The push for a November ballot measure to protect tenants gained momentum in the Castro over the weekend.
Admittedly, most of the people at the Castro Tenants Convention at the LGBT Center on Saturday were “the usual suspects,” as one person in the audience put it. One of the main presenters was a leader behind the recent tech bus protests on Valencia, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s former editor Tim Redmond was there taking copious notes for his blog.
The event was co-sponsored by a cross-section of San Francisco progressive organizations: the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, District 8 Democrats, AIDS Housing Alliance and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.
The purpose of the event was to brainstorm November ballot measures that could slow evictions in San Francisco. All tenants were welcome, and Supervisors David Campos, Scott Wiener and David Chiu showed up.
Yet then there was a very unusual suspect among the crowd of about 100 people: a 20-something female tech employee, the type of person that Castro Supervisor Scott Wiener argued has been unfairly scapegoated for the city’s housing woes at a press conference last week. The woman identified herself as Rolla Selbak, and asked Mission Local that her employer not be named.
“I was a little scared to come here because I thought I was going to be labeled as ‘evil,’” she told Mission Local. “We live in this city, we are here now, so how can we help?”
Selbak proposed that the city levy a special tax on residents who work outside of San Francisco — which would include her. The ballot proposal only received one vote.
Yet it was just one idea of many. Over two hours, the attendees voted on more than 20 ballot measure suggestions — and a dozen more street-level action ideas, from political theater to protests.
“We don’t want to be talking heads bitching about the problem,” said Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, a housing rights activist who was both at the forefront of the tech bus protests in December and one of the hosts of Saturday’s event. “We need the room to come up with ideas on how to stop evictions.”
The organizers plan to present the potential ballot measures at a citywide tenants convention next month. In order to get a proposal on the November ballot, the supporters must collect 9,702 signatures — five percent of the electorate in the last mayoral election.
The idea that earned the most votes on Saturday was a proposal to enforce both the Ellis Act and owner move-in eviction law. The Ellis Act is a 1985 state law that allows landlords to evict tenants in order to get out of the rental business. The property has to remain off the rental market for at least five years — which dissuades landlords from simply evicting their rent-controlled residents and jacking up the rent for new tenants. Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco jumped 170 percent from 2010 to 2013, according to a report by the city budget and legislative analyst.
Saturday’s proponents wanted enforcement to make sure that the Ellis Acted properties do, indeed, stay off the market for five years. In the case of an owner move-in eviction, they wanted to ensure that the owner did, in fact, move into the unit.
Saturday’s winning proposal would also make the Ellis Act more expensive by increasing relocation costs for tenants: the payment would be the difference between the tenant’s current rent and the market rate rent in the neighborhood for four years.
For now, they’re all just ideas. Peter Menchini, who lives in Duboce Triangle, said he just wants the tech companies — targeted by many as the cause of the eviction crisis — to pay their fair share.
“If you are here then you have to contribute to the city, not just be a ‘taker’ — to borrow a term from the right wing,” he told Mission Local.
Increasing relocation costs is one of two tenant protection measures that District 9 Supervisor David Campos plans to float around the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor’s office. Campos’ other proposal would categorize buyouts as evictions so that they could be counted by the city. Currently there is no way to track how many tenants are accepting money from their landlords to move out.
“For every Ellis Act, there are two or three buyouts that are not recorded,” Campos said to Mission Local. Categorizing buyouts as evictions could restrict landlords from charging market rate rents to new tenants as well as limit the possibility of converting the building into condos, he said.
The specifics are not yet drafted, but, on Saturday, housing rights activists voted in favor of Campos’ proposal to count the buy-outs.
Sherburn-Zimmer said no matter what the coalition proposes, the ballot measure needs to be able to withstand a legal challenge. “Why put hundreds of hours for something that’s not going to pass?”
Among the more far-fetched suggestions for the policy proposals was making Silicon Valley a more culturally vibrant place, so tech workers will have an incentive to stay in the South Bay. Every time the idea was brought up, it caused the room to erupt in laughter. It only got one vote.