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Citywide Tenant Convention in San Francisco
by Michael Steinberg (blackrainpress [at]
Saturday Feb 8th, 2014 11:30 PM
Tenants from around San Francisco came together today to confront the
housing crisis and create solutions.
San Francisco, February 8-A citywide tenant convention took place today. The gathering occurred this afternoon at Tenderloin Community School, on Turk Street near Van Ness Avenue.

Starting last October, a series of neighborhood tenant conventions happened, representing renters from the Mission, Chinatown, Castro, Haight, Richmond, Tenderloin and other communities.

These meetings were in response to soaring rents, rampant evictions and widespread abuses of tenants in San Francisco in recent years. They were organized by a partnership of tenant and community groups, the Anti-Displacement Coalition.

At each neighborhood convention, people discussed these problems and proposed possible solutions. These solutions were compiled and brought to today’s convention for more discussion and a vote to select the policies to put forth as November city ballot measures to be brought to the electorate.

Today high spirited tenants packed a large room in the school for the citywide convention. The meeting started off with people expressing their anger and frustration with the city’s housing crisis by chanting, “Whose City? Our City! Whose Homes? Our Homes!”

One organizer thanked the assembled for “helping us to send the message that we can’t let this crisis turn into a disaster of epic proportions.

“Tenants have stayed in their homes, have said ‘Hell No’ when given eviction notices.”

Another tenant organizer broke down the housing crisis by the numbers:
“The crisis was brought on by the tech boom. When the tech boom started rents were going up 24% a year. Since then they’ve been going up over 70% a year.

“Last year Ellis evictions were up 140%. Twelve speculators are responsible for most of them. Buyout evictions (getting paid to move out) were up 151%. Move in evictions (when a tenant has to move out because a landlord claims he wants to move in) were up 125%. And demolition evictions (when a tenant is forced to move so the building can be demolished to build housing won’t be subject to rent control) were up 200%.”
Soon we heard from some of the people who have come face to face with what these numbers represent.

First came Mrs. Lee, whose family’s threatened Ellis eviction last year shocked the city so much that City Hall was forced to acknowledge the SF housing crisis. Both Mrs. Lee and her husband are in their 80s, and care for a developmentally disabled daughter. A new owner took over their home of many years, and gave them an Ellis eviction notice.

“It was a stressful time,” she told us. “I tried to look for housing. They said, ‘I’ll get back to you in a few days. They never did. It was a time of pain. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. I thought, ‘Is this how I’m going to spend my last days?’

‘But I was able to stand up and fight back because of the support of the community. So for all those in the audience being to evicted, you need to stick together and fight for what is right.”

Next Blanca Reyes told us of her battle against Ellis eviction. “It’s an act of harassment against me and my family. I’ve lived at 25th and Florida (in the Mission) for 24 years. The landlord gave us two months to move.

‘I’m a caretaker for 14 people. I need to show up with a smile on my face. But I can’t now, because I’m distracted by my problems. My daughter’s in college, and she can’t do the work she needs to achieve her goals because of this situation.

“The landlord offered me $25,000 to move, but I’m not taking it. This is my neighborhood. And besides, that buyout money would help me only a week in this city. I might have to move across the bridge.
“ I want to tell Jerry Brown and Ed Lee, we are your community, we are your constituents, you need to protect our rights.”

Following on was Shandra Reddick: “I reside at 1049 Market Street and I plan to keep residing there. We’ve been staving off evictions for months. We’ve been standing up and fighting back. The landlord wanted to evict half of us around Thanksgiving and half around Christmas. The landlord tried a demolition eviction. But the city pulled the permit.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of media support. Also a lot from the Housing Rights Committee.
“And a lot of gratitude to Mrs. Lee—for igniting a movement.
“I’m tired of these racist, classist, homophobic evictions.”

The next part of the convention was forming into Breakout Groups, smaller groups that discussed and voted to choose from seven potential ballot measures, created at the neighborhood tenant conventions, to be placed on next November’s ballot, that would address the SF housing crisis. These are:

Anti-Speculation Tax
Impose windfall profit tax on speculators who buy and sell off housing, without keeping the building for at least six years. The rate would decrease each year of ownership starting at 50% of gain , with the quicker the flip the higher the tax.

Eviction moratorium
One year pause on certain no-fault evictions including Owner Move in evictions for long term tenants with more than 10 years tenancy. Pause also on demolition and capital improvement evictions except for code compliance or safety upgrades. The moratorium would not apply to Ellis Act evictions. Other exceptions would apply.

Department of Rent Control Enforcement and Compliance
Create a new city office charged with assuring that policies compliance with laws protecting tenants, monitoring enforcement, and supporting research on rental housing.

Upgrade relocation assistance
Increase relocation for no fault evictions (aside from Ellis evictions) to pay the difference between a displaced tenant’s existing rent and market rate rents for not less than two years. Proposal would follow now pending Ellis Act relocation assistance legislation.

Excessive rents tax
Create a tax on new rental agreements if rents exceed affordability levels set by the city. The tax would increase with higher rent level up to some level less than 100%. Under some circumstances tax costs could be passed through to existing tenants.

Housing Balance Requirement
Restrict or condition city approval of new market rate housing based upon meeting affordable housing goals and replacing housing cost because of Ellis Act evictions and demolitions. Policy would create incentives to build new affordable housing and preserve rent controlled housing.

Legalize illegal units
Improve process to convert illegal rental units into legal rent controlled housing. Restrict ‘removal of unit’ evictions where units can be legalized. Waive nonessential zoning and code requirements not related to safety.

There was also the opportunity for write in proposals.

In addition, there are also three measures before the city’s Board of Supervisors meant to deal with the housing crisis.
One would increase the amount of relocation money due to tenants who suffer Ellis evictions. The current amount is about $5000.
A second would regulate when apartments get turned into TICs, Tenants In Common units that are owned, not rented. These are usually no longer affordable housing, and of course not subject to rent control.
A third measure would register units where buyout evictions occur. Currently no government agency is keeping track of this.

Results of the breakout group selections are forthcoming.

When the breakout groups reconvened, there was a pleasant surprise.
Tenants from a building in North Beach who had been fighting an Ellis eviction were there to greet us. And to inform us that they had fought off the eviction threat.
The victory was even sweeter because the landlord was Irving Green, one of the “Dirty Dozen,” the 12 individuals responsible for bulk of SF’s Ellis evictions.
Their victory echoed the words of a Chinatown organizer who had introduced them:
“Tenant resistance is key—if we don’t have rights we’re going to create them through our struggle.”
Stay tuned!

§It's Urban Green, not Irving Green!
by Michael Steinberg Sunday Feb 9th, 2014 2:43 PM
Hey All, in my article's conclusion I identified the landlord who unsuccessfully brought an Ellis eviction against North Beach tenants as Irving Green. It's actually Urban Green, a Colorado company, and one of the Dirty Dozen, who have brought most of the Ellis evictions in San Francisco.
Thanks to Sara of the HRC for the info, and apologies to all the Irving Greens out there! Michael
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