Proposal would halt condo conversions for ten years

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Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union joined supervisors in unveiling an alternative to controversial legislation.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE

San Francisco Supervisors Norman Yee, Jane Kim and Board President David Chiu gathered with a cluster of tenant advocates at City Hall April 15 to unveil a proposal billed as a more equitable alternative to a highly controversial condominium conversion legislation that’s fueled a months-long battle over affordable housing.

Crafted with the input of tenant advocates, the new plan seeks to amend controversial legislation proposed earlier this year by Sups. Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell to allow a backlog of approximately 2,000 housing units to convert immediately from jointly held tenancies-in-common (TICs) to condos.

The proposal would effectively shut down the city’s condo conversion lottery for a minimum of 10 years, a measure aimed toward ending the cycle of real estate speculation that tenant advocates say has given rise to a spike in evictions in San Francisco’s supercharged housing market.

The proposal would still allow a current backlog of TICs to convert to condos without having to wait in a lottery system created to limit the number of units lost from the city's rental housing stock. The board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee, which is currently in session, will take up the legislation and proposed amendments later this afternoon.

The 10-year suspension on condo conversions would allow time for permanently affordable units to be built in place of the rental units that would be lost in the one-time conversion, proponents of the alternative legislation said. “If more affordable housing isn’t produced, then units don’t get to convert,” Housing Rights Committee executive director Sara Shortt told the Guardian. 

Chiu stressed that the proposal was crafted to “ensure that as we expedite condo conversions … we protect tenants by suspending the lottery for at least 10 years.”

The 10-year minimum suspension is based on current regulations capping condo conversions at 200 per year. It would last a decade because an estimated 2,000 units would be converted, but could last longer than that.

“For example, if 2,200 units are converted,” Chiu explained, “the suspension would last for 11 years.”

Meanwhile, the proposal would require the conversions that would be intially allowed to be staggered over the course of three years.

The plan “puts the Board of Supervisors on record that we strongly believe in preserving our affordable housing stock,” said Sup. Yee, adding that the package of amendments seeks to “address the risk of speculation that will ensue with a large number of TICs being converted to condominiums.”

The Wiener-Farrell proposal spurred a months-long opposition campaign led by tenant advocates, who said it would permanently remove affordable rental units from the city’s housing stock and incentivize evictions of long-term tenants at a time when Ellis Act evictions are already on the rise. 

“Condo conversions are the number one reason why people are being evicted from the city,” San Francisco Tenants Union executive director Ted Gullicksen said at the April 15 rally and press conference.

Wiener and Farrell’s proposal was presented as a way to remedy TIC owners’ complaints that onerous shared mortgages had left them financially strapped.

But Sup. David Campos, who also appeared at the rally, commented that the real challenge “is for the renters who are finding it very hard to live in San Francisco.”

Campos seemed dubious that a one-time condo conversion should be allowed to move forward at all. “If anything, I think we should be doing more to protect tenants,” he said. “My hope is … if it’s something we cannot live with as a community, we will make sure it dies,” he added, referring to the original condo conversion proposal. 

In an earlier attempt to strike a compromise between TIC owners and tenant advocates, “negotiations broke down quickly,” Shortt said in an interview. At the rally, she said this alternative was “drafted in a way that's not trying to meet any political agendas.”

For many elderly and low-income tenants who have few options if they are faced with eviction, “there is no price tag that you can put on their units,” said Matt McFarland, a staff attorney at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, who spoke at the rally. “Their most valuable possession is the long-term rent control on their property. For these tenants, it’s basically a death sentence when you get these eviction notices.”