San Francisco tenant advocates are reaching out to residents in rental-heavy neighborhoods to drum up support for a political agenda and a possible November ballot measure, but whether the will exists among the electorate is anyone’s guess.
The push to bolster tenant rights comes amid a sensitive political environment, with a housing shortage and declining middle class, and as Mayor Ed Lee is pushing Sacramento legislators to change the state Ellis Act that allows property owners to evict tenants if they want to get out of the rental market. There’s also concern over evictions, rent hikes and the rise in cost of living amid a technology-sector boom that shoulders much of the blame for the impacts.
Discussion about the economic pressures facing residents has become commonplace in public meetings and political speeches. The mayor announced in December that housing was going to be a main focus of his administration this year. And on Wednesday, while being sworn in, City Attorney Dennis Herrera spoke about the importance of protecting low-income residents and middle-income families “who are being squeezed like never before.”
A group of tenant advocate organizations, under the name San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition, have organized three Neighborhood Tenant Conventions this month, the first being in the Castro district Saturday. They are expected to attract anywhere from 50 to 150 attendees as they seek to “build tenant power.”
The effort is expected to culminate with a citywide convention Feb. 8 in which the top idea would be pursued for the November ballot and the other ideas would be advocated for legislatively at the Board of Supervisors.
“We’re looking for new and big ideas,” San Francisco Tenants Union head Ted Gullickson said.
Some are already being discussed. One takes aim at vacant units by setting a baseline of rents of the pre-tech boom days and then taxing an increase in rent beyond that. That means that if a two-bedroom unit’s rent is $2,000 per month but the unit is offered at $2,200, there would be a 10 percent levy for the owner on the $200 difference.
Another would ensure tenants in a building that’s being sold would have the first right of refusal to purchase the property, likely with the financial assistance of a nonprofit. A third idea is a one-year moratorium on no-fault evictions, such as owner move-in ousters.
Gullickson predicted success at the ballot. “The No. 1 concern the people have is the high rents and evictions,” he said. “There will be pretty broad support.”
And that may be the case, said David Latterman, a political researcher at the University of San Francisco who has worked on more moderate candidates’ campaigns. But he didn’t see it translating into any larger political backlash that Lee and his allies would need to worry about.
“For several years now, the progressive camp has been desperately looking for a way back into The City,” Latterman said. “They want to return to the ‘glory days’ of 2002 and 2004.”
That was when the left-leaning progressives held a majority on the Board of Supervisors, rising to power amid a backlash against then-Mayor Willie Brown’s politics and the tech boom of the late 1990s.
“They seem to be trying to re-energize around this issue and they very well may,” Latterman said. “It doesn’t mean it will have political ramifications.”
Latterman said people still very much care about the economy first. And while evictions create a sensational story, they only impact a few thousand people — statistically speaking, it isn’t much when there are more than 430,000 registered voters in San Francisco.
Lee’s administration has focused on economic recovery and policies to encourage the technology industry to flourish.
That has led to a sharp decline in unemployment, from 9.7 percent in August 2010 to 5.2 percent in November 2013.
IF YOU GO
The SF Anti-Displacement Coalition, a group of tenant advocate organizations, is hosting a series of Neighborhood Tenant Conventions in hopes of coming up with a ballot measure to counter evictions and rising rents.
Saturday, noon to 2 p.m., LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market St.
Saturday, Jan. 18, 1 to 4 p.m., Park Branch Library, 1833 Page St.
Saturday, Jan. 25, further details unavailable
Saturday, Feb. 8, lunch at noon, convention 1 p.m., SEIU Local 1021 offices, 350 Rhode Island St.