Too little, too late

At the San Francisco Tenants Union, we regard it as a badge of honor when the powerful attack us — proof that our work makes a difference.

The latest example comes in a Sept. 22 op-ed by Board of Supervisors President London Breed — “Powdered milk and moving vans: The fight for affordable housing” ­­­— which rips the Tenants Union for supporting Dean Preston, a longtime tenant advocate, for District 5 Supervisor. Breed attempts to discredit us, and our endorsement, by suggesting we don’t care about tenants who live in public housing.

For the last 45 years, the Tenants Union has helped all renters, regardless of where they live. Whether we give advice, provide referrals to partner organizations or resist the demolition of subsidized housing, we do everything we can to help tenants in need. Breed’s implications could not be further from the truth.

She goes on to claim that “[f]ighting for tenants’ rights has never been about political posturing for me.” The irony is that her attack is exactly that — political posturing, a campaign tactic to discredit those who don’t support her and to shift attention from the issues that matter.

It’s an emerging pattern. When the Sierra Club endorsed Dean, Breed’s office went on the offensive. It questioned the Sierra Club’s integrity, going so far as to label the century-old environmental group as “anti-environment.” The Tenants Union is the latest target of this scorched-earth strategy.

There is uncertainty amongst the establishment at City Hall. The housing crisis continues, the mayor is almost invisible and voters are upset with the direction of our city. Incumbents are running from their past records.

Supervisor Breed’s voting record is inconsistent with claims made during her reelection campaign. The disconnect is particularly evident when it comes to Breed’s housing record.

For instance, Breed calls herself a tenant advocate, but at the board she tried to weaken protections for Ellis Act victims and opposed legislation to regulate tenant buyouts.

Breed says she’s a champion for affordable housing, but last July passed a rezoning law to maximize density — along with developer profits — without demanding a higher percentage of affordable units.

Breed says she’s stopping evictions, but she refused to support the Anti-Speculator Tax, a 2014 ballot measure, and was the deciding vote on Chiu’s unenforceable Airbnb legislation. Both of these would have curbed housing speculation and prevented thousands of unfair evictions.

Though Breed claims independence from the mayor, her voting record shows a close alignment. And his three closest advisors have donated the maximum to her campaign.

Dean’s record stands in contrast. Early in his career, as an attorney with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, he took on the worst speculators and slumlords in San Francisco. He was a key leader in the fight to save rent control in California, defeating a landlord-backed state ballot measure by a wide margin in 2008. He went on to create Tenants Together, the only statewide renters rights group in California, and has served as executive director since 2008, and become a leading expert on the Ellis Act.

What earned Preston our full-throated endorsement is his 16-year record of tireless advocacy for tenants. And while we respect Breed’s path from public housing to City Hall, it’s what she’s done in her four years as supervisor — and her attempts to deflect attention from her record — that precludes a Tenants Union endorsement.

District 5 needs a consistent champion for tenants — not just a reliable vote, but a leader who will pass forward-thinking laws to turn the tide on our city’s housing crisis.

Dean is that kind of leader. That’s why we support Dean, not The Machine.

Deepa Varma, Andrew Szeto and Jennifer Fieber are staff members at the San Francisco Tenants Union.

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