We're in the most expensive city in the country, and we can't afford another 2,000 condo conversions
OPINION If legislation introduced by Supervisors Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell passes the Board of Supervisors next month, up to 2,000 tenancies in common will be allowed to bypass the lottery process and convert to condominiums.
Add those to the nearly 6,000 conversions that have occurred from 2001-2011 (according to stats from the Department of Public Works), and you have a sizable chunk of rent-controlled units that will have been yanked from our housing stock in the past decade or so in a city that can't afford to lose rental units, especially those that preserve affordability while tenants live in them. TICs are still under rent control; condos lose it when they're sold.
Which makes the Wiener and Farrell legislation a rent-control issue. Not to mention a really bad idea at a really bad moment in time.
San Francisco's perennial housing crisis can't possibly get worse. Rents are the highest in the country — and still rising. The average rent in the city these days is $3,000. The vacancy rate is low.
Ellis Act evictions, a tool for creating TICs by allowing a landlord or speculator to circumvent just-cause eviction protections, are on the upswing. They're not as high as they were at the height of the dot-com boom of the late 90s, but, considering that these days many landlords and speculators threaten tenants with Ellis or buy them out rather than do the dirty deed, the number of folks displaced for TICs is higher than what is recorded at the Rent Board. Some tenants have actually received letters from new landlords with two checkboxes — one for Ellis and the other for a buyout. Take your pick, which way do you want to be tossed out and possibly left homeless?
The folks being displaced are from every district and represent the diversity about which we always brag: longterm, generally low-income seniors, disabled people, people with AIDS, families, and people of color. And they're less likely to find other apartments they can afford.
Wiener claims that buildings where there are evictions will not be eligible for conversion, but many of the TICs currently in the lottery, which will be eligible for conversion under the Wiener/Farrell legislation, were created by evictions. Almost 20 percent of the units in the pipeline were formed before legislation was put into place to restrict conversions if tenants are ousted. How many of the other 80 percent are the result of threats and buyouts, de facto evictions? Or were entered into the lottery even when they shouldn't have been?
Brian Basinger, founder of the AIDS Housing Alliance, was evicted from his apartment for a TIC, yet his place was converted to a condo, despite the fact that he's a protected tenant.
Allowing as many as 2,000 conversions not only diminishes the rent-controlled housing stock, but it also jacks up rents. Not to mention it gives speculators incentive to do more Ellis evictions or buyouts -- after all, though Wiener and Farrell say this is a one-time only deal, once Pandora's box is opened, it's going to be hard to keep it shut. I think landlords and speculators know that.
The Housing Element of the City's General Plan, adopted in 2009, instructs officials to "preserve rental units, especially rent controlled units, to meet the City's affordable housing needs."
This legislation won't preserve rent-controlled units. It's a bad fit for our city.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca, who's worked for the Housing Rights Committee for 13 years, is a longtime queer tenants right/affordable housing advocate.