WTF, Chuck: Those poor exploited landlords


In my continuing attempt to make sense of the politics of the Chron's C.W. Nevius, I present: What The Fuck, Chuck -- the saga of the poor landlord.

I'll try to be fair: There's nothing inherently wrong with this story. I don't like rich people taking advantage of anything, particularly rent control. It's true that there are a few people who are cheating, good for Chuck to expose them (tho he didn't exactly name names). You can't make better copy than a family that moves to Hawaii (!) and keeps a rent-controlled house in the Richmond. (Of course, maybe the parents needed to be there for a couple of years for work, and were hoping to return to their family home and the landlord wouldn't allow sublets, but whatever. Sounds horrible.)

And I'm not excusing it for a minute.

But I've never seen Nevius write a story about a family that can remain in this city only because of rent control, or a longterm tenant being forced out by the Ellis Act to create "homeownership" opportunities for a wealthier person who can buy a tenance in common, or a landlord who lies, cheats and abuses tenants to get rid of them so he or she can raise the rent -- and those are far, far more common occurences. Those are problems that happen every day in this city.

It's always about the poor landlords.

Yeah, there are bad tenants. But anyone on the front lines of the renatl-housing struggles in San Francisco can tell you that the abuses by the property-owning class radically exceed the harm caused by the tenant class.

I feel about this the same way I feel about the ongoing stories on bloated city employee pay and pensions. Yes, it's true: Some city employees game the overtime and pension systems and in effect pluck money from the pockets of the taxpayers. I see no reason why a police chief who retires at 55 should get $250,000 a year for life.

But it's also true that a lot of city employees earn a basic middle-class salary and get a pension of maybe $30,000 a year, which is hardly excessive -- and the fact that the private sector quit giving pensions decades ago doesn't mean that the public sector is wrong to do it. But all of these stories create a powerful Big Lie mythology of bloated public payrolls, which undermines any effort to raise taxes for desperately needed public services.

You tell people enough tales about the poor landlord and the rich tenants and you start to make rent control look like a bad idea. Which is about the worst thing you can do in San Francisco today, where the existence of any middle class at all is primarily the result of rent control -- and if anything, rent control ought to be stronger.

In other words: A little perspective here, please.