As I was sitting in City Hall, listening to Mayor Ed Lee unveil his proposal for a new bond for affordable housing a few weeks ago, I encountered an unexpected jolt when Supervisor Julie Christensen explained her belief that a key cause of the affordable-housing crisis was “the rent-control problem.”
As I heard it, she blamed rent control for forcing people to remain in homes that are not appropriate for their needs. At a time of unprecedented displacement, there is something very troubling about a supervisor thinking that the culprit in the current housing crisis are the very laws that allow people to stay in their homes.
This would cause some head scratching in any context, but it was especially puzzling on this particular occasion. This is because we were all there in City Hall to talk about how to increase funding for affordable housing. When Mayor Lee asked the supervisor what she thought about this, she chose to answer by blaming rent control, rather than focus on how to increase revenue for new affordable-housing opportunities.
Christensen appears completely out of touch with renters in her district. She represents District 3, which has the highest percentage of renters in The City. The district includes North Beach and Chinatown, neighborhoods that are full of longtime renters who are at great risk in this current housing market and which have some of the highest rates of evictions in San Francisco.
It is vital for the future of the District 3 neighborhoods that rent control is not only preserved, but also strengthened, lest renters continue to be displaced in droves by greedy speculators. This district is a ground zero for the eviction crisis. Rent-controlled units are being lost as real estate greed devours the neighborhoods where working-class immigrants have made their homes for generations. Now more than ever, District 3 needs a strong rent control advocate who understands the needs of renters and the importance of rent control.
Were this an isolated incident, I would be less concerned. However, there is more about the supervisor that gives us pause about her stance on rent control. Christensen opposed Proposition G, which would have curbed Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco (a disproportionate amount of which are in District 3). When asked about her priorities, the supervisor who said she cares about “the lower classes” did not even mention evictions or rents in her top three.
She enjoys the support of real estate industry boosters like Supervisor Scott Wiener and big-business leaders such as the head of the Chamber of Commerce and big tech CEOs. She also enjoys support from Ron Conway, a key investor in Airbnb, another contributor to the rental housing crisis. But Christensen is not supported by any tenant leaders or affordable-housing advocates.
We have heard a lot of allies talk about rent control over the years. Never once has a friend of rent control responded to a question about expanding affordable-housing opportunities by blaming rent control. We understand that Christensen will claim this was a gaffe, but sometimes “gaffes” give an insight into how folks really think. District 3 voters should demand answers from their supervisor. Will she stick up for the renters in her district? Or will she stick up for the real estate industry?
Sara Shortt is a longtime renter in San Francisco and a housing advocate.