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Despite drop in evictions, SF leaders still fight for tenant protections for youth and families

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A resolution passed in 2010 to amend The City’s Rent Ordinance prohibits landlords from evicting families with children under the age of 18 during the school year. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Evictions have dropped in San Francisco for the first time in six years, but that isn’t stopping city leaders from calling for new tenant protections and defending ones that have been challenged.

The San Francisco Rent Board eviction data collected through June shows that the number of reported evictions notices hovered at 1,798 this year — down 22 percent from last year. Similarly, the number of tenants who reported wrongful evictions to the Rent Board decreased by 18 percent, from 484 notices in 2015-2016 to 397 in 2016-2017.

Since eviction notices were first accepted by the Rent Board in 1987, they reached an all-time high in 1997-1998 with 2,836 eviction notices reported. After rising steadily since 2010, another peak in evictions was recorded last year with at least 2,304 notices issued to San Francisco tenants, according to an annual eviction report by the Rent Board.

“The number of evictions is flat — but it does go in cycles,” said Scott Weaver, a San Francisco tenant attorney and housing activist.

Rents have also dropped slightly this fall, according to the apartment rental website Zumper, which reported a 0.9 percent dip in the average cost of renting a one bedroom apartment, dropping to $3,390.

“It’s no coincidence that landlords evict more when housing prices are going up rather than down,” Weaver said. “Right now, housing prices are flat.”

But that doesn’t mean city leaders aren’t still rolling back their sleeves to keep San Francisco’s most vulnerable tenants in their communities.

San Francisco Board of Education Commissioner Matt Haney, a supervisorial candidate for District 6, has floated the idea of introducing a resolution that would change San Francisco Unified School District policies to allow students who have been forced to leave the district due to an eviction during or at the end of a school year, to continue attending public schools in San Francisco — potentially past an individual school year.

“I’d like to make sure that if a family is evicted that a student is not punished for that,” Haney said. “We know that forcing a young person to change schools in the middle of the year or even abruptly at the end of the year — before they are done at that school — can be disruptive to their academic, social and emotional wellbeing.”

SFUSD enrollment is contingent on continual residency in The City, with a few exceptions. In compliance with federal law, homeless students may attend San Francisco schools even if they do not live in the district, and in some cases, students who move out of The City may apply for an interdistrict permit, allowing them to finish off the school year.

In order to be granted such a permit, however, “students must be in ‘good standing’ related to behavior, attendance and academics,” SFUSD spokesperson Heidi Anderson explained.

But that wouldn’t necessarily be a requirement of Haney’s proposal.

“Grades could be a factor that we discuss,” Haney said about his proposal. “[But] generally, I believe that access to education is important to all of our students, not just those getting straight A’s.”

What exactly Haney’s policy will look like is still unclear, though he is looking to the Berkeley Unified School District for inspiration. In June, Berkeley amended its interdistrict transfer permit policy to allow students who attended 10th grade in the district — but are no longer residents — to finish off 11th and 12th grade at Berkeley schools.

The new provisions also give priority for permits to non-resident freshmen and sixth graders who moved out of the district after their first day of ninth and sixth grades, respectively, to finish their entire high school and middle school terms at their schools.

“We can consider that or something that is specific students that have been evicted,” said Haney, who has tasked his staff with drafting options for a policy.

On the Board of Education, Haney is one of seven commissioners who determine policy for public schools in San Francisco. The school board may pass non-binding statements to urge City Hall to take an action impacting The City’s students and schools.

It’s unclear whether this proposal would need approval from the Board of Education or Board of Supervisors.
“Another [option] would be a broader policy to allow students to finish at the school they are enrolled at under certain conditions,” Haney said.

Tenant advocates and city leaders agree on a need for additional legislative intervention for both San Francisco’s students and teachers.

More than 2,000 of San Francisco’s students are homeless, and many others are being ousted from their schools — often a place of stability — as families struggling to keep up with The City’s soaring rents are forced to relocate after an eviction.

“Being evicted and having to leave The City is already such a traumatic event on a child, having to also leave their school, which really is one source of stability and normalcy for the child, is very problematic,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who oversees the Mission District, where over 900 eviction notices were filed between 2011 to 2015.

Laws to protect San Francisco’s public school students as well as educators displaced during the school year have been put forward in recent years, but are currently being challenged.

Former Supervisor Eric Mar, also a former president of the Board of Education, said that such protections would address “survival issues for children and families in the [school] district with such a high displacement and eviction fears right now.”

A resolution introduced by Mar and passed 2010 added a provision to The City’s Rent Ordinance that prohibits landlords from evicting families with children under the age of 18 during the school year. That protection is still in effect today.

“It unfortunately couldn’t do more but it at least delayed the potential evictions of children and their families while the school year was going on so [that they] didn’t disrupt their educational success,” Mar said.

In April 2016, the Board of Supervisors acknowledged a growing need to keep students’ educational network intact, and voted unanimously to expand Mar’s legislation to include bans on other no-fault evictions — such as capital improvements and condo conversions — during the school year. The law also gave some immunity to teachers and other public school employees subject to no-cause evictions during the school year.

“If you want to minimize the negative impact that evictions have in the classrooms … you have to do more than protect the students,” said former Supervisor David Campos, who spearheaded the educator protections legislation. “You have to protect the teachers who educate those students.”

But the legislative feat for students and teachers was short-lived. In August 2016, a San Francisco Superior Court judge invalidated the additional protections by ruling that Campos’ legislation preempted state law and was unenforceable.

That ruling is currently pending appeal by The City.

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