Tenant Torment

Renters left hanging as city convenes for holidays and Newsom heads for Hawaii


Mayor Gavin Newsom's mid-December decision to announce — on YouTube — that he planned to introduce legislation to protect San Francisco renters from foreclosure-related evictions has outraged tenants rights organizations.

They say Newsom is trying to undermine a much stronger bill by Sup. John Avalos that would give thousands of tenants in newer buildings the same protections as tenants in buildings constructed before 1979.

The mayor's bill is a classic piece of politics — stealing some of the limelight and giving political cover to mayoral candidate Sup. Bevan Dufty, who voted against Avalos' package but doesn't want to be seen as anti-tenant.

This way Newsom and Dufty can enthusiastically support a bill that won't offend as many landlords — while the mayor vetoes a more robust tenant-protection measure.

Dufty's decision to side with Sups. Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu, and Sean Elsbernd in voting Dec. 8 against Avalos' just-cause legislation gave Newsom veto power over a package that would have empowered thousands of renters.

The Avalos legislation seeks to extend just-cause eviction requirements and protections to tenants in units that are not now subject to eviction controls, which includes most residential rental units built after June 13, 1979. That's when the city's current rent control law took effect — and as part of a compromise needed to get the votes for that law, its framers agreed to exempt all "newly constructed" housing.

Newsom's proposal would only protect those tenants from one category of evictions.

While Newsom promised to introduce his counter-proposal Dec. 15, nothing has come from the Mayor's Office of Housing so far, fuelling suspicions that the legislation is in fact being drafted by Michael Yarne, a former developer who now works for the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

Asked Dec. 16 if the Mayor's Office has submitted any tenant protection legislation, mayoral spokesperson Joe Arellano e-mailed the Guardian, "Not yet. Still ironing out a few details."


In his YouTube address, Newsom said he was committed to vetoing the Avalos legislation, which he claimed was "well-intended" but "went too far."

His alternative, Newsom said, would protect tenants from the "predatory nature of banks" and "other circumstances" related to "macroeconomic challenges."

Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, described Newsom's play as "outrageous."

"The mayor is essentially stealing a bill that came out of the community, watering it down and taking credit for other people's work," she said.

"Probably the most frustrating part of this is that there was no attempt to work with any of us," Shortt added.

As Shortt notes, if Avalos' legislation doesn't pass, tenants in at least 10,000 rental units that have come onto the market since 1979 will be left without just-cause eviction protection. That means they can be tossed out for almost any reason.

Shortt's estimate includes 1,900 units at Trinity Place, 113 units at 430 Main St., 308 units at 333 Harrison St., 113 units built by the Emerald Fund in the Castro District, 192 recently completed units at Strata in Mission Bay, 179 units at 1 Polk St., 720 units at 1401 Market St., 52 units at 818 Van Ness Ave., 5,679 units at Park Merced, and 720 units at Archstone, 350 Eighth St.

But her estimate doesn't factor in the thousands of potential rentals in the pipeline for Treasure Island, the Candlestick Point shipyard development and the old Schlage Lock site.

Facing a mayoral veto and unwilling to leave tenants without any hope, Avalos introduced an amended version of his just-cause evictions package that addressed Dufty's concerns about unintended consequences during the board's Dec. 15 meeting.