people without jobs or who work as artists or social workers or other professions that are being driven from the city. And it means beefing up our public housing and turning around the exodus of African-Americans, concerns raised at the meeting by Sup. Malia Cohen.

We at the Guardian last year looked at how Oakland has become cooler than San Francisco, largely because of the displacement from here. And now, even many people within the tech community have begun to decry the gentrifiction that is being driven by Mayor Lee’s narrow economic development vision.

“Plan Bay Area is an opportunity to think regionally and strategically about planned growth,” Lee said when addressing Mar’s question, sidestepping the direct answer that Mar sought on a set of specific proposals for mitigating some of the displacement planned for San Francisco and maintaining this city’s diversity.

Yes, we do have an opportunity to think strategically about the city we’re becoming and who gets to live in it, but only if we don’t think “jobs” is the answer to every question.


Even more so than for Farrell, this is a huge setback for Weiner.

It may have been Farrell's original legistlation, but Weiner is the one who put everything he had into trying to get this passed. He failed. Massively.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

and that was achieved. But the price paid was too high, and they simply should have walked away.

Every TIC unit currently waiting would have gone condo in the next decade anyway. So why make the sacrifices?

That said, this will lead to a big bulge of Ellis evictions from owners who now see condo conversion as being 20 years away. Why wait? Just Ellis and be done. So tenants will lose as well.

What a crock - so San Francisco, so inept.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

I'm no fan of Weiner, but I was at the hearing, and he went out of his way to sound pro-tenant even as he voted no. Good enough, even if it's just out of fear. At least we have his ear. Farrell, on the other hand, sounded angry everytime he spoke. He oozes contempt for everyone but the lily white yuppies that live near him. Which is probably why I don't visit his district, ever. Oh, and the frat boy vomit you have to step over on weekends.

Weiner did lose, but I gained a little bit of sympathy for him after how he conducted himself.

Posted by Sigmarlin on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 8:28 pm

I'm no fan of Weiner, but I was at the hearing, and he went out of his way to sound pro-tenant even as he voted no. Good enough, even if it's just out of fear. At least we have his ear. Farrell, on the other hand, sounded angry everytime he spoke. He oozes contempt for everyone but the lily white yuppies that live near him. Which is probably why I don't visit his district, ever. Oh, and the frat boy vomit you have to step over on weekends.

Weiner did lose, but I gained a little bit of sympathy for him after how he conducted himself.

Posted by Sigmarlin on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

I'm going to guess you are young and white.

Self hate is a strange thing, but quite common among progressives.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 6:02 am

not examples of displacement at all. They were tenant "at fault" evictions such as non-payment of rent, habitual late payment of rent, nuisance, noise, breaches of leases and criminal behaviour.

Only a small proportion of those are "displacing" evictions like OMI's, condo conversions and Ellis evictions.

so if you are really worried about all these evictions, why not focus on the major cause of them - tenant behaviour? And not landlord behaviour.

As for the rest, people have always come here and left here and a certain amount of turnover is healthy for the city. And, as you admit, many of those displaced simply moved to Oakland, a few minutes away.

Non issue,

Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

The author lacks journalistic integrity.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

You're right fellow Guest. This is classic. In the article where Steven links to "Rent Board figures showing that evictions are now" (at a 12 year high) it links to a city report that does show 1,757 evictions.

But what he doesn't tell you is that it shows a solid 71% of them are because of tenant behavior and a grand total of 7% (126 evictions) are Ellis or condo conversion. Another 185 were owner move-ins but yes, that does happen some time.

But even assuming that every Ellis, condo conversion and OMI were nefarious they still amounted to 18% of evictions. Steven will probably try to say that every one of them was done out of greed but those of us who are reality based will feel otherwise.

Note to Steven: In the future avoid linking to documents showing that your argument is bogus.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 6:23 pm

of the housing units in SF. So SF in fact shows a remarkable stability in it's occupation of homes and very little turnover by the standard of most cities.

So Steven is 100% wrong in his scaremongering here, which of course is really just yet another attempt to attack a Mayor whom they disagree with, but who is very popular with the people.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 6:05 am

It's odd then that so many of my customers and friends are leaving their homes, often the city altogether or getting harassed by their landlords who want to dramatically raise their rents. One, an elderly man who is taking care of his live-in partner who is dying from cancer.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2013 @ 10:59 am

Well said and I completely agree with you.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 9:23 pm

Not to be overly mean but every time I see one of Steven's attempts to "get" Ed Lee it reminds me of Wile E. Coyote trying to get the Road Runner.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

But, they also do not count any of the thousands of renters who are bought out of their rent controlled apartments under threat of Ellis. These folks are choosing the buy out to help them with moving and move-in costs that are much higher than what the Ellis payout offers.

The majority of these renters are forced to leave San Francisco because of the rental market here. And, many of these new owners do not even live or work in San Francisco.

When someone was born and raised in San Francisco, being forced to move to Oakland is a BIG issue.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2013 @ 7:06 am

the US, Oakland and SF would simply be different parts of the same city. The Bay Area is balkanized which means we have all these cities and counties that people think are different, when really it's all one big city of 5 million. moving between different parts of the same urban area is no big deal, and what makes you being in SF so special that someone else has to subsidize it?

And tenants being paid off is fine if both parties are happy with the deal - that doesn't require legislation. In fact, Chris Daly tried that and failed.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2013 @ 7:33 am

And the two reasons why we don't have enough of them are:

1) Rent Control, which deters landlords from renting out homes, and

2) Restrictive land use regulations

Both are progressive policies. The blame is firmly placed with you, Steven, and not with Lee.

Posted by anon on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 5:08 pm


Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 6:38 pm

A deeper analysts of rent board figures show a massive increase of so-called lease violations, which now are a bigger share than just about all other evictions combined. This has happened only since Scott Weiner started promoting the condo legislation on the. A paying trail in 2010. Lease violations don't include nuisance, nonpayment of rent, illegal use, or failure to allow reasonable access. The question is: what exactly tenant behavior is causing these evictions. We tenants surmise that it is technical infractions whose sole purpose is to recover possession of the unit. Probably people who have been having roommates for years who suddenly get evicted for this normal use and don't know how about available help.

Posted by Brian Bbriankbasinger@ gmail.com on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 8:44 pm

and in particular, your example of having roommates for years and then "suddenly" getting evicted for it is not legally supported, There is a concept in law which says that if a LL knows about illegal roommates (or unapproved pets, or any other breach of the lease) and then does nothing about it for a reasonable period of time, then he is effectively deemed to have accepted the roommate, pet etc.

A LL must ask promptly when he learns of a lease violation, or he is estopped from bringing it up later.

That is not to say that some LL's won't try, and perhaps succeed if the tenants do not mount a credible defense. But the law does not allow such evictions "years" later.

But you are right to focus on tenant misbehaviour as the cause of most evictions.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 6:09 am

I'm not a legal expert but wouldn't the judge be satisfied if the illegal roommate just moved out?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 7:05 am

would have to issue a 3-day notice to "cure or quit". The TT could simply comply by getting the sub-tenant to move out, whereupon the issue goes away. However there are two problems with that:

1) The master tenant has no power to evict a sub-tenant in just 3 days, and perhaps not at all, regardless of whether the sub-tenant was approved by the LL or not

2) The master tenant now has to pay double rent.

In practice the master tenant would fight the eviction. The crucial determinant in any trial would be whether the LL approved the sub-tenant or not. If the LL had not explicitly approved the sub-tenant, the master tenant would argue that the LL knew the sub-tenant was there for (say) five years and never said or did anything.

That would be a decent defense, especially in front of a jury which is typically 2/3 tenants/

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 7:20 am

David Campos' and your vision of social engineering and a utopia, where you get to "choose who gets to live in SF" is sick. And you propose government subsidies for artists and other professions so they can live in SF and not move to Oakland - based on coolness? Do you even read this crap yourself?

Posted by Richmondman on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 5:07 am

seriously suggests that we should all pay more taxes so that a few bad artists don't have to move to Oakland.

On the contrary, Oakland is perfect for gritty bohemians who want to be near SF but clearly cannot afford it.

You're right - Campos is trying to micro-manage the city's demographic, presumably to further his career. He could not get elected, or probably even get a job, in any other city. And he knows it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 6:11 am

The city did put a measure on the ballot in November to increase affordable housing subsides in the city, and it was overwhelmingly approved by voters. Notwithstanding the views of a few capitalist thugs who like to dominate our comments section, most San Franciscans don't want to leave this city's future up to the desires of profit-motivated developers, who will only build housing for the rich if we let them. Similarly, if the comments of heartless landlords who predict mass Ellis Act evictions comes to pass, there will be a strong backlash against that as well, perhaps even triggering reform of that law. The people and their elected representatives are still in control of this city, not the landlords, developers, and real estate speculators, and we will assert that control if this city continues down this path. It's happened before (developer greed triggered 10 years of a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors starting in 2000) and it can happen again. Don't underestimate the majority of San Franciscans, who have a growing awareness that greed is fucking up this city.


Posted by steven on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 9:12 am

The Ellis Act itself isn't really that important. It was merely the codification and formalization of an important court ruling. That ruling was that a municipality (in that case, the City of Santa Monica) could not force a privately-owned building to be rented out if that was contrary to the wishes of the owner of that property.

Such interference was regarded as a "taking" for which the municipality has to provide compensation. Since the city in that case paid no compensation, it's laws that it could force a rental use on a building was constitutionally rejected.

So even if you repealed the Ellis Act, a landlord could still not be forced to rent out a building. If you want to stop Ellis evictions, you will have to change the CA constitution and, even then, SCOTUS might over-rule that.

Why can't you accept some balance here, Steven? Control of rents but a "get out of jail" card for landlords who are stuck with low rent tenants?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 9:29 am

Actually, Guest, you've got it exactly backward: the Supreme Court ruled in the Santa Monica case that landlords didn't have the right to evict all the tenants from a rent-controlled building, finding that their remedy to get out of the rental business was to sell the building. The Ellis Act was a reaction to that ruling pushed by property owners. And if the state now wants San Francisco to accept a huge influx of new people and housing over the coming decades, it should give us the tools we need to prevent displacement of the working and creative classes and protect the cultural diversity that has made this city what it is. Housing should be a basic right, and landlord profits should be secondary to that right. Don't like it? Go invest somewhere else. It's time to reform the Ellis Act.

Posted by steven on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

inability to do anything about Ellis, because it is a State Law, your analysis of the history of Ellis is 100% wrong. Ellis merely ratified a court finding that a municipality has no right to demand that a landlord be compelled to rent out properties that he owns.

And if a LL cannot be compelled by local statute to rent out a unit then it follows that he cannot be estopped from evicting said tenants on the grounds that he wishes to exit the rental business.

The fact that a LL can also sell the building is irrelevant. The point of Ellis is about the limits of any city to "take" from a property owner the right of self-determination.

The rest of your argument, frankly, is self-serving fluff.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 2:10 pm
Posted by steven on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

Argue the point. You know how to research and debate an issue, right? After all, you're a trained journalist with 22 years experience.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

In retrospect, I should have invoked my Ellis rights years ago. The rental business and conversion laws only get more punitive. The current legislation is the final straw and I plan to contact my attorney once it becomes law.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 9:56 am

Ellis now because you can never go condo under the new rules. TIC is the best you'll ever get, at least until rent control gets repealed or the condo conversion process overhauled.

So yes, you might as well Ellis now with 5 or more units. There is no restriction on the number of units you can Ellis,.and I believe a 20-unit building was Ellis'ed in North Beach. Not sure what happened to it.

For 2-unit buildings, on the other hand, nothing has changed and you can still condo after one year without a lottery, as long as both units are owner-occupied. So 2-units will become more valuable, and they are quite easy to empty out without Ellis, especially if one unit is already owner-occupied.

That just leaves 3-4 unit buildings which, if they are not yet in the lottery and therefore get a bypass, are probably now 20 years away from going condo. Might as well Ellis those as well unless you are a teenager.

None of the above applies if you have turnover and/or good rents, of course. We're talking about LL's who are stuck with lifers, losers and squattors.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 10:26 am

What arrogance you have, thinking that you, or David Campos, or anyone else should be able to choose who lives in SF. What right do you have to say who deserves to live here. And why should the city pay 1 cent to anyone, based on the fact that they say they are artists? Who for that matter has the right to say what is art? And more subsidies? There is so much fraud in social programs now, I'll bet we could cut 50% without hurting anyone with real needs. Let's start with the family on my block, where a grandmother owns a flat. Her daughter "lives" with her in the upstairs flat, and receives ADFC because her husband abandoned her and their 4 children. Except he lives in the downstairs flat - with her and their kids! They game the system because they have different addresses. Or the chinese restaurant owner around the block, who gets food stamps because he is unemployed! I'll bet there are thousands of these stories. None will be reported by the Guardian

Posted by Richmondman on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

First, that he thinks that he speaks for the people of SF when, for example, they voted overwhelmingly for pro-growth, pro-development Mayor Lee, while Steven wanted the anti-jobs Avalos.

And second, the sheer arrogance of suggesting that some tattooed lesbian who produces bad art is somehow more vital to this city than people who actually produce and contribute.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 2:12 pm

The arrogance I see is from people who feel that property ownership gives them the right to exploit and displace the people of this city simply out of greed, classism, racism, or spite. The people of this city and their elected representatives have the ultimate right to decide how this city is developed and who it is developed for, not the capitalist assholes who see this city as merely a place to make money. All of you greedy bastards out there plotting evictions and other schemes that feed your worship of money can go to hell, which is where you'll surely be headed if such a place exists. Shame on you.

Posted by steven on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

enter into a rational discourse without becoming an obscene ranting maniac?

What happened to the much-vaunted San Francisco tolerance of diversity? Why can you not share this city with those with whom you disagree politically?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

I've spent my entire 22-year newspaper career engaging in rational discourse with people of all political stripes, but that isn't the kind of discourse that usually occurs in this comment section or among a certain subset of overentitled property owners in this city. So sometimes I fight fire with fire, usually after giving you trolls a long leash. But I would be happy to show up in any public forum that any of you would want to arrange and engage in a rational discourse with y'all, as I've also done with great regularity throughout my career.

Posted by steven on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 2:58 pm

Surely if 22 years experience of balanced debate has taught you anything, it is the value of restraint, composure, empathy and compromise.

I might think you to be wrong but I do hate you, nor am I angry with you, not do I feel any need to throw obscenities at you.

There are competing forces at work in this city and, while you no doubt are convinced that you are right, the people and voters of this city have not elected a progressive mayor since the ill-fated Agnos. At some point, don't you have to accept that maybe your values aren't shared by a majority here?

The demographics of this city are changing and we must build homes to suit that. That may indeed mean more million dollar market-rate condo's and less rotting, rent-controlled fleapits for bad artists who then move to Oakland.

Do you have the maturity to accept that inevitability?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

This is not a Satanic plot. It is simply a rebellion against failing housing policies.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

No, it's just naked greed coupled with a lack of empathy and basic humanity. I'm not really a believer in Satan.

Posted by steven on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

The world isn't a giant right-wing conspiracy to cause pain and suffering, you know?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 3:16 pm

There is nothing so greedy as a parasitic tenant who thinks his ability to keep using valuable property through unjust enrichment, is threatened by the actual owners of the property. Maybe they would be happier in CUBA?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 12:22 am

Private owned housing is NOT public property. If the city keeps trying to treat it as so , no wonder every owner is ELLIS ACTING….

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