Rent control advocates tussle with realtors

Changing the "SF Realtors" sign to read "SF Evictors" Photo by Lola M. Chavez

When a dozen or so tenant rights advocates arrived on the doorstep of the San Francisco Association of Realtors on Thursday morning carrying signs and a megaphone, one immediately clashed at the door with a member of the association with each pushing the other until a staffer was able to pull the door shut.

“This is private property!” the man from inside the building insisted.

“Thank you so much,” a few protesters called back sarcastically.

Meanwhile, around the corner from the entryway, two more protesters had set up a ladder and were taping letters over the Realtors sign, so that it now read “Evictors Association.”

Photo by Joseph Smooke, [people. power. media]

“A lot of our members in the city and county of San Francisco are moving out to Antioch, to Sacramento, to Fairfield,” said Theresa Lewkowitz, an SEIU 1021 union worker. “They can’t work here and live here…if [the city raises] the rents the city’s just going to fall apart.”

The group was there to protest realtor support for the Costa-Hawkins act and the Ellis acts. Both are laws that tenant rights activists have wanted to repeal for years. Costa-Hawkins prevents rent controls on vacant units. The Ellis Act, named after a former city councilman from San Diego who died this week, allows landlords to evict all of their tenants in a building at once. It was originally designed as a relief for landlords for whom renting had become unsustainable, but in a heated real estate market it is used by speculators who turn over buildings.  

The activists were hoping to call public attention to a variety of legislative changes currently under discussion at the state level.

Lawmakers recently tabled another attempt at overturning Costa-Hawkins, and State Senator Scott Wiener has proposed legislation intended to streamline the housing approval process in municipalities that are not meeting state-set housing production goals.

The review process currently can take years of hearings and reviews. Activists are opposed because those holdups are moments where they can make their strongest case for pushing developers toward adding more below-market-rate housing into their proposals.

“All of the ways that we can actually build affordable housing, they are fighting,” said Deepa Varma, executive director of the Tenants Union and one of the activists standing in front of the Realtors Association Thursday morning.  

The Realtors Association responded to the protest with a statement from its CEO Walt Baczkowski.

“Improving housing affordability in San Francisco takes all of us working together to support sensible public policy. These issues stem from a critical housing shortage from years of underproduction – we need to build more affordable housing for low-income, working class, and middle-income residents. SFAR is committed to working with all stakeholders and be part of the solution,” Baczkowski wrote.

Statewide, realtors have resisted overturning both Costa-Hawkins and the Ellis Act.

It’s unlikely the realtors will be convinced by shouting activists on their doorstep. But Varma said it wasn’t about them.

“We’re making sure the general public knows who they can’t trust,” she said.

Same with Wiener – the activists were headed to his office in the State Building next, but Varma says the effort is not about convincing Wiener his policy is wrong, but rather ensuring that there isn’t enough support for it to go forward.

“With him again it’s about…the general public rather than explaining to him that he’s wrong. He’s basically saying is building affordable housing but what he’s doing is incentivizing developers and that’s it.” she said. “It didn’t work with deregulating corporations in other fields it’s not gonna work here.”

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

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4 Comments

  1. Chad Russo

    Parts of the statement from the Realtors Association sounds suspiciously like comments real estate trolls leave on this blog all the time. Hmmmm…

    • Tom Quill

      I mean, it’s also what a huge proportion of people consider to be common sense, despite the fact that there are so many barriers to it ever happening.

    • Dexter Fowler

      I feel it sucks that these Realtors are winning… winning big time… The rules need to change because their killing it. Eating champagne and crab every night.

  2. Scott Feeney

    Style over substance from the Tenants Union. They were apparently too busy lying about YIMBYs to notice that a bill was actually before the Assembly to repeal Costa Hawkins: AB 1506, which they did nothing to support. It’s dead now, thanks as much to their inaction as anything the Realtors did.

    We should probably let cities expand rent control, but long term we will protect more tenants by ensuring an abundant supply of new housing — something the Tenants Union keeps finding silly excuses to oppose.

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