Was it a great year?


At noon Dec. 19, a group of about 50 housing activists led by the Housing Rights Committee gathered at 18th and Castro, next to the giant Shopping Season Tree, to discuss the wave of evictions tenants are facing at the end of 2012. Tommi Avicolli Mecca held up a list of 26 buildings that are currently being clear of tenants under the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords to evict all their tenants and sell the property as a single-family home or tenancies in common. With him was a long line of tenants who are facing holiday homelessness thanks to landlord greed.

"There are too many tenants being evicted to fit in front of the tree," he said.

We heard story after story: A man living with AIDS facing the loss of his home after 17 years. A family being forced out after 18 years. Seniors, kids, disabled people ... all of them almost certainly displaced from San Francisco.

"San Francisco is becoming a city of the rich, and we are being pushed aside," said Lisa Thornton, who works at Rainbow Grocery and is losing her home.

"This," Mecca said, "is an epidemic of evictions."

And we all know why: As the second tech boom roars in to San Francisco, high-paid young workers are able to afford to buy TICs or single-family homes, and long-term rent-control-protected tenants simply can't compete. It's not a pretty pciture.

So I almost barfed when I say Randy Shaw's glowing paen to Mayor Ed Lee. "San Francisco had one of its greatest years in 2012, as the city’s job growth and vibrancy outpaced nearly everywhere else," he wrote.

Oh, gee, he says, there are some problems:

Few want San Francisco to become a city where only the rich and subsidized poor can live. But these same fears were felt in the 1980’s. When I was moving to San Francisco in 1979, the lines for vacant apartments were just as long and the competition for vacant units as fierce as what we read about in 2012. We couldn’t believe we had to pay $375 for a Mission one bedroom apartment, a rate that is less than half the cost of an SRO room without private bathroom today. San Francisco has long been an expensive city that keeps getting pricier.

So what -- because we were worried about displacement in the 1980s means we shouldn't be worried today? Those worries were real -- gentrification of San Francisco neighborhoods has been rampant for decades. It's changed the city, for the worse.

In the 1980s, Shaw was part of a broad coalition that fought to get rent control laws and eviction protections and limits on condo conversions. Now he's acting as if none of that was worth the fight, as if protecting affordable housing wasn't, and isn't, the most critical issue in the city today.

A great year? Fantastic vibrancy and job growth? Not if you're one of the growing numbers of people who are losing their homes to Ed Lee's vision of economic development.



SF is a desirable place with a good economy. There is quite simply no way it is ever going to be cheap to live here, and not everyone enjoys the fiscal power that it takes to afford SF.

The best solution to help affordability would be to build high-rise apartment towers in under-populated parts of the city like the South-East of SF, but of course you'd oppose that too.

The good news is that there is Oakland, Daly City, Richmond and a host of other cities just 10-30 minutes away by BART. So there really is an affordable place for anyone who wants it - just not in the most desirable zip codes.

Hey, I cannot afford Aruba, Andorra or Aspen either. Should the government fdo something about that?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

You (along with too many other lazy, sensationalist journos) keep on blaming the techies. That's a little part of the story, sure... but the real reason for skyrocketing housing prices is that hardly any new units came online last year. I think I heard the number was less that 400. And when the hard left organizes against new housing (e.g., "no new housing until we have more affordable!") you're only shooting us all in the foot.

Unless and until we massively increase density and new construction, every new housing unit will be a "luxury" unit because demand is so high!

Related: the new western soma plan is terrible for the city. This is where we should be building a dozen new 12-story condo buildings ASAP!

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

Of course, Tim has a point in that if we were an economic basketcase like Detroit then we'd have cheap rents and every loser, "artist" and activist could afford to live here.

He can dream, can he not?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

For over 30 years, SF has averaged roughly 1,700 new housing units annually. It is a pitiful level and is FAR less than many objective observers believe is necessary to address our demand for housing. In 2011, only 270 new units were delivered to a super-heated rental market.

The mayor appears committed to putting out the welcome mat for hi-tech start-ups because of the strong economic benefits to the City. Unless we propose to prohibit new residents employed in hi-tech or mandate a cap on new resident's salaries, SF has few options other than assuring that LOTS of new housing gets built.

How many decades can we continue to restrict housing supply before the market does what it does - respond thru pricing? We're wailing and moaning over results we have guaranteed thru the signals we send to the housing markets. SF evidently wants housing to be scarce and expensive or it would set policies that allowed more production.

Of course new housing implies that some neighborhoods would change and that new people would come. As we know only too well, this is completely unacceptable to large numbers of our citizens, including many SFBG readers.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

He doesn't like the upgrading of SF's population because the resultant demographic makes it less likely that SFBG's pet policies will win at elections. We've already seen Kim and Breed replace Daly and Mirk, while humbling left-wing losers like Walker and Olague.

If Tim really cared about the poor, he'd move to where the poor live - places like Detroit. But of course he is enjoying his big home price appreciation far too much to ever consider doing that.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 5:11 pm

At least you are clear. Upgrading = more money. Left wing = losers.

Tim should live where he wants. He already lives where the poor live--San Francisco. The poor are almost everywhere in the United States and the percentage of the population that is poor is growing ever faster.

It might not bother you. You might even relish it. I'm glad to read Tim's story and proud to share a city with poor people. I don't consider poor people losers nor the new demographic an "upgrade."

Kudos to Tommy Mecca, Sarah Shortt, Paul Boden, Ted Guillicksen, other advocates and organizations like Causa Justa, COH, Housing Rights Committee that are working to help people stay in their homes and resist gentrification and displacement.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 6:33 pm

He is claiming that poor people have been driven out of SF

You are claiming there are lots of poor people in SF.

So, er, which is it? And why would you expect to find lots of poor people in a very wealthy city?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

Once upon a time there was a California city even more insanely left-wing than San Francisco. It was called Santa Monica and the Redmonds down there decided that it would be a great idea to introduce Vacancy Control, meaning that when a tenant leaves a unit, tthe new tenant only pays the same rent as the departing tenant. IOW, they changed the rules from controlling rent by tenant to controlling it by unit.

So, not surprisingly, whenever a landlord got a vacancy there, he never re-rented it out again. So the Redmonds down there thought up a cunning plan. They would make it illegal for a property owner to leave a unit vacant. Genius, huh?

Sadly for them, there weren't enough Redmonds in Sacramento to prevent a now infamous Mr. Ellis to pass a law banning Santa Monica's prohibition, and allowing any property owner to get out of the landlord business if local laws become too punitive.

So all the little Redmonds down in Santa Monida ruined the party for all the little Redmonds up here.

It all started with Nash versus the City of Santa Monica. Look it up, read it, and weep.

Posted by anonymous on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

And indeed, that was true until San Francisco passed two laws in the 1990's which made rent control too onerous for owners to bear.

The first was including owner-occupied 2-4 unit buildings under rent control. These had always been exempted to give a break to the mom'n'pop small landlord.

The second was limiting owner-move-in-evictions to one per building.

With these two laws in place, buildings were effectively condemned to be loss-making businesses forever. Tenants were being given cheap rent without taxes paying for that, so the voters didn't care.

Jim Ellis was right to say he didn't think Ellis evictions would happen much. But then he never anticipated that RC would get so strict in SF and punitive that it makes an Ellis eviction an economci imperative.

It's my understanding that there are relatively few Ellis evictions outside of SF, but I would welcome feedback on that.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

Not an enormous amount but definitely big enough to make life easier. And that's the lowest amount he'll receive. It's likely he'll receive more. All for simply moving out of property the renter never owned anyway.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 6:28 pm

can happen. And then a big payday, as you note.

On another elvel there is something sad about someone who is old and sich clinging to a flat that he probably doesn't even really like, just because it's cheap. I've known people who have been quite miserable because they are still living in the apartment they got in their 20's when they were sharers, and now they quite simply want to keep cheap rent forever.

Rent Control is a flawed policy which is why it is illegal in more than 30 States and in fact only exists in a few cities in the US. It has led to almost no new rental housing being built, poor repair of the existing rental housing stock, and of course directly causes higher rents by suppressing supply. It is, like Prop 13, something that older folks vote for themselves so that younger folks can subsidize them.

The good news is that SF's changing demographic, and the fact that several thousand units are lost to RC every year while no new RC untis are being built, that means that eventually the voters will get rid of rent control.

Good riddance.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

for a little extra cash. Nothing like turning the spotlight on the old sick person being evicted during the holidays to add a little "oomph" to a demand for a bigger payout. Of course - we know better.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 7:37 pm

That would have the perfect trifecta of contrived victimhood - old, gay and non-white. But of course the Castro is the whitest neighborhood in San Francisco, and it is generally only educated whites who know how to exploit rent control to their advantage.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 6:38 am

Personally, I'd like nothing more than for it to be so.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

If you met me you'd understand why. What Lucretia wants - Lucretia gets.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 10:39 pm

Tim is acting like these renters had a right to live in these apartments, at subsidized rents till they died. Getting evicted sucks and i feel for these people, but the owners are the oners and have rights to, though Tim doesn't like to acknowledge that.

Posted by D. Native on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

As all these activists, bad artists and minimum-wage jockeys are displaced to Oakland, the balance of power at the voting booth shifts away from the nirvana he fantasizes about.

I doubt that Tim really gives a crap about the poor any more than the other poverty pimps like Shaw do. Two peas in a pod - both make a nice living out of the poor.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 6:42 am

SF Rent Control should be means tested. Why are tech employees with high incomes allowed to receive housing subsidies?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2012 @ 10:39 pm

You only get the benefit of RC there if you make less than a certain income - maybe 150K or so.

We all know guys on fat six-figure salaries who cling to their cheap apartments while buying a vacation home in Tahoe with the savings.

RC indiscriminantly rewards longeivity, not genuine need.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 6:40 am

It "indiscriminately rewards longevity instead of genuine need." You're probably in favor of "means-testing" that too.

But means-testing is only a means to an end. In the absence of the political will to scrap the benefit entirely, those who want to do so advance half-measures like means testing designed to divide and conquer, so they can weaken support and come back for the rest of it later. We both know where this road leads.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

contributions during your life, and the retirement benefits you get from SS are related to the payments you made and how long you made them for.

Rent control requires no such sacrifice and contribution - it simply rewards you for the good fortune of having moved in a long time ago, and then clung to the place like grim death for a couple of decades. It rewards inertia and punishes mobility and ambition.

I don't much like means testing in general, but if someone is making 200K per annum, should they be enjoying the benefits of rent control? I believe that we should scrap rent control and instead make payments to the poorest people towards their housing costs ie a system more like Section 8, but local.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 6:58 am

Rent control reflects the fact that certain services and commodities are life essential and should not be subject to the ravages of the marketplace.

Take your creative destruction to Pacific Heights or the condo towers of SOMA during the next big quake.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 8:07 am

Wheras, in fact, it is restricted to a handful of cities across the land. And moreover, some cities have abandoned rent control and, while some rents did increase when that happened, many more came down. Boston is a good example.

The main effect of rent control is to drive landlords and owners to behave in bizarre ways to escape from it. Tim's piece was about Ellis Act evictions and, although they are valid all over California, they pretty much only happen in SF and the couple of other cities (Berkeley, Santa Monica) with rent control. no owner in his right mind would Ellis a building that was not rent-controlled.

Rent control has harmed many tenants by dramatically reducing the supply and availablity of rented housing. We've had RC for over 30 years and yet rents are sk-high - it's a failed policy.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 8:28 am

Our growing family owns a small building in SF and will be applying the Ellis Act next year. It is a very difficult decision, but we feel that we are being forced from the rental business.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 9:43 am

the mid-1990's, when the following change were made:

1) Annual rent increases changed from 4% to just 60% of CPI
2) Owner-occupied 2-4 unit buildings brought under RC
3) Only one OMI allowed per building

The counter-balancing Costa-Hawkins and Ellis Act's only allowed for an orderly exit from disadvantaged buildings and didn't really make landlording viable under RC.

I suspect if RC had been left as it was 20 years ago, we wouldn't be seeing all these Ellis evictions, the leaving vacant of units, and as many TIC and condo conversions.

The housing activists have ruined it for renters by pushing too far and too hard. And a decent 1-bedroom flat in my neighborhood goes for around 3K a month, so RC really hasn't led to affordable housing unless you cling like a limpet to your home for a couple of decades.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 10:09 am

So you want to impose one centralized policy on housing for every different place?

Posted by marcos on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 10:01 am

If you're talking about Federal housing policy, then of course yes, it is national. Allowances can still be made by, say, varying the amount of the Section 8 voucher by locale.

If you're talking about a local housing policy then, duh, that would be local. But rent control is massively inefficient since it rewards longeivity rather than poverty. It also mitigates mobility of workers and shifts investment in new housing from cities that have RC to cities that don't have RC.

I'd rather SF focuses on the poor and helping only those. From what I have seen, the average beneficiary of RC is not the poor non-whites, but college-educated whites who know the rules and how to play the system.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 10:15 am

We've learned that exclusive focus on the poor leaves everyone but the rich high and dry. This has been demonstrated in the affirmative by Medicare and Social Security nationally and in the negative by the demise of the "most vulnerable" fixated progressives locally.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 10:21 am

people indiscriminatly and without regard to real need creates massive injustices and distortions, of which rent control is only one example. It favors those who squat on rentals while punishing the young and anyone moving to SF. It gives subsidies to many affluent people who don't need them, while not helping many others who are in genuine need but weren't lucky enough to get to squat on a RC unit early enough.

RC also punishes the small mom'n'pop landlord who may, many times, be poorer than the six-figure IT workers who is their tenant. But if you are as big as Trinity or Fortress, you can redevelop the building and wriggle out of RC altogether.

RC is a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. Far better to give direct rental subsidies to families that need it, akin to Section 8. Or, at the very least, means test tenants as in NYC.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 10:38 am

It is all about tradeoffs. Rampant market capitalism creates all sorts of distortions when it practices "creative destruction." Society as a whole has taken all sorts of steps to insulate itself against market forces in order to preserve some stability in neighborhoods, most of which crimp property rights.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 11:04 am

which is why 26 buildings are currently being evicted under the Ellis Act or, as we should perhaps call it, the anti-crimping neutron bomb.

You can fight the natural order but, in the end, you will always lose. All you can do is slow progress down a little.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 1:31 pm

The economic dogma to which they aspire has been repeatedly been proven unworkable and silly.

In its purest form it is quite simply a doomsday mechanism.

This has been proven over and over again.

Free market capitalism -- to the extent it has ever been in existence -- invariably results in capricious boom-bust cycles.

As always, it is best for providing a milieu in which psychopaths can most actively and successfully predate upon their fully human cousins.

The ideologues look upon the safety circuits which have over time been cobbled together to keep the system from blowing itself up as an impediment to greater success.


Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

The economic dogma to which they aspire has been repeatedly been proven unworkable and silly.

In its purest form it is quite simply a doomsday mechanism.

This has been proven over and over again.

Free market capitalism -- to the extent it has ever been in existence -- invariably results in capricious boom-bust cycles.

As always, it is best for providing a milieu in which psychopaths can most actively and successfully predate upon their fully human cousins.

The ideologues look upon the safety circuits which have over time been cobbled together to keep the system from blowing itself up as an impediment to greater success.


Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

require radical change. It is simply being a member of the majority and the status quo.

So the onus is not on the moderate majority to make their case, since society is already the way they like it. Rather, it requires "movements" from those who oppose a moderate, centrist, balanced course of action.

If you want to replace consensus, co-operation and compromize with a single-minded extremism, then you'd better develop some pretty convincing arguments because, right now, the majority isn't buying it, and they are the ones who decide elections.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

It was a great year if you got paid to do activism, lost elections, cut deals with the Mayor's office and developers to eviscerate your agenda and still get paid to do the same ineffective activism after negotiating down concession after concession.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

goal that cannot be achieved either at the ballot box nor by negotiation with our political leaders.

That is why it is generally the political extremes (left-win or right-wing - it hardly matters) that engage in activism. Activism is ignoring what the majority want and, instead, dreaming up a system or solution that you would prefer to see. And then trying to do an end-run around the existing power structure to impose that idea on the politicans and the majority who otherwise would not buy it.

Occasionally it can work, as with the civil rights movement in the 1960's, although even then it took the leadership of one of the two major parties to enact and effect it.

But most of the time, activism is just narrow interest-groups trying to carry more water than either their constituency or their funding will bear. And you have to ask yourself whether the continual failure of activists is perhaps in the best interest of most people?

Generally, I want the results that we vote for, and not what a group of zealots decide we should want behind closed doors.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

Successful activists identify the intersection between their desires and public opinion and work from there.

Needless to say, made painfully obvious by the record, San Francisco has no activists which are successful in advancing their activist agenda.

In San Francisco, activists are are only "successful" when they abandon their agenda and adopt the position of corporate rule that holds San Franciscans in contempt and bears gold bricks on red velvet pillows with golden tassels to our economic overlords.

Only then are they given resources that allow them to pretend to make a difference and provide corporate rule a modicum of liberal cover for their corrupt extraction regime.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 12:57 pm

Most candidates who seek power and actually get it then have to make deals and water down their original ideas in the face of political reality. That is why the elft were so disappointed with Clinton and Obama because what they did was different from what they said they would do.

You might find such "moving to the center" to be a sellout. But others will argue it shows a pragmatic spirit and a preference for getting at least some of what you want.

Insofar as SF activists are failing, as you claim, it is because they elect not to compromize. You can be perfect or you can be effective, but you cannot be both.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 1:14 pm

Compromise has devolved to capitulation.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 10:20 pm

that the rules, regulations, restrictions, fees and taxes lumped on him represent any form of "capitulation" by liberals.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 6:59 am

Help might be on the way. If the real estate mortgage tax deduction is repealed watch out below.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

deductibility may be reduced from a million to, say 750K or even 500K.

Bear in mind, however, that many SF properties are being bid up by those who have cashed in their stock options. and in those cases, we're talking a cash bid, meaning that deductibility is moot.

Also bear in mind that you can get a mortgage now for as little as 2% interest. Deductibility is much less of a factor with rates that low. 15 years ago, it was 7%. 30 years ago, it was 14%.

Low rates are driving SF's latest RE boom as much as the influx of cash from SF's booming economy.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 1:17 pm

The weird thing about SF rent control is that it's tied to buildings built before 1979. So as each of these buildings is lost to ellis act, the amount of rent-controlled stock steadily dwindles. so I guess it's not surprising to see tenant advocates get worried. I think the problem is that the whole policy needs some kind of overhaul, instead of being tied to this magic point in time.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

thousand units fall out of rent control for the following reasons:

1) Ellis evictions
2) OMI's and other evictions, either for cause or LL-induced
3) Merges, demolitions and major renovations
4) Natural turnover
5) Landlords simply leaving units vacant, letting relatives live there or going TIC
6) Short-term, corporate or vacation lets

The RC housing stock is probably losing about 1% per annum and, at some point, there will no longer be a majority of voters in favor of continuing RC in it's current form.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

I have been receiving daily email petitions from Democratic Party front groups decrying impending cuts to Social Security.

But who are these greedy developers? Why, many of them are Democrats.

As for Randy Shaw, I hate to say he is a slum-lord, but it appears he is.

Let's be clear here: the developers coming in are not embracing the community that is already here in San Francisco. Same thing in Oakland. Davey D did a good discussion about it Tuesday on KPFA.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

Do United Airlines do that? AT&T? WalMart?

What exactly are you asking for here from entrepreneurs? They exist to make money. and SF has lots of money.

Would you rather they all went to another city, leaving SF in stasis? Why is inward investment bad but leaving the status quo in place somehow preferab;e?

Your post makes no sense.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 5:05 pm

Embracing the community means having ethics, for starters.
I question the ethics of many developers.

When I organized a public forum for women early this month, many pointed out racism and gentrification as key issues.

People want to live and work here - great! But why do they turn a callous eye to those who have built strong communities and are being forced out by no-fault evictions?

Why are they not offering these new jobs to folks who already live in SF?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

"ethical" get bandied about but really aren't too helpful, since they have a significant subjective element to them.

So I might see new buildings as progress while you see them as gentrification.

I might see a lower crime rate as Sf becoems more white, while you deem it racist.

And few cocnepts are more relative than "ethics". No doubt you and I will disagree on what is moral versus immoral.

In any event, I see the Bay area as one big city. Balkanization of the Bay area by city and county smacks of beggar-thy-neighbor provincialism.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 7:03 am

Several years ago there was talk about a moratorium on market rate housing. The moratorium never happened.
As the SF Weekly cover story says this week, people are being evicted to "flip" properties. I find that unethical. I hope that is specific enough for you.
I welcome developers who come in to buy an abandoned building and make it into something. I am thinking of the Ferry Building and the Armory.
Developers are required to put money towards new affordable housing, but the result has not been very susbstantial, IMHO.

I don't actually think that SF is getting whiter. I also don't think there is less crime. Au contraire, there was a murder on my block over the summer.
I own a home with my family. We send our children to public schools and volunteer in the community. I believe in being fair and giving back.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 8:00 am

Had a moratorium been in place for market-rate housing, that would not entail that more affordable housing would be built. In fact, the exact opposite because new-build housing comes with affordable housing setasides, that would be lost in any "moratorium".

And anything that results in less housing leads to higher rents, helping nobody.

The process of renters relocating to area's that better suit their fiscal power is well-established. Generally owner-occupied hosuing is seen as preferable to renting, and that trend is evident in SF and any other place that has a sufficiently strong economy. It leads tog reater stability and more community spirit.

Generally speaking, crime correlates to race to at least some extent. It's not a shock to anyone that area's like Bayview, Hunter's Point and the Tenderloin have the city's higest crime rates. Formerly poor, non-white areas that have become gentrified, like Hayes Valley and Mission Dolores, have seen crime rates fall. Almost everyone would deem that a good thing.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2012 @ 8:24 am