On April 15, the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee again considers legislation to overturn San Francisco’s thirty year old condo conversion law. On April 8, 97 year old Mary Phillips became the latest victim of this proposal, receiving an Ellis Act eviction notice for her apartment at 55 Dolores where she has lived since 1976. The building is owned by Urban Green Investments, which has used evictions and tenant buyouts under pressure to vacate rental units and replace them with TIC’s (it is also harassing longtime tenants of a nearby building at 49-53 Guerrero). If Mayor Lee and the Supervisors needed further evidence before acting to deter tenant displacement for future condo conversions, the targeting of Mary Phillips is it.

As tenant advocates predicted, the prospect of San Francisco allowing unlimited condo conversions now and potentially into the future has spawned a new wave of speculator evictions. An attorney for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which I head and is the publisher of BeyondChron, was told by a tenant facing an Ellis Act eviction that her landlord said that the Wiener-Farrell condo conversion measure showed that times were changing in San Francisco and that restrictions on conversions would soon be a thing of the past.

That’s why tenant advocates have strongly fought the Wiener-Farrell proposal. San Francisco rent control laws are preempted by the Ellis Act, but the city can create major disincentives. The Wiener-Farrell measure does exactly the opposite, encouraging the evictions of 97 year old Mary Phillips and other elderly tenants.

Urban Green=SF Nightmare

The ownership group behind much of this new wave of Ellis evictions and tenant harrassment has chosen the environmentally conscious name of “Urban Green Investments” to cloak their destructive treatment of human beings. In a recent press release, its CEO David McCloskey touts how his firm “is giving back to the community through employee volunteerism.”

But nobody’s fooled. Urban Green has no problem making money by wrecking the lives of the most vulnerable, and if it really wanted to “give back” to San Francisco, it would change its business practices or get out of town.

The Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Chinatown Community Development Center have been working to help tenants facing Urban Green evictions across the city. This includes a 14-unit property filled with longterm tenants at 566 Lombard. The three unit building at 49-53 Guerrero where Urban Green has been trying to harass tenants to move includes elderly Chinese American immigrants who have lived at the property for over thirty years.

Gentrifying Supervisorial District 3 is a primary Urban Green goal. It has sought to and/ or displaced tenants at an eight unit building 1330 Mason Street and a 12-unit property at 943 Jackson Street. North Beach and Chinatown are prime targets for Urban Green because they include longterm tenants paying well below market rents; these properties are attractive to speculators lacking the moral compass that leads most investors to avoid such properties.

Urban Green uses agent Michael Karpowicz to contact tenants and encourage them to take money to move. The implicit threat is the issuance of a formal Ellis eviction notice. Tenants describe Karpowicz’s repeated contacts as harassment, and it often works. This enables Urban Green to often avoid filing Ellis Act notices while still vacating the property.

Urban Green joins other San Francisco speculator groups over the past decades that use quick and dirty schemes to make money through displacement and tenant hardship. They may succeed where others have failed, though their leadership may become uncomfortable when the going gets hotter.

Moment of Truth

San Francisco faces a moment of truth. Our elected officials must decide to either facilitate Urban Green’s displacement agenda, or reject it.

Tenant advocates recognize the needs of current TIC owners, but oppose legislation that eliminates three decades of tenant protections and incentivizes tenant displacement. Urban Green’s aggressive actions make it even more critical that a strong disincentive for future condo conversions is part of any legislation assisting those currently eligible for the condo lottery.

When the new condo law was introduced earlier this year, speculators saw a clear path to passage. But their ride has become rockier. A much better informed group of Supervisors is examining how the city should respond to the overheated housing market, which should ultimately result in legislation that increases tenant protections against future evictions and harassment rather than encouraging such actions.