San Francisco’s housing costs and family homelessness are soaring, but the city’s Board of Supervisors could soon make both problems worse. Although a long-planned hearing set for the March 25 Land Use Committee was continued to April 8 at the request of Supervisor David Chiu, he and a potential Board majority are still considering legislation that would 1. Repeal the city’s three decade old condo conversion limit 2. Permanently eliminate 2400 apartments from rent control 3. Immediately remove rent control and eviction protections from over 500 tenants and 4. Create new financial incentives for Ellis Act evictions. Realtors and speculators are driving this legislation, choosing this time of steeply rising housing costs to drive a stake through three decades of tenant protection laws. The fact that Chiu and his colleagues could pass such a measure reflects a disconnection from the problems of the 99% akin to what we are seeing in Washington DC; but in San Francisco, we can’t blame Republicans.

Here we go again. After failing to win voter support time and time again for measures seeking to overturn San Francisco’s limits on condo conversions, the city’s realtors are pursuing the legislative route to make their profit-driven dreams a reality.

And this time they have a chance to succeed. How is this possible at a time when the Board should be strengthening rather than weakening protections for the vast majority of residents who are tenants?

One reason is the failure to accept the connection between rising rents, tenant displacement and other social problems. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle’s front-page story last week on the city’s record long waiting list for homeless families seeking shelter described the increase as “puzzling.”

“Puzzling”? To the contrary, this increase is a predictable result of the city’s rental housing costs greatly exceeding what many of its families can afford. What’s “puzzling” is that anyone would be surprised that steeply rising rents have left record numbers unable to avoid homelessness, particularly as federal, state and local affordable housing subsidies have dried up.

But the Chronicle’s befuddlement is instructive. It is shared by a potential majority of Supervisors who appear to believe that eliminating rent control and eviction protections is just what the city needs to address rising housing costs and homelessness.

According to my sources, the March 25 committee hearing was continued at the request of Board President David Chiu. Chiu wants to introduce an amended version of the current proposal, which should alarm tenant advocates who recall how in 2011, after assuring tenants he was on their side, he cut a separate, secret deal with landlords and became the 6th vote to approve the demolition of 1500 rent-controlled units at Parkmerced.

Chiu may have extra incentive to pass even a bad condo conversion measure because it would fuel tenant anger against all condominiums and help defeat the 8 Washington condo project on the November 2013 ballot; although that project has nothing to do with the harms caused by condo conversions, Chiu and other opponents would no doubt argue that adding 2400 new condos has made 8 Washington even more unnecessary.

Never before has the Board of Supervisors weakened the Dianne Feinstein-backed condo law, or the city rent control law reaffirmed by voters in multiple elections. But, absent public pressure, Chiu could engineer this result.

For all the talk about elderly tenants being forced out of their homes due to speculator evictions, and of rising housing prices driving middle-class families out of town, the Board is set to change longstanding rules to help a small minority of homeowners at the expense of hundreds of thousands of tenants. This destructive law creates no new homeownership opportunities while thousands of families living in the city at risk.

No Policy Rationale

Why would the San Francisco Board of Supervisors respond to rising rents and homelessness by weakening and eliminating key tenant protections? According to sponsors Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell, the legislation was necessary to protect TIC owners from foreclosure.

But I refuted such “foreclosure fantasies” through statements from financial institutions and attorneys for TIC owners, all of which confirmed that financing was not a problem. And Dean Preston of Tenants Together then found that there were only ten notices of foreclosure issued to 3-6 unit owner-occupied units in all of 2012, with even this small amount not necessarily involving TIC’s.

Once its foreclosure lie was exposed, proponents shifted to claiming that destroying rent control and eviction protections was necessary to help “the middle-class.” But what about the thousands of middle-class renters living in the small buildings in Districts 3, 5, 8 and 10 which are most at risk from this legislation?

These are the folks who, if this legislation passes, will soon face eviction or rent increases they cannot afford. Why should these middle-class residents suffer solely to increase the property values of TIC owners who knew the condo bypass rules when they bought their units?

This isn’t about helping San Francisco’s middle-class, most of whom are tenants. TIC owners are in far better economic position as property owners in a rising housing market than the middle-class tenants unable to afford to buy a home.

Keeping this latter group in San Francisco is what the Supervisors should be concerned about. But their concerns are ignored. Some supervisors are ignoring that changing the rules to increase the value of TIC owner’s real estate holdings will drive far more of the city’s middle and working class families out of the city.

Refusal to Compromise

A number of Supervisors along with the Mayor called on the parties to work for a compromise, but the realtors feel they can win at the Board without modifying their legislation. That’s why the segment of San Francisco realtors involved with TICs and condos recently intervened to kill a compromise deal on the Wiener-Farrell measure. While the deal gave TIC owners a bypass and everything they wanted, it limited realtors’ future speculative profits by imposing a moratorium on new conversions.

That’s why no compromise can occur until the current measure is killed at the Board and new legislation introduced.

Supervisor Chiu has said he opposes the measure in its current form, but his plan to put together an amended bill is a recipe for disaster. Why exclude full tenant input if you are trying for a real compromise?

Unlike his Parkmerced deal, Chiu’s condo conversion plan could increase evictions of longterm tenants in his own North Beach district. It would also kill his Assembly chances in the June 2014 election.

Tenant advocates have identified Supervisors Cohen, Breed and Yee as swing votes. Breed has been all over the map on the legislation, and many believe it was her election in D5 that convinced realtors that after three decades of failed efforts to weaken condo conversion protections that they could now get it done.

Tenants and their supporters are advised to keep building public pressure on the Supervisors, particularly Board President Chiu.