SF needs healthy housing

It's time to get beyond Band-Aids


My greatest frustration as a tenants' rights and affordable-housing advocate in San Francisco is that, despite all the good efforts by a lot of good people, we never address the root cause of our housing crisis. We routinely enact laws and ballot initiatives, organize endless demonstrations and elect progressive politicians, but in the final analysis, these efforts are just a Band Aid on a bad system that leaves a lot of people without a roof over their heads.

A few years ago, Brian Basinger of the AIDS Housing Alliance and I pushed "no fast pass to eviction" legislation to stop the eviction of seniors and people with AIDS and other disabilities through the state Ellis Act.

Ellis allows a landlord to override just-cause eviction protections and evict all of the tenants in a building. It's often used by speculators to flip properties — that is, buy them, evict the tenants, and create a tenancy-in-common (where there's the same number of owners as there are apartments). The new owners apply for condo conversion so that, instead of sharing a percentage in the building, they actually own their own units.

No Fast Pass says that if someone uses Ellis to evict tenants, then the building can't convert to condos for ten years. If any of those tenants are seniors or disabled, it can never be converted. The legislation helped. There was a drop in Ellis evictions. Unfortunately, landlords and speculators now employ intimidation, harassment and buy-outs to get rid of tenants, so that they don't have to Ellis.

It's time to get beyond Band-Aids. Housing should be a human right, guaranteed for all, as healthcare is in other nations.

When former Supervisor Tom Ammiano realized that 65,000 San Franciscans (15% of the population) were without health coverage, he (not former Mayor Gavin Newsom, who takes credit for it) introduced legislation to create what is now "Healthy San Francisco," our city's version of universal healthcare. It's not perfect, but it tackles the problem the way it should be tackled: by making healthcare a human right and not a luxury.

The same needs to be done for housing.

As long as housing is a commodity, affordable only to those who have the dough, there will always be people left out in the cold — literally. Our city has more than 10,000 homeless people, not to mention scores of others living (through no choice of their own) in deplorable conditions. The city builds more market-rate housing than it needs, while units for those below 50 percent of the city's median income fall far short of the demand.

A mandate to house everyone in the city has never been tried. I don't have an exact plan, but a "Housing SF" (like Healthy SF) might be created by pooling together all of our housing resources and aggressively working to pull in more. If the proposed Housing Trust Fund happens, it should be initially used only for those who need it most — the homeless and the poor, remembering that shelters are not housing, even if they're considered such under Care Not Cash.

Put a moratorium on market-rate housing. Turn all abandoned properties (both city and privately owned) into affordable units. Raise money by letting the big businesses (including the tech companies) cough up some dough. Use land trusts as much as possible to keep the new places affordable into perpetuity.

It's time to dream big.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation, is a longtime affordable housing advocate.


I thought that we'd learned that only proposing social welfare policies that help "the most in need" was a way to guarantee that there was not a sufficiently broad and powerful political coalition to achieve even that.

Remember the ballot measure on housing at the HPSY that called for increased affordable housing? It only addressed the very very poor and went down 2:1. Suggestions to include cops, firefighters and teachers in the mix were nixed by the poverty activists. Those constituencies would have most likely made the measure competitive, perhaps pushed it over the finish line. Will we ever learn?

Healthy SF is a middle class program, poor folks can't afford the $150/month or are on MediCal.

Social Security and Medicare are likewise programs that benefit the middle class as well as the poor.

The only way to contest corporate dominance of San Francisco's speculative housing market is to propose solutions that buy in a majority of the electorate.

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Posted by 2 Fools and a Bull on Aug. 07, 2012 @ 10:25 am

People could still get evicted for non-payment of rent, late payment of rent, nuisance, lease transgressions, criminal behavior, noise, drug use and other misbehavior.

There is a major distinction between tenant-initiated evictions and landlord-initiated evictions.

Given that the vast majority of SF'ers have homes, and quite nice homes, I doubt that you could get a critical mass of support for something that would require significant funding to achieve - i.e. affordable housing for all.

Nice idea but it can't work.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

Nobody should get free rent. You either pay your rent or you get out. Nobody should be able to ride the system fro free when opthers have to pay.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 11, 2012 @ 7:40 am

You said it all right here Tommi! What's happening with housing in this city, both new and existing, is deplorable. This is NOT the same city I moved to 42 years ago.

Posted by Terrrie Frye on May. 16, 2012 @ 1:42 pm

OMG, who'd have thought it?

So the city beocmes more successful and wealthy and prosperous and you think that is wrong? Simply because those who can't afford to live here resent it?

Guess what, Terrie, I can't afford to live in Zurich, Monaco, La Jolla and Aruba either. Should they introduce "affordable" housing for everyone there?

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

What the hell has happened? Terrie wants to know why he/she isn't getting the same level of assistance as he/she was when he/she moved here back in the day?

Posted by Troll II on May. 16, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

moratorium on new build of housing?

nothing shows your naivity more than that assinine suggestion. We need the exact opposite of what you propose - massive amounts of new build.

But then of course poverty pimps like you would be out of a job, right? No wonder you oppse it.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

Hey Tommi,

Thank you very much for your article. There is alot of us working very hard so that we, our friends and communities don't get forced out of the city by rising housing costs. You have several solutions that will hopefully start getting moved on in the near future. San Francisco is a great city and we need to prioritize the resources to give us all the ability to stay here, appreciate and contribute to its greatness!

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

you can't afford and so you want somebody else to bail you out and subsidize you.

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

So if you are down and out with not a penny to your name in SF, you get housing.
If you are pulling your weight making a completely decent salary somewhere else but not enough for housing in SF, you're SOL?

There are so many problems with this its beyond ridiculous.

How do you propose housing every homeless person who is here now, and every homeless person in the world who will come to the stupid city that is giving away housing for free without building more?

If this is the vanguard of progressive SF, you guys are in way worse shape then i thought

Posted by Greg2 on May. 16, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

But the fact that he has no political power is a sober reflection of the general recogniton of his naivity and irrelevance.

We might as well ask Ted Gullicksen for his views - free rent for all tenants forever!

Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

Yes, let's all accept that jobs are overrated and that the city and government should take care of us all. Come one, come all to San Francisco. We will feed you, house you, provide health care for you and you need do nothing for it. Yes, even if you are able bodied, healthy, and able to contribute to society...

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

Tommy, che merda sei.

"""A mandate to house everyone in the city has never been tried. I don't have an exact plan"""

Yes, you don't have an exact plan. But you do have a vague idea that any under-employed person who wants a house should get one for free.

Now, let's all climb on our unicorns and ride happily into the sunset, shall we?

Posted by Troll the XIV on May. 17, 2012 @ 4:42 pm

Maybe Tommi (sic) can help me afford to live in Los Altos by "allowing" business to pay more? Such profound political thinking - I'm practically swooning.

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

A mandate for everyone to have a house, are you going to work with developers, builders of apartment buildings, so many others. I can't afford to even go home again, total bummer. We seem to build a small number of homes for people what want to come here, those who want to enjoy the goof life, got theirs, I made it. It seems like when it comes to housing winners take all, the rest of use lose.

Posted by Garrett on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 8:49 am

It's an outrage. They should provide cheap housing for anyone who wants to live there.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 8:59 am

that people don't move to San Francisco for the beaches or skiing -- they move here for the culture that was built by the people already living here, almost all of them not rich? Do you really think the things that make us famous sprang out of thin air? That the gourmet food movement or alternative nightlife and music scene or even our creative technology industry would be created by bored Google wives?

I guess since you don't actually live here, you don't know what makes san Francisco so appealing. Hint: it's not the miles of sunny beaches.

Posted by marke on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 10:06 am

SF like that. Maybe you want the "alternative nightlife" but that is of zero interest to the majority who come here for the the universities and businesses of the Bay Area.

You can say that any place that is pricey is going to have attractions, and that's as true for Aspen and Monaco as it is for San Francisco. And the thing that all desirable places have in common is that housing is pricey. What they don't have in common is the idea that the government should "do something" to make homes artificially cheap.

If you want SF's "alternative nightlife" and you can't afford it, then it's not my job to pay more taxes so you can live somewhere you don't have the fiscal power to sustain. Perhaps Oakland would suit your budget better?

Or is entitlement another "alternative" lifestyle thing?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 10:22 am