LGBT icon evicted, leaving town, blasting Wiener

The man who made this movie is gone from San Francisco

Documentary filmmaker and longtime queer community activist and leader David Weissman is leaving San Francisco -- because he and three other tenants of his place on Oak Street have been evicted under the Ellis Act. These evictions are happening all over town; it's a disaster. Weissman isn't going quietly, though; he's penned a sharp letter to Sup. Scott Weiner that's making the rounds in tenant and LGBT circles and creating enough controversy that Wiener has put out a long response.

Weissman told me the rash of Ellis Act evictions is horrifying, particularly when seniors are involved. "So many people who have lived through the AIDS epidemic are now finding themselves unwanted and adrift," he said. "There have always been two competing visions of San Francisco, and the one that's ascendant now says that people who can own property and make a lot of money will make this a better city. But I've always believed that what makes this city great are the creative types who don't always have a lot of money."

Read his letter to Wiener and the supervisor's response after the jump. (UPDATE: It's worth noting what Weissman posted below, that he is not becoming homeless and spends half his time in Portland, where he will no doubt now live. He won't be a San Franciscan any more. He writes: "Thanks to everyone for your kind words of support. The letter was intended to bring attention to the larger issues at stake, that most renters in SF are in serious and increasing risk of Ellis Act eviction. As most of you know, my own situation is unusual, in that I've been living back and forth between SF and Portland since 2004, with the full knowledge of my benevolent late landlords. I will always be a San Franciscan in my heart, and am trying to find ways to maintain some kind of base there."

Dear Supervisor Weiner:

We've met a few times. I'm the producer of the documentaries We Were Here and The Cockettes, both of which chronicle the history of Gay San Francisco. I've been a San Franciscan since 1976. In 1979 I was on the campaign staff of Prop R, a rent-control initiative that didn't pass, but which pushed the Board of Supervisors to pass the significantly weaker Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Law. I subsequently became a Legislative Aide to Supervisor Harry Britt. I worked a couple of campaigns with Dick Pabich and Jim Rivaldo, and also worked closely with Bill Kraus -- heroic leaders whose names I hope are familiar to you.

I am being forced out of my apartment that I've rented since 1986 due to the Ellis Act. This will end my 37-year residency in San Francisco. I must say that I find your policies regarding housing in San Francisco -- your consistent bias toward home ownership at the expense of tenants and affordability, to be dismaying, and an affront to the legacy of Harvey Milk. In my own situation, it has been extremely clear that the limitations on condo conversion provided somewhat of an impediment to the immediate eviction of everyone in my building (all gay, 3 out of 4 of us are seniors), motivating the landlord to at least pay us to leave rather than just evict us at very minimal cost to him. But even this is appalling -- your efforts should be toward further combating the effects of the Ellis Act, rather than contributing to the tsunami of evictions that is destroying the fabric of our City. No buyout can compensate for the loss of our homes.

I don’t doubt that you have good intentions, and that you have done some good things as Supervisor. Though you didn’t live here in the worst of the AIDS years, I assume you’ve been somewhat impacted by that history. But for those of us who elected Harvey Milk, who fought the Briggs Initiative and Anita Bryant, who created this amazing gay community centered around Castro Street, and then who fought for our lives and the lives of our brothers through two decades of AIDS deaths... having a gay supervisor promoting policies that are forcing so many of our generation out of our homes and out of the City to which we have given so much is heartbreaking.

Wiener's response, posted on Facebook:

Hi David. Yes, we have met several times, and I’ve always been a huge admirer of your work. You’re an icon in our community. “We Were Here” is one of the best and most moving films I’ve ever seen.

Your email is deeply distressing to me. It’s awful that the Ellis Act was used to evict you and the other tenants out of your building. I don’t support the Ellis Act and I publicly supported Mark Leno’s (unfortunately unsuccessful) legislation to restrict its use. Back in the 90s, when I was a new lawyer, I defended numerous tenants against the wave of evictions at the time, both Ellis Act and Owner-Move-In evictions, and it was as heartbreaking then as it is now. I’m truly sorry that this happened to you and sorry for the City that you now are leaving. I would be more than interested in helping you find a place in San Francisco that you can afford. Please let me know if you want my help in that effort. I’m at your disposal.

It took me a day to respond to this email, because it’s a challenging response to write. Something terrible happened to you. You have every right to be angry and frustrated that so many great years in San Francisco, building our community, may come to an end this way. (I truly hope that we can avoid that, of course.) But, I do need to respond to some things that you said in your email about me. I hate to have to respond -– since what happened to you was so awful -– but I don’t think that your comments about me, which you’ve now disseminated publicly, are fair or accurate. It’s not accurate to describe my policy bent as having a “consistent bias toward home ownership at the expense of tenants and affordability.” I know you disagree with my legislation to provide one-time relief to owner-occupied TICs that are at risk of foreclosure, and I’ll get to that in a bit. I’m not sure how much you know about my public positions and votes over a decade on housing issues, but I’ll describe them for you. While I do support helping people achieve home ownership –- and I don’t in any way run away from that -- I’ve supported just about every pro-tenant measure that’s appeared on the ballot, including measures that my predecessor and Mayor Newsom opposed (that’s not a criticism of my predecessor or Mayor Newsom, both of whom I strongly supported, but we had a difference of opinion). I supported Prop B, which required disclosure to prospective condo purchasers of the unit’s eviction history. That went on the ballot after the Mayor vetoed it, and I supported it. I supported Prop H, which increased relocation payments to tenants in no-fault evictions. That went on the ballot after the Mayor vetoed it, and I supported it. I supported Prop M, which banned and created penalties for harassment of tenants. That went on the ballot after the Mayor vetoed it, and I supported it. And, as noted, I supported Mark Leno’s effort to restrict the application of the Ellis Act. I also supported limiting or banning condo conversion for units that were made vacant through use of the Ellis Act.

As a member of the Board of Supervisors I’ve continued my work supporting tenants. I authored and passed legislation banning universities (including Academy of Arts University) from converting rent-controlled apartment buildings into student dorms. That was a huge win for tenants, and I pushed it through against intense opposition. I authored and passed the Good Samaritan Ordinance, which was supported by tenants groups and which provides affordable temporary apartments for tenants who are displaced by disasters.

Now, let’s talk about my work around affordable housing. I was one of the people who negotiated the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, Prop C, which appeared on last November’s ballot and won. I campaigned for it passionately. It will generate $1.5 billion for affordable housing in coming decades. I’ve been closely involved with the 55 Laguna project, which will create quite a bit of affordable housing, including affordable housing for LGBT seniors. I’ve supported every transition-age youth housing project that’s come to the board, all of which have been controversial. I’ve publicly begged Larkin Street to create more youth housing in the Castro.

I stand by my record on housing policy, including support for tenants and for creation of affordable housing. Your perception of my overall record simply isn’t accurate.

As for my TIC legislation, I respect your opposition to it, but I don’t think it’s fair to state that by helping struggling TIC owners stay in their homes –- and helping them avoid foreclosure -– I’m forcing gay people from their homes. David, you and I don’t know each other well, but if you got to know me, you’d know that I’ve spent my entire adult life (which has been more years than you might think) fighting for the LGBT community. Whether playing a key role in building the LGBT community center, fighting my neighbors on Collingwood Street when they tried to get rid of LYRIC, leading the charge to restore HIV funding cuts in our city budget, to helping get transgender people health coverage under Healthy San Francisco, or sponsoring the legislation that created the LGBT senior task force, support for my brothers and sisters in this community has been at the core of everything I do.

The TIC legislation is not what its opponents have painted it to be. I’ve posted a full explanation of the legislation here.
This legislation provides one-time relief to TIC owners in owner-occupied TICs that are in the condo lottery. San Francisco law restricts or prohibits condo conversion for buildings that have had Ellis Act or other bad eviction history. This legislation sticks by those restrictions. These TIC owners are in serious trouble. They purchased thinking they’d be able to convert in 5-7 years. It’s now looking like 15-20 years. That’s 15-20 years on a group mortgage –- where if one owner defaults everyone defaults -– paying double the interest rate of other homeowners, and being unable to refinance even if you’re about to experience a balloon payment on the mortgage. If we don’t help these TIC owners, we’re going to see a wave of foreclosures and people losing their homes. While I fully understand the opposition to condo conversion, I guess my question is whether allowing these homeowners to go into foreclosure is a good thing for the city. I don’t think it is. This is a one-time and discrete piece of legislation designed to help a group of San Francisco residents -– primarily long-time residents -– who are in serious trouble.

These TIC owners aren’t aliens who landed here and snapped up units. Almost every TIC owner I’ve ever met is a first-time homeowner who rented for years (often renting for a lot of years) and then scraped together a down payment to be able to purchase a place. They’re middle class, since if they were wealthy they’d be able to buy more than a TIC. Many are people who’ve lived here for a very long time –- 15, 20 years or longer. Many are gay. These are San Franciscans just like you and I are. They, too, are part of the fabric of our city. I don’t think it’s anti-tenant, anti-gay, or anti-anything to provide them with some help by letting them condo convert their units so that they can have housing stability.

It’s estimated that 85% of these TIC units are owner-occupied. And for the very small number of tenants who live in these buildings, the legislation mandates that they receive lifetime leases with full rent and eviction controls. Again, 85% of the units are occupied by their owners.

David, I regret having to respond to you like this. That’s pretty much the last thing I want to do with someone who’s going through something as traumatic as what you’re experiencing. But, since you made a pretty bald public assertion about what I stand for and who I advocate for, I thought it necessary to respond.


But as soon as it were to move forward, you would be on here flaming against it.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 8:24 am

In addition to MEANS TESTED rent control.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 10:18 am

when they evaluate the application of potential tenants.

If you mean voiding the regulated contract between landlords and tenants if a tenant's income increases, then you most certainly oppose people improving their economic conditions. Which, in other words, would make you a hypocrite.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 10:42 am

We shouldn't be giving what amounts to housing subsidies to high income people. Means testing would also open up inventory.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:31 am

You and your real estate friends? San Francisco has rent control. Get over it. Problem?

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:41 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:57 am

Yes, problem to be solved. Problem?

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

evictions when the Ellis Act trumps city laws.

We're all waiting to hear.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

diligence that a landlord does can become invalid.

Rent control causes landlords to do a different from of due diligence i.e. ask "how likely is this tenant to move on in a year or two?"

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:41 am

that the incomes of their tenants might increase, decreasing the possibility of late or missed rent payments.

Try planet Earth rather than some Ayn Rand fantasy world.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:58 am

with rent control, a landlord values a tenant who leaves.

Corporate lets, vacation lets, academic lets, foreign tourists and BnB is the way many are handling this.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

I got thrown out of my house on the ellis act. I lived there for 22 years. The formality was a payment of 4,500.00 to leave and relocate. I slapped my landlord with the fact that my apartment could not be rented for 9 years, or I would have to be offered the apartment at the rent I was paying, or I get a 45,000.00 settlement if the landlord rents it out before the 9 years. So it still remains empty.

In David's case, I understand that the people in his house did negotiations and were paid 40,000 + to leave their homes, so they have no strings attached to their formal homes. Yes it sounds like a lot, but at the price of changing your rents from 700.00 a month to 2500.00 a month, that money only gives you a safety net for a period of time, and then you move to a cardboard shack in Lake county. This is where we are going for clearing out apartment buildings who have tenants who have been there for a long period of time. It is just as sad as our country's respect for the elderly.

San Francisco is becoming like Paris, Prague, London, Nyc, etc... where all the residents have to move out of town, while the rich elite take over, and the housing turns into tourist rentals and condo shares. I guess this is progress, corruption, greed, and growth. This is hell on earth.

I am about to collect my social security for the rest of my life, at a price of 1400.00 a month. So where do I move to? India? Thailand? If I am lucky, it will be a trailer park near a safeway. I see that as a luxury dream.

I have lived in San Francisco since 1974. It would be my dream to remain here till I die, but like the residents of Hawaii, it looks like a slim chance.

I hope that we can take care of our elderly with respect like they do in other cultures, but it seems like our country just cares about who you are by the amount of cash you have to keep you alive.

As a community, we need to create housing that is healing for all ages. Socialism has its merits, and so does democracy. We need a balance and a dream to make a reality.

I hope our wonderful country of California can lead the way.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2013 @ 11:49 pm

else's dime? And you think you deserve that despite clearly not making the kind of decisions in your life that would give you the options you crave.

Why do you feel such a sense of entitlement? Why should somebody on a low income be able to live in an expensive, desirable place.

You got Ellis'ed because you were not economically desirable. Had you agreed to pay more rent, you'd still be in your flat. But you were greedy and paid the price.

Posted by anon on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 8:17 am

Most everyone finds themselves in the previous poster's shoes to one degree or another. it is not an entitlement when everyone needs it. Housing needs to serve as shelter first and speculative asset second and San Francisco's public policy reflects this often as much is legal.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

Shelter may be a necessity but a nice home in an expensive town certainly is not.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

Many seniors have worked hard all their lives and are still struggling to make ends met. This includes highly educated people with a whole slew of credentials (I'm one). The problem is that corporate sector has colluded with government to push its neoliberal policies for the past 30 years, and the result is that we're starting to look like Greece where highly educated people -- those who made the "right choices" -- are out of a job and affordable housing. It's the corruption of the elites that got us in this mess to begin with. So you think that because you have a wad of cash (assuming you do), you're better than everyone else? Grow up, troll.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 2:11 pm

You should have thought about all of this 30 years ago, now it's to late. Why do you expect everyone else to take care of you when YOU COULDN'T BE BOTHERED TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

Does anyone have any evidence, of Wiener's support for or participation in tenant friendly ballot measures to support the claims made in this letter?

Were there any contributions, any records of votes at Alice, ballot arguments?

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 7:17 am

Read more, talk less.

Posted by anon on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 8:15 am

Independent corroboration?

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:54 am

Learn to admit mistakes.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

Harvey Milk would kick his ass just like he did all the other bashers who came into the community...! RECALL...!

Posted by Guest Lee Mentley on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 7:25 am

San Francisco need to build more homeowner ship units, they also need to built more rentals, what kind of units. All types, it seems when people move here and make more and more money, they will buy what is out there, driving up the prices. Renting in the city is so hard now, that people are willing to pay.

You take a low incomer they can't just say I am going to pay this, but you get one of those hipsters coming along with tons of money, different story.

Sad to see the plight of Mr Weissman, so many others have been forced out or just ended up being driven out. San Francisco is just not what it used to be.

I got out in 1990, was still a fun town, but now not so much.

Posted by Garrett on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:21 am

in SF because they worry that post-1979 construction may be brought under rent control at some future time.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:31 am

all over San Francisco right now.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:39 am

Investors can get better returns with less risk elsewhere

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:55 am

Developers often hold onto their units for 10 years as rentals so that the statutory limit on when a builder can be sued for poor construction runs out. Then, those craptacular units are sold off to the next round of suckers.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:49 am

Otherwise they'd never get rid of the parasite.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:56 am

New construction condos are not subject to rent control, idiot troll.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

It's the whole point.

But only because you didn't know this, the eviction control provisions of rent control do apply to condo's. Costa-Hawkins only outlawed the control of rents and not the control of evictions

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

"Not many investors or developers want to build new rental units"

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 12:29 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

TIC owners have options: own or rent. I have 2 options: rent or live on the street.
I went to wiener's TIC conversion hearing. The much vaunted "protections" of lifetime leases for other renters in TIC buildings is BULLSHIT. The City Attorney and DPW did not even know who would defend these lifetime leases against powerful real estate interests with billions of dollars who will challenge them in court, and THERE IS NO MONEY OR STAFF to defend against this. This is not MY perception, this is what the CITY ATTORNEY and DPW said in the hearing. Makes me think that 1) Wiener is naive or more likely 2) He really does not intend to defend renters against evictions.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

There is no proven link between TIC's and evictions.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

That proves the link for me. There is no proven link between your comments and reality.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

The DPW testimony at Tuesday's hearing was shocking. It seemed the city hired someone totally unaware of the elaborate condo conversion rules and the many purported protections against conversion of units where an eviction occurs. I'm sure it's no accident they hired this person precisely because he was ignorant of the many complex condo conversion rules. He said the city converted 700 units one year when the limit is supposed to be 200 units, and there many other years when he told the committee that far more than 200 units were permanently removed from rent-control protections. "I'm efficient at this" is the basically the same as saying, "I don't care what the rules are, I just want to make sure the real estate bottom-feeders get their free $100 - $250,000 increase in value gift courtesy of SF's precious rent-control housing stock."

Also shocking was the fact that 2-unit buildings were summarily dismissed by DPW of needing any additional investigation or transparent reporting since they are "of right."

The real estate shills tell us every day on this board that most tenants will be evicted eventually so that the rental units can be converted to non-protected status, counting their billions of "free money" when they get the city to sign the papers allowing the conversion of San Franciso's most affordable housing to some of its most expensive real estate.

I wonder if real estate speculation makes people sociopaths, or whether it's just that sociopaths are naturally drawn to that non-productive profession, which makes money not by creating any new housing but by merely exploiting the condo conversion rules and using the government to further their exploitive activities that destroy existing San Francisco households in the process.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 9:33 pm

That other 500 in condo conversions were for 2-unit buildings which bypass the lottery anyway and typically only take a few months to complete,

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

Just because someone buys out existing tenants rather than evict them, or gentrifies a building and then passes along the high upgrade costs to the exisitng tenants causing them to move out, we can easily imagine there was an eviction or "constructive eviction" in virtually every building that is in line for condo conversion somewhere along the way. Very few building owners are wealthy enough to outlast every tenant by keeping vacant units off the market until the building is completly empty before selling off the units to TIC buyers. The "Fake Ellis" eviciton alone accounts for numerous units that were sold to the TIC bottom-feeders who are destroying some of SF's most affordable housing. Just because a court doesn't issue an "eviction order" to the sheriff doesn't men there aren't many sneaky ways owners get tenants to leave a rent-controlled building.

If there is no "proven link" it's because you don't pay attention to what happens at the Rent Board virtually every day and it's because from what we saw at Tuesday's hearing that the "City Family" at DPW who are in charge of condo conversions sounded both scarily non-plussed and wholly uninformed about tracking evictions and the building history of units they are approving for condo conversion. The entire process needs to be reformed, with much more oversight and full disclosure of previous tenant history in the buildings being converted, and consolidation of the process under one department other than DPW since they sounded completley uninformed about important basic information, while SF's most affordable housing is forever lost from rent control protection.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 7:08 pm

evictions, and so nobody gets evicted to create a TIC.

What can happen is that owners do move-in evictions and then form a TIC, but that has always been legal and accepted.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

comment. Our landlord evicted us through the Ellis Act in order to empty the three unit building and convert it to a TIC.

You know better because you are an evictor.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

I bought into an empty TIC building so they do exist and are not at all as uncommon as you might think. The owners were an older couple living in one unit with one of their children in a second. When the third unit was vacated they decided to sell. No evictions.
Sadly the conversion of rent control and escalating real estate prices leads inevitably to a lot of evictions. Despite all the comments I don't hear many constructive ideas about how to fix this without throwing over all property rights. If I own something why shouldn't I be able to get the same sales price as my neighbor? I think this keeps a lot of potential rental units off the market, being a landlord here is not for the faint of heart.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

But even if he were right, so what? Sometimes people have to move home. It happens and it's not the end of the world.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 6:03 pm


You are the master of unsubstantiated statements and uncritical devotion to an ideology based on fantasy.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

Increasing home ownership through easier condo conversion is about the moderate faction of the politicos hoping that less renters means more moderate (conservative) pro business; pro-corporation voters. The less moderate faction fears the very same and fights, viciously at times, to maintain the status quo of 60% renter and high degree of turn over. Each of these factions is supported by a narrow special interest gathered together as either the Unions or the Business/Corps. and so the majority of San Franciscans suffer while these people play political games. Weiner? He's just a new tool even if he hasn't realized it yet.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

When I'm looking for work, I am always interested in the one that will pay me the most, Why is it shocking that landlords look for tenants who pay the most? And why should private housing be though of as public housing in this town? We have public housing already.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

When I'm looking for work, money is certainly a factor, but there is also the nature of the enterprise, is it interesting, challenging or boring drudge work, what is the organizational culture, what are the work requirements, where is it located and what kind of commute is involved, etc.

I'm taking a slightly lower hourly rate now because I get to work 30 hours a week.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

Does your boss know you do this all day?

Posted by anon on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

I meet and exceed the terms of my contract.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

Does your boss know you spend all day online here?

Posted by anon on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

Who is paying you?

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 6:45 pm