SF City Hall takes steps to address city’s affordability issues

David Chiu and the Board of Supervisors hope to intervene in the housing crisis.

The San Francisco affordability crisis that has garnered nationwide attention, with fingers pointing blame at the flourishing technology industry, has city officials carving out special assistance for Ellis Act evictees, legalizing in-law units and extolling the development beginning next year with seed money from the $1.3 billion housing bond approved last year by voters.

On Tuesday, Mayor Ed Lee was asked to weigh in during the Board of Supervisors meeting about popular San Francisco conversation topics these days: escalating rents, evictions and cost-of-living increases.

To start, Lee blasted Ellis Act evictions, a state law that allows landlords to evict tenants in order to get out of the rental business. He also celebrated his 30-year Housing Trust Bond, which he said is just beginning to bear fruit — though critics have called it minuscule given the need as rents have doubled and tripled in the past three years.

“We need to build more housing for our growing workforce at all ranges of the income spectrum and be more attuned to the needs of our seniors that are aging in place,” Lee said. “Every rental or ownership unit that comes online is one little bit of pressure relieved from the market. The more we build, the more affordable San Francisco can remain even if it’s just incrementally.”

Meanwhile, board President David Chiu introduced legislation Tuesday that would legalize in-law units. There are an estimated 40,000 such units, 10 percent of The City’s housing stock, though every year an average of 100 disappear amid complaints. The law could encourage the more affordable in-law rental market that currently operates in the shadows.

Also Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved legislation that would give Ellis Act evictees who qualify under existing low-income and age criteria first dibs on The City’s subsidized housing units. Those homes are in high demand and units scarce. Last year, there were 3,048 applicants for 175 units created in new developments and 39 existing housing units that opened up for rental or ownership under the affordable-housing programs overseen by the Mayor’s Office of Housing, In fiscal year 2012-13, there were 192 Ellis Act evictions — up from the previous year’s 121 and the decade low of 72 in fiscal year 2010-11. Last fiscal year, there were also 1,742 other forms of evictions, such as owner move-ins, breach of lease and demolition.

Lee said he is encouraging state legislators to pass Ellis Act law changes.

“With our economy recovering from recession there are speculators looking to take advantage of this strong real estate market at the expense of longtime tenants with no place to go,” Lee said. “By buying a building with the sole intent to evict the rent-controlled tenants, speculators are undermining the affordability of our entire housing stock.”

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