Eviction epidemic spurs legislative solutions

Tenants, organizers and residents impacted by Ellis Act evictions packed the Board of Supervisors Chambers at San Francisco City Hall Nov. 14 for a hearing on eviction and displacement in San Francisco. As more and more residents face ousters only to be priced out, lawmakers and advocates are floating legislative fixes to try and reverse the trend before it reaches the soaring levels of the displacement epidemic that impacted the city during the first dot-com boom.

“It seems to me that we have a tale of two cities,” Sup. David Campos, who requested the hearing, said at the start of the discussion, held at the Board of Supervisors’ Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee. “We must act urgently to address this crisis, which I believe is a crisis,” he added. “We are fighting, I think, for the soul of San Francisco.”

Fred Brousseau of the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst’s office shared his recent analysis on eviction and displacement trends across the city.

Overall evictions in San Francisco rose from 1,242 to 1,716 over the past three years, he said, reflecting an increase of 38.2 percent. Ellis Act evictions rose by 169.8 percent in that same time frame.

Almost 42 percent of individuals impacted by eviction had some form of disability, Brousseau noted, while 49 percent had incomes at or below the federal poverty level. On the whole, a total of nearly 43 percent of San Francisco households are “rent-burdened,” a term that officially means devoting more than 30 percent of household income toward rent, the study found.

Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union emphasized that tenant buyouts, frequently offered in lieu of an eviction, are also driving displacement, although those transactions aren’t reflected in city records. “There are about three of them for every Ellis Act eviction,” he said. “When you consider them in combination with Ellis, the numbers are very dramatic.”

Throughout the afternoon, tenants shared their stories and fears about getting frozen out of San Francisco by eviction. “I’m looking at shopping carts, and I’m terrified,” one woman told supervisors during public comment. “You have to do something. It might not be enough for me right now, but you can’t do this to any more people.”

Campos is working with Assembly Member Tom Ammiano on a proposal to grant San Francisco the authority to place a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions. He’s also pursuing legislation that would create a mechanism at the San Francisco Rent Board to allow tenants to register formal complaints about landlord harassment and other kinds of pressure.

“I am eager to introduce a bill in January,” Ammiano noted. “One option might be a law that will allow the local jurisdictions, like San Francisco, to suspend the Ellis Act or establish a moratorium, because of the emergency housing situation. Another possibility is working to make sure that landlords are not skirting Ellis eviction requirements by improperly pressuring tenants to leave. We must do something, but we have to work together to make it successful.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Lee recently announced that he is working with Sen. Mark Leno on legislation to curb Ellis Act evictions by requiring additional permits or hearings before they proceed. They’re also contemplating floating more stringent regulations on the sale and resale of properties where tenants have been evicted under Ellis.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that housing advocates are gaining momentum as the spike in tenant ousters continues in pricey San Francisco, where rents are the highest in the nation.