In Wake Of “Eviction Epidemic,” Tenants Rights Groups Demand Action From City Hall

Tenant rights advocates gathered outside San Francisco City Hall today to call for more protections against what they said is an eviction epidemic in the city.

The eviction of tenants via the state’s Ellis Act, which allows landlords to remove residents if the property is being taken off the rental market, has been “exponentially higher than previous years,” said Omar Calimbas, a staff attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.

More than 280 apartment units have been given Ellis Act notices since May 2012, according to the advocates, which included the San Francisco Tenants Union, the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Chinatown Community Development Center.

The groups delivered an action plan to City Hall officials on how to reduce the number of evictions, including proposals to strengthen existing rent control protections and increase support for victims of Ellis Act evictions, Calimbas said.

He said the rise in evictions has been tied to the sharp increase in housing prices in San Francisco since early 2012, when national housing prices also started going up.

“The housing market here is always going to be much more pronounced than what is happening nationally,” Calimbas said.

He said today’s event comes after the Lee family, an elderly couple and their disabled daughter living at Jackson and Larkin streets, were evicted earlier this week in an Ellis Act case.

“What the Lee family is going through shouldn’t need to have happened,” he said.

“They’ve lived here for decades and should have been allowed to retire here with dignity,” he said. “What happened instead was their forced removal from their home, and now instability and relocation.”

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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  • bd3517

    I do think we need to cushion the shock of rapidly rising rents for the vulnerable in SF, but the idea that Ellis Act evictions are an epidemic doesn’t seem to be true. The folks at made an alarming looking map, but thier own data shows that Ellis evictions are rising but not that high historically, less than 0.1% of the total rental stock got Ellis’d last year. Here’s the graph

  • sebra leaves

    Talk to Campos and Avalos. They have been campaigning with the activists. At least three street marches and rallies took place over the last week. Demand a hearing.

    • cedichou

      With respect to tenants’ rights, there are unfortunately only two supes who make any sense: Wiener and Farrell. The rest is worthless.

    • liljenstolpe

      And that’s going to help how? Further tightening of the regulations which have already proven to be either useless or actually harmful, based on the facts on the ground? If you find your self in a hole, do you keep digging, or stop and try something else? In San Francisco, you throw out the spade and bring in the backhoe.

  • cedichou

    I scratch my head when I read: “The groups delivered an action plan to City Hall officials on how to reduce the number of evictions, including proposals to strengthen existing rent control protections.” The stronger the rent control rules, the more Ellis act evictions there will be.

    This is exactly what is happening right now. Insanity is doing the same thing over and again, and expecting a different result. Beef up rent control will make renting less attractive will incentivize owners to pull the trigger on Ellis. What part of this obvious chain don’t they get?

    The lottery bypass was a victory for tenants (stricter rules! fewer conversions!) until tenants advocate will realize that by taking away the carrot of condo conversion, they just allow landlords to Ellis act without thinking twice about it.

    • Josh Berkus

      Yeah, well, everybody has a short-term answer for long-term problems. When has it ever been different?

      • cedichou

        It’s not a matter of short vs long term. The answer is just wrong. Stronger rent control protection will lead to more Ellis act eviction. For tenant’s activisits, strong rent control is the answer. But they forgot what the question was. If you make it unattractive for owners to rent, then owners won’t rent. They’ll Ellis. When Berkeley had stronger rent control in the 80s-90s, the rental housing stock decreased by 14% while it increased in the surrounding communities. It’s proven not to work. But that’s the answer in this article today.

        • Josh Berkus

          Sure it is. Existing tenants want to protect *themselves* from Ellis evictions in the short run. That’s short-term thinking, which City Hall is fond of as well (see the 8 Washington project).

          On the other hand, total lack of rent control is not the answer either; it results in a boom-and-bust rental market which fluctuates between 100% and 20% occupancy every few years, and destroys the ability of the city to maintain a viable services workforce. Probably the best answer in the medium term is to have “kinder, gentler” rent control, which gives landlords adequate financial incentives while allowing folks who work in sandwich shops and drive Muni buses to still afford to live here. However, no city has yet devised such a rent control scheme successfully.

          It does all come down to money; the City needs to take a hard look at how to make owning rental property profitable without scamming tenants. But I’ll point out that City politicians get big donations from condo developers … and very little money at all from rental landlords.

          • cedichou

            I guess I see your point of view, but it seems: you have an issue with Ellis now. Stronger rent control will do nothing in the short term. Well, you may prevent people from Ellis-ing, but that’s only until a court will re-assert the landlord’s property rights and that they can’t be forced to rent.

            Landlords have PAC (SFAA, plan C, etc) but with 65% of the voters being renters, they will never have much clout. That’s the reason why you will never have any meaningful look into rent control reform: people *say* they are for rent control to preserve the city’s diversity and the bus drivers and sandwich shops employee. But the status quo protects many more people who make six figures than people below poverty line.

            To be serious about keeping poor in the city, you would have to reform rent control seriously. Current law ensures that only those who are here already can stay, and of course, there’s going to be some slow attrition. Current law ensures that the twitter IPO will make a lot of rent controlled millionaires.

            The only serious reform is: replace rent control with subsidies for people making less than some income. Then anyone can move in into a place and get assistance if they can’t afford it. And twitter millionaires can go by themselves a condo rather than take advantage of a mom-and-pop landlord.

          • Josh Berkus

            Subsidies are a nice thought, but also ineffective, as proven by a long history of HUD failures (which agency relies on subsidies extensively). First, the subsidy amounts or eligibility requirements will always trail years behind changes in the market, making them “too little, too late”. Rents in this city can rise 200% in 9 months, and there’s no goverment that can react to that in a timely fashion. Second, you’re assuming that there’s no value to the city in maintaining “stay put” residents; that is, people who occupy the same neighborhood for years or even decades, and there’s plenty of urban social engineering arguments to suggest that long-term residents do provide value. After all, it’s those same arguments which we use to justify subsudizing property owners.

            There is also value in promoting limited resident mobility which has been sacrificed by the current system. So some sort of compromise is warranted here. Another alternative would be to make it affordable for people who aren’t Twitter millionaires to buy property, but good luck with that.

            There’s also the question of where the money for such a subsidy would come from; the answer is almost certainly a tax on rents or existing properties, which would eventually result in making rents even higher on average.

          • cedichou

            I’m not assuming there is no value in long term living situations. All I’m saying is that current rent control in effect are trying to preserve a status quo, at the expense of the mobility of new residents and of a slow but steady depletion of the rental stock. Subsidies would make no pit new renters vs new, but help all.

            Also: right now there is a subsidy on rents. It’s just very unfair. When a tenant pays $800/mo for a 2BR, someone is providing the subsidy. Who pays for it: a) the landlord (and if it’s a mom-and-pop landlord without a large rental portfolio, this subsidy is particularly unfair); b) incoming tenants, who will pay overinflated prices to diminish this subsidy in the long run. Again, not particularly fair as no one making 3x rent can move in this city (with rent at $3k for a 1BR, you need $120k…)

          • liljenstolpe

            I’ve lived in largish cities w/o rent control (Minneapolis, Melbourne, AU, etc.). and neither of them had the swings that Josh mentioned. If you lift the controls, there would be a period of readjustment, but, eventually, the market would equalize. What you have here is a very tight market because it isn’t attractive to rent. a 95+% occupancy rate is not a healthy market. It makes it more expensive, which leads to more regulation, which makes it less attractive to rent. It’s a nasty negative feedback loop. And folks like the tenants union don’t understand that, or just plain don’t care.

            If the city want’s to subsidize lower income residents, it should do so. It shouldn’t ask private businesses (and individual landlords) to take that burden upon themselves.

            Until we agree to pay for what we “want” rather than asking others to pay for it, we will continue to cause “interesting” distortions in the economics of the city.

            We can’t pay for everything we want, and we can no longer demand others to pay for us.

          • Josh Berkus

            Liljen, Minneapolis and Melbourne are not San Francisco. Among other things, they have the ability to expand geographically when cost pressure gets too high. SF doesn’t. Also, neither of the other cities have ever had the kind of draw that SF does, with thousands of new people moving to the area every year.

          • cedichou

            San Francisco can expand! There are vast underdeveloped expanses (say, Hunter’s point) and many neighborhood can be densified.

            Evictions are a consequence of a limited supply of housing. Densifying San Francisco to add 10% more units would go a great way to solve the problem. Rather than grandstanding about making stronger rent control.

            Oh, but building condos on Valencia street is a crime against humanity, silly me, I forgot.

          • Josh Berkus

            Building more $1million+ condos does nothing to improve the supply of moderately priced rental stock. Unless we build enough condos to crash the market, and a bunch get converted into apartments … but that would take more than 10% additional to do.

            I don’t know why people continue to believe the Big Lie that somehow adding more housing at the top of the market will miraculously cause more units to appear in the bottom 50%.

          • cedichou

            I would assume that someone buying a condo (and let’s face it, price for new units will be over $1,000/sq ft, which means close to $1 million for a large 1BR) will not be evicting a tenant in some other unit.

            But what do I know? I’m buying into the Big Lie that once people have their own condo, they won’t be bidding on some TIC or other. But maybe you’re right: maybe building new units won’t make any difference; maybe condo owners just evict little old ladies for kicks…

            Here’s more on the Big Lie: “On the supply side, over the past 20 years San Francisco has built about 1,500 units per year on average. But the city would have needed 3,000 to 5,000 units a year to allow supply to keep up with demand — a number that similarsized cities manage to provide. In 2011 housing production reached a historic low — with only 269 new units.”

            Gee, I wonder why there’s pressure on rent to go up: 269 new units in 2011 and enough newcomers to fill 3,000 to 5,000 new units. Over the last 20 years, there are somewhere between 30,000 to 70,000 units missing to keep up with population growth. There are 350,000 units in the city. 10% = 35,000. Maybe, just maybe, a 10% additional units would actually go a long way to help…

            (oh, and by the by, developer target the $1million 1BR/2BR condo market ONLY because it’s so difficult to develop here, they can only build so many units, so they’d rather focus on high margins. But if you increase the number of built units, then developers will have to target other markets to sell them units, say 4BR units or studios).

          • Josh Berkus

            Keep in mind that SPUR is an advocacy organization which is funded by real estate developers. So take any “facts” they give you with a healthy dose of skepticism.

            Most of your arguments make three assumptions which I don’t find to be justified: (a) that occupancy on $1m condos is currently saturated, and (b) that there’s a hefty overlap between the $1m condo market and the rental market, and (c) that high-paid workers would buy a $1m condo in preference to renting an apartment for $3000/month if given the chance. You don’t back up any of these assumptions, and there’s good reason to think they are all false.

            If, on the contrary, one assumes that (a) we already have an oversupply of $1m condos, and (b) that the condo market is mostly separate from the rental market, then adding more condos to the market does absolutely zero to alleviate rental pressures.

            Now, the idea that, if allowed to build thousands of new units, developers would have to build mid-priced apartments just because the market for other kinds of real estate would already be saturated, has some merit. I’d like to see a serious workup on that though; one major caveat is that condo developers usually get paid even if the condo’s don’t sell, so I’m not certain that the market works the way it should for such things.

            (BTW, I’m really enjoying this discussion, so please keep up your end of it!)

          • cedichou

            Let’s look at your assumptions:
            (a) we already have an oversupply of $1m condos -> then the market will correct itself. Either by making new condos built for this market cheaper to sell, or the developers will target different markest.
            (b) the condo market is mostly separate from the rental market -> if this were true, there would be no eviction-TIC-condo path.

            Evictions are viewed as a path to ownership, and TIC as a step to condos. That step might break down after an Ellis, but an Ellis prohibits renting: so the buyer into a TIC has to move in. If you view the market of “people who want to own the place they live in,” then there is a definite overlap. The TIC has a 10% mark down wrt condo, an Ellis act might knock of another 10%. So yeah, potential Ellis act evictor might be on the $800k unit market rather than the $1mil. But one will definitely crowd out the other.

            Look at it the other way: these new $1 million unit sell like hot cakes. To whom? To someone (say Alice) who did not think of moving into the city, but then discovered that they had $1million lying around and SF is a great place, so heck, why not? Or to someone (say Bob) either renting in the city who got into a nice tech job; someone living in a TIC who wants to upgrade; someone living in a condo that they will rent out once they get into the new one. All the Bobs will create renting opportunities or TIC opportunities. I don’t think there are many Alices.

            The data I quoted from SPUR are public data: permit applications for new construction. I have seen similar numbers of 3,000~5,000 of required units per year from other sources which I could not relocate. But even if SPUR overstates the number of required units, then my point still holds: the problem can be solved by densifying (and you don’t even need 10% more units). Based on the price pressure on housing and rents, I don’t see reason to doubt that SF is not building enough.

  • sfsoma

    Action from City Hall? Not unless Ron Conway is an investor in your organization.

  • Lisa

    Okay, I’ll say it: “What the Lee family is going through shouldn’t need to have happened.”


    What should have happened, like it does in other places — particularly China — is their 6 adult children would ensure they had what they needed. Instead, their landlord was on the hook for their housing because they live in SF.

    • cedichou

      Neither the family or the landlor should be on the hook. Well, the 6 kids could help, but that’s their private situation, won’t pass judgement. But if SF wants affordable housing, it should not ask landlords to provide it. It should subsidize housing for people who need it. The situation of this family would not happen: they would not be priced out of the rental market with subsidies.