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A big week for tenants’ rights

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A housing strategy that relies on new construction without eviction protections is the policy equivalent of running uphill in an avalanche. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)


Last month, I argued that affordability and displacement are related but distinct problems, like heat and humidity. As if manifested from my vision board, the Planning Department presented the Housing Balance Report required by 2014’s Proposition K. Not only is San Francisco failing to achieve affordable housing production targets set by Prop. K and the Housing Element, but the net gain of new affordable housing is also mostly erased by evictions.

In the last decade, there were 4,182 no-fault, owner move-in or Ellis Act evictions to 6,182 new below-market-rate units. The report demonstrates yet again that a housing strategy that relies on new construction without eviction protections is the policy equivalent of running uphill in an avalanche. Or hitting the Sizzler buffet with an infestation of tapeworms. You’ll be full of shrimp and cheesy toast but never nourished. Worse, it places the needs of hypothetical future residents above the suffering of actual people whose lives are being wrecked right now.

Trying to reduce displacement across the Bay Area, the Alameda City Council voted this week for just-cause eviction, while a rent-control measure was defeated in Santa Rosa. After the Santa Rosa City Council passed rent control, the California Apartment Association put Measure C on the ballot to defeat it. The No on C campaign attacked rent control for not solving homelessness or building affordable housing, which it does not do.

The Association of Realtors spent almost a million dollars getting to No, in an election with 35 percent turnout. The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reported that just-cause eviction in the rent-control law was “offensive” to landlords, who felt burdened by needing to justify driving people from their homes.

The East Bay Citizen reports that consultant John Whitehurst may now work on behalf of Alameda landlords to overturn just-cause eviction at the ballot.

Aside from the abomination of special elections, the Association of Realtors and the California Apartment Association spend fortunes on misinformation in every election. It is hard to outspend the other side by more than five to one and lose. These are the same cabals blocking state level reform of the Ellis Act, Proposition 13 and Costa-Hawkins, which would actually solve both the affordability and displacement crises.

Sometimes all adversaries look the same, but developers are not universally the enemy.

With all the construction projects involving negotiated community benefits and affordable housing, many developers are purely transactional. Some developers are imperious clods who just want to railroad communities into swallowing poison, and most could afford more affordable housing and more benefits than they provide, but many will wheel and deal. On the other hand, the Realtors and Apartment Association are implacable. There is never common ground between them and renters. Realtors are in the proverbial back room, toasting cognac “to evil!” At least tech companies make stuff we use that looks cool.

In the last few years, there were rent-control and/or just-cause eviction campaigns in Santa Rosa, Richmond, Alameda, Mountain View, Burlingame and San Mateo. Besides the trade groups, a few moguls are bankrolling most of the anti-tenant/pro-displacement campaigns in the Bay Area. They’re all on the Peninsula.

For instance, Woodmont Real Estate Services of Belmont has given to all the anti-tenant campaigns, in an amount north of $325,000. They’re a property management firm that boasts 12,000 multi-family units and $4.5 billion in assets. Woodmont’s CEO, Ron Granville, plays a prominent role in the California Apartment Association and works closely with the moderate — read: pro-corporate — Democrats in the State Assembly. Or Prometheus Real Estate Group of San Mateo, which owns or manages upwards of 20,000 units. They kicked in $250,000 to keep renters in their place. You never can have enough billions.

Prometheus is aptly named: Renting in California is indeed much like being condemned to spend eternity having your liver eaten by an eagle on a mountain. Some day, their torment will end.

Nato Green is a tinker, comedian, organizer, spy. See him live with Sara Schaefer at Doc’s Lab on Monday, June 12. He is the president of Small Property Owners for Reasonable Controls, or SPORC, a fake PAC of pro-renter landlords.

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