Imagine rents going up three, four, even seven times in a single year!

This was the case for many Mission and San Francisco residents in 1978, the year before the Board of Supervisors approved rent control.

Documentary filmmaker Charles Bolton and the production company Optic Nerve, now Ideas In Motion,  caught the angst in “Pushed Out For Profit.” The film aired on KQED on Sept. 6, 1978.

In the interest of reminding readers of the Mission’s history, Mission Local edited seven short clips from “Pushed Out For Profit” that appear on this page.

The documentary shows the plight of the tenants and the successful campaign for rent control. The style is unapologetic in its activist bent.

The film “was criticized for showing only the tenants’ side of the story,” Bolton, the filmmaker said recently.  “Our object was to teach people to get organized in neighborhoods.”

The film includes an interview with young housing activist Calvin Welch, who is still an affordable-housing advocate and lives in the Haight. Mission Local interviewed him for Clip 7.

Supervisor Harvey Milk, one of the most visible figures on the issue of rent control, appears in his Castro camera store in Clip 5. Six months after he was interviewed, San Francisco’s first openly gay supervisor was shot and killed.

Apart from the more familiar faces such as Milk and Enola Maxwell, others who appear in the film include former Mission tenants Reuben Burke, Pat and Gene Westegaard, Bill and Julie Camerlo. All of them used to live on Shotwell Street. Mission Loc@l revisited their old house to meet the current tenants in Clip 3. We also meet the ex-tenant Julie Camerlo in Clip 4.

The supervisors passed the Rent Stabilization Ordinance in 1979. Rent control now applies to some 170,000 rental units in the city. It limits the amount of rent increases and the reasons for evicting a tenant.

However, rent control only covers buildings built up until 1979. Numerous efforts to extend the rent ordinance to houses or apartments built after 1979 have for the most part failed. Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, pointed out an exception. Recently, she noted, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to extend eviction protections of the rent ordinance to post-79 buildings in foreclosures.

Also, the recession has slowed the rate of rent increases. Tenant evictions have also decreased.

The San Francisco Rent Board’s statistics released in September 2009 show tenant reports of alleged wrongful evictions decreased by 8 percent compared to the previous year – from 531 to 488.

Read about tenants’ rights at the SF Rent Board’s website.

Thanks to Michael Nolan and Jim Mayer and John Rogers of Ideas in Motion for their assistance on this piece. Original documentary “Pushed Out for Profit” provided by Ideas in Motion.

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  1. Truthfully San Francisco is a city which will never again be an “affordable” place to live. It’s too desirable and there is no more land so prices invariably go up on everything from rent to fuel to home prices in the city. Many people who are well off can’t even buy a home.

    Rent control is a failure because although it’s been in place over 30 years, rents in the city have exploded despite it, so it’s an obvious failure. To do what Mr. Welch said (bar landlords from increasing rent on newly vacated rent-controlled units) is a poor idea because you can’t expect landlords to be able to afford the maintenance and upkeep on buildings if rents are at 1980’s levels in 2013. Tenants can hoard units for decades, it’s not uncommon. Also, many wealthy people abuse rent controlled units and should not enjoy the benefits of cheap rent when rent control was meant for low and middle income groups.

    I feel rent control should be abolished in favor of housing vouchers for low and moderate income people and more affordable housing built in the city instead of luxury units as is currently be done all over town. Rents will be high no matter if there is rent control or not, and the system that was intended to help the poor is being abused by many people who have the means to afford market level rents but would rather abuse the system. For every well off person abusing rent control, a person who needs rent control is pushed out of the city and that is not okay.

    Rent control was too far reaching and it has had unintended negative consequences. Boston once had rent control like San Francisco and it no longer does, it was abolished over a decade ago. The rents are what they are because the market dictates what people will pay, if a greedy landlord wants too much rent then no one will rent the unit and he’ll have to decrease the rent until it matches market rents. Boston did not go into Armageddon when rent control ended, neither would San Francisco. That’s my two cents.

  2. Brian you are shockingly ignorant of basic economics. Landlords will charge whatever the market will bear. Supply and demand (equilibrium theory) have nothing to do with prices as both can be manipulated through monopolization (i.e. landlords tend to consolidate) and need perfect competition (fantasy). Even more importantly, homes are not financial devices, they are necessities, if you want to turn a profit then turn to a productive industry (try making something) rather than an extractive industry (parasitical rentier). In other words why don’t you try working for a living! What is unethical is someone profiting off of the basic needs of another human being. Shame on you.

  3. Milk was shockingly ignorant about the basic economics of whether increases in rents reduce aggregate demand. He sought to use government power to forcibly extract resources from landholders and transfer those resources to tenants. That’s immoral. What he should have done was to oppose the subsidies that landholders receive when sites increase in value due to services financed by taxes on things other than site value.

    1. Brian you are shockingly ignorant and basic economics. Landlords will charge whatever the market will bear. Supply and demand have nothing to do with price as both can be manipulated through monopolization (i.e. landlords tend to consolidate). Even more importantly, homes are not financial devices, they are necessities, if you want to turn a profit then turn to a productive industry (try making something) rather than an extractive industry (parasitical rentier). In other words why don’t you try working for a living!