Ted Gullicksen started off with the frightening statistics: Rents in San Francisco have gone up 72 percent since 2011, 24 percent in the last six months alone. No-fault evictions – that is, evictions where the tenant has done nothing wrong but is still losing his or her home – have tripled since last year as real-estate speculators cash in on the land rush created by the tech boom.
Mike Casey, the leader of Local 2, the hotel and restaurant workers union, cited new census data that shows 40 percent more working families are leaving San Francisco than arriving. That’s hurt labor organizing: “When our workers have to travel an hour and a half get home, they can’t afford to come back and be on the streets.” Looking around the room, he said: “We are building a united movement. Affordable housing is a civil-rights issue. Anti-displacement is an environmental issue. Tenants’ rights are workers’ rights.” And we heard the same lesson repeated over and over: If we as a community, if tenants as neighbors, stick together, even the wealthy landlords can’t defeat us.
Gum Gee Lee, whose family was forced out of its home of 34 years, credited tenant and housing activists for keeping the eviction at bay until they could find another place to live. “I was able to stand up because the community stood with me,” she said.
“If you are being evicted, you need to stick together and fight.”
The organizers, including the Housing Rights Committee, Chinatown Community Development Center, the Eviction Defense Collaborative, the San Francisco Tenants Union, Causa Justa, and Eviction-Free San Francisco, offered seven legislative proposals that could go before the supervisors – and if necessary, on the November 2014 ballot.
One popular proposal dates back to the 1970s, when a supervisor named Harvey Milk suggested a tax on real-estate speculation. The plan would put a windfall profits tax on anyone who buys and sells housing in a short period of time: Buy a place and flip it in less than a year, and you pay 50 percent of your profit back to the city.
Tenants all over the city have called for a moratorium on evictions, but legally the city can’t block the Ellis Act, the most dangerous weapon of the speculators, which allows a building owner to evict all tenants and sell the place as tenancies in common (a type of condos).
The city could, however, put a one-year hold on other types of no-fault evictions, and that’s among the proposals. So is the creation of a “Department of Rent Control Enforcement and Compliance” and an “excessive rents tax.” Campos already has legislation to increase the relocation payments for Ellis Act evictions, and Mar has a bill to control TICs.
There are also proposals to restrict the approval of market-rate housing unless the city meets affordable-housing goals and one to legalize in-law units as rent-controlled housing.
[I heard some other ideas that sound crazy. I’m not into giving any money to landlords, who already get nice tax subsidies, but: What if the city offered a cash payment to any residential property owner who would legally waive his or her right to ever do an Ellis eviction (and tie that to the property deed, so the no future owner could do it, either)? It would be similar to the conservation easements we see in rural areas threatened by sprawl: In exchange for a cash payment, ranchers and farmers give up the right to develop their land, keeping it as open space forever.
Just a thought.]
The people at the convention turned in sheets marking their favorite proposals, and the organizers will turn those into legislation. If all of the major elements were enacted, it would change the real-estate market radically, saving the homes of thousands.
“This is the beginning, CCDC’s Gen Fujioka told the crowd. “It’s the start of a movement.” And as I left to ride my bike home in the rain, it really felt that way.