Slowing SF evictions could be about supply and demand

A recent uptick in evictions across San Francisco has tenant advocates claiming “crisis levels” and local politicians introducing protective legislation, but whether the numbers reach the historic highs of the dot-com era might come down to supply and demand.

Evictions of all types peaked at 2,735 in the year ending February 1999, and Ellis Act evictions, which allow landlords to leave the rental market by evicting tenants, reached a high of 384 in the year ending February 2000, according to San Francisco Rent Board data dating back to 1998.

A recent report by The City’s budget and legislative analyst highlighted a 38 percent increase in all evictions and a 170 percent jump in Ellis Act evictions from 2010 to 2013. Those numbers, however, fall well short of the historic highs, with the 116 Ellis Act evictions being less than a third of what they were in 2000.

Supervisor David Campos, who requested the report, said that if anything the data show a trend.

“The numbers may not be as bad as they were in the early 2000s, but they are certainly heading in that direction,” he said. “And the fact that they are where they are is a problem and unless we do something about it, it’s going to get worse.”

The increase in Ellis Act evictions in the past few years has been concurrent with a 15.9 percent increase in real property assessed values and a 21.9 percent rise in average home prices citywide from 2009 to 2013, the report said. Similarly, Ellis Act evictions increased with home prices starting in 2004 until the recession in 2009, when they fell sharply from 192 to 43 in 2010.

A differentiating factor is the housing stock.

“We’ve had some years of very low housing production, but the good news is that we have many locations in The City that are zoned for density, are transit-rich and are currently under construction,” said Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for Mayor Ed Lee. “We are building affordable housing throughout The City and keeping pace with the development of market-rate housing.”

Of housing units under construction around the future Transbay Transit Center, 35 percent will be affordable to low-income San Franciscans, Falvey said, and mid-Market Street currently has more than 5,500 new units in the works, 26 percent of which will be affordable.

Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association, said that unlike today, The City was in a housing crisis in 2000. She said she does not believe recent eviction numbers signal a “crisis situation.”

“What we’re seeing right now is a complicated result of 30 years of failed housing policy,” New said. “We’ve had more and more restrictions put on existing housing, a lack of development, a lack of adding new rental housing for the middle class, which results in cannibalism of the existing housing stock.”

New does not believe eviction numbers will climb to historic high levels.

“Housing ebbs and flows are based on supply and demand,” she said. “I believe that we have quite a few rental projects coming on the market that should take some of the pressure off the system.

But, according to Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union, the picture of displacement across The City is incomplete.

Since 2006, when The City passed laws making it more difficult to convert units where tenants had been evicted into condominiums, landlords and real estate speculators made “buyouts” a popular alternative, Gullicksen said.

The rent board and city do not keep track of buyouts, when a tenant moves out with some compensation. But Gullicksen said his organization’s drop-in clinic has been keeping tabs. Through July of this year, the clinic recorded 121 buyouts, whereas the numbers ranged from 15 to 77 from 2007 through 2012.

That does not include monolingual Asian and Latino evictees, whom Gullicksen said often get housing counseling from organizations that provide services in their language.

Steve Collier, a staff attorney at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said he deals with eviction cases every day and hopes they will peak soon.

“Ultimately, the best thing that would happen is getting the state Legislature to amend the Ellis Act,” he said.

On Thursday, Lee announced that he has joined local state representatives Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblyman Phil Ting, along with Campos and Supervisor David Chiu, to advocate for changes in state law to allow cities and counties more flexibility to regulate Ellis Act evictions. Local leaders have already introduced a range of legislation, such as giving Ellis Act evictees priority in affordable-housing waitlists and increasing relocation funds.

Like the days of supervisors Aaron Peskin and Chris Daly in the mid-2000s, much of the legislation being proposed sets further restrictions on buildings, New said.

“That will just result in more people throwing up their hands and going out of the market altogether,” she said. “Instead of looking at further restrictions, which I believe will just cause more problems in the long run, we should be thinking of positive solutions and ways to add more housing stock.”

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