Two events last week highlighted San Francisco’s growing financial investment in stopping Ellis Act evictions. First, the city allocated another $234,000 to Ellis eviction legal representation. This brings the total to $744,000, allowing the Tenderloin Housing Clinic to hire another attorney and paralegal. This ensures that longterm tenants facing Ellis Act evictions get the best and most complete representation possible.
This funding continues the city’s heightened committment to Ellis legal representation. It was only two years ago, on September 6, 2013, that the San Francisco Human Services Agency cut funding for Ellis legal representation from $125,000 to $123,000. When Mayor Lee heard about this he hit the roof, and not only reversed the cuts but tripled Ellis eviction defense funding.
With state Ellis Act reform stopped and tenant attorneys having success in winning or delaying Ellis cases, the mayor added to the current year budget an addditional $234,000 to the legal representation budget.
The mayor’s actions both locally and in Sacramento, aggressive legal defense, and grassroots activism by the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Project contributed to a decline in Ellis evictions in 2014. And while that decline was followed by a rise, the Ellis speculator industry seems to have gotten the message that there are easier ways to make money in San Francisco real estate.
Slowing Ellis Speculator Evictions
Ellis Act evictions are no longer the quick and easy moneymaker they long were.
First, vigorous Ellis Act legal defense has significantly raised speculators’ costs. If you have to pay $100,000 in attorneys’ fees on top of relocation costs and lost rent, the profit margin on Ellis evictions sharply shrinks.
Second, owners of small buildings with longterm tenants are now pricing potential Ellis evictions into their sale cost. This depletes speculator profits, particularly when the higher legal fees are figured in.
Third, the increased supply of new condos has slowed San Francisco’s homeownership market, which in turn means that Tenancies in Common (which Ellised units become) are even worth less. Buyers are asking why purchase a TIC that can never be a condo when condos are coming on the market in droves?
Fourth, the grassroots pressure tactics of the SF Anti-Displacement Project and other tenant groups have raised the personal stakes for Ellis evictors. They do not like having their homes or businesses picketed, as evicting longterm senior tenants does not make them real popular with neighbors or customers.
The above progress does not mean that Ellis evictions are not still a terrible problem in San Francisco. But it does mean that the city can stop such evictions from reaching epidemic levels.
Small Sites Program
San Francisco is putting even more money behind battling Ellis evictions through its Small Sites Program (SSP). The San Francisco Chronicle had a nice story Monday on the acquisition and preservation of 2840 Folsom Street, a six-unit apartment building in the Mission District known as the Pigeon Palace.
This building was a likely target for Ellis evictors, and is part of the over 60 units in buildings where the city has provided funding to acquire. Tenants in these buildings are typically facing Ellis evictions, and the city’s purchase is a lifesaver. By the end of 2015 the city will have spent over $20 million purchasing buildings to stop Ellis evictions and preserve their affordable housing longterm.
Mayor Lee gets the credit for making the SSP program happen. But this program is really part of Ted Gullicksen’s legacy. Ted felt during the dot-com boom that the city should just “buy up Capp Street,” an idea that made sense.
Ted wanted the city to buy small buildings but he and I failed to get the Willie Brown or Gavin Newsom administrations to support it (the Tenderloin Housing Clinic represented multiple units of Latino families in a building facing Ellis evictions on Guerrero Street in the late 1990’s, and our urging the city to buy the building was denied).
Ted’s idea was later picked up by Malcolm Yeung when he was working for the Mayor Lee Administration in 2011. Yeung brought the Small Sites idea it to Mayor Lee’s attention, finally creating a path toward its implementation.
The rest is history. A long overdue strategy for protecting longterm tenants in at-risk neighborhoods is now a critical part of San Francisco housing policy.
Randy Shaw is Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and Editor of Beyond Chron, which it publishes. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San FranciscoSan Francisco News