A win for the tenants

A compromise that actually improves the current situation and could help slow the wave of speculative evictions
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EDITORIAL In a stunning victory, tenant advocates have managed to derail a terrible piece of condo-conversion legislation — and replace it with a compromise that actually improves the current situation and could help slow the wave of speculative evictions.

The supervisors need to support the revised version of the bill — and if Mayor Lee wants to have any credibility at all with tenants, he needs to sign it.

For some 30 years, San Francisco has had a strict policy limiting the conversion of rental apartments to condominiums. Only 200 units a year get permission, through a lottery.

But thanks to the popularity of tenancies in common (a backdoor way around the limit) and the state's Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict all their tenants and sell the units as TICs, there's now a long waiting list.

TIC owners say it's unfair that they have to accept (somewhat) higher mortgage payments and reduced value on their homes because the wait for a conversion permit has grown to ten years or more. Real-estate speculators see huge profits in clearing buildings of long-term tenants with rent-controlled apartments and selling the places as TICs.

When Supervisors Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell first proposed allowing more than 2,000 tenancy-in-common units to bypass the lottery, tenant advocates began organizing to defeat the bill. Nobody thought a compromise was possible — particularly when the landlord-backed Plan C refused to negotiate in good faith and look for a solution everyone could accept.

But with the help of Supervisors Norman Yee, Jane Kim, and David Chiu, the tenants were able to craft a deal that clears up the backlog — and then prevents any further conversions for at least a decade. That's fair: If the limit is 200 a year, and TIC owners want to clear up a backlog of 2,000 all at once, a ten-year moratorium makes sense. The tenant package also bars conversion of any buildings with more the five units and includes more protections for existing tenants.

If this proposal is really about helping TIC owners who face a long and uncertain time on the conversion list, then the compromise ought to be fine — and indeed, many TIC owners support it. The real-estate speculators who want to see evictions continue at a rapid pace hate it — this would make TICs less appealing and less valuable. But that's fine: Buying a TIC has never been, and should never be, based on a future promise of condo conversion. And if this slows down the horrifying epidemic of evictions and displacement, it will be a very positive change.

Wiener and Farrell didn't accept the compromise, but it was amended into their legislation anyway. The new version will come before the supervisors May 7. The supervisors should see this for what it is — greedy speculators against everyone else — and vote yes.

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