Out of place - Page 2

Evictions are driving long-time renters out of their homes -- and out of SF. Here are the stories of several people being evicted

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One TIC owner said he was financially burdened, but had only entered into the arrangement because "I wanted to stay here and raise my family, but we couldn't afford a single family home." Yet tenants brought their own set of concerns to the table, saying the temptation to create TICs was putting a major dent in the city's finite stock of rent-controlled units — the single greatest source of affordable housing in San Francisco.

"My feeling is, let's stop doing TICs," Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a tenants right activist with the Housing Rights Committee, told the Guardian following the hearing. "The city has to just start making sure that the condos that are built are the kind of thing [TIC buyers] can afford. Instead, we cannibalize our rental stock? That's a reasonable way? You evict one group of people to house another: How does that make sense?"

The grueling five-hour hearing illustrated the sad fact that San Franciscans in a slightly better economic position were being pitted against economically disadvantaged renters. The two groups were bitterly divided, and all seemed weary, furious, and frustrated by their housing situations.

The condo-conversion legislation, co-sponsored by Sups. Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell, did not move forward that day. Instead, Board President David Chiu made a motion to table the discussion until Feb. 25, to provide time for "an intensive negotiation process." Chiu, who rents his home, added: "While I myself would like to become a homeowner someday ... I do not support the legislation in its current form."

Sup. Jane Kim sought to appeal to the tenants as well as the TIC owners. "It's very tragic that we have set up a situation where [TICs and renters] are pitted against one another," she said. She hinted at what a possible alternative to might look like. "We should be looking at a ban of scale," she said. "If we allow 1,800 potential units to go thru this year, are we willing to do a freeze for the next 8 to 10 years?"

It's unclear what will happen in the next few weeks, but if this legislation makes it back to the full board in some form, the swing votes are expected to be Sups. London Breed, Malia Cohen and Norman Yee.

CASH OR EVICTION?

New protections were enacted following the late-90s frenzy to discourage real-estate speculators from using the Ellis Act to turn a profit on the backs of vulnerable seniors or disabled tenants. Yet a new wave of investors has discovered they can persuade tenants to leave voluntarily, simply by offering buyouts while simultaneously wielding the threat of an Ellis Act eviction. "The process got more sophisticated," explains San Francisco Rent Board Deputy Director Robert Collins.

Once a tenant has accepted a check in lieu of eviction, rent-controlled units can be converted to market rate, or refurbished and sold as pricey condos, without the legal hindrances of an eviction blemish. Buyouts aren't recorded with the Rent Board, and the agency has no real guidance for residents faced with this particular dilemma. "We don't have the true number on buyouts," says Mecca. "We don't know how many people have left due to intimidation."

Identity-wise, renters impacted by the Ellis Act defy categorization. A contingent of monolingual Chinese residents rallied outside City Hall recently to oppose legislation they believed would give rise to evictions; in the Mission, many targeted tenants are Latinos who primarily speak Spanish. From working immigrants, to aging queer activists, to disabled seniors, to idealists banding together in collective houses, the affected tenants do have one thing in common. When landlords or real-estate speculators perceive that their homes are more valuable unoccupied, their lives are susceptible to being upended by forces beyond their control.