San Francisco is facing an eviction crisis, a reality that politicians of all ideological stripes have finally begun to address. It was good to see our two best representatives to the California Legislature introduce bills to reform the Ellis Act in the last week, but these will be empty gestures unless the political class and its allies in the technology industry and the larger business community step up and offer strong support for the effort.
This is a small but difficult first step in addressing the displacement that is hurting the city’s diversity and driving out its working class. San Francisco is one of the few cities in the California that has rent control, which the Ellis Act was designed by landlords and the real estate industry to subvert.
So the political dynamics of reforming the Ellis Act are difficult in Sacramento, and it will take business community support to get this done. Twitter and other SF-based tech companies have gotten big local tax breaks to stay here, while Google and other Silicon Valley companies use San Francisco to house their high-paid employees, both feeding the frenzy of real estate speculation behind the current eviction epidemic.
This is their chance to show that they want to be a part of San Francisco’s community, rather than just seeing this city as a resource to exploit for their own ends.
In introducing his Senate Bill 1439 outside a Chinatown apartment building on Feb. 24, Sen. Mark Leno cited city figures showing that more than 300 apartments were cleared of residents using the Ellis Act in 2013, more than half of those involving landlords who owned the building for less than a year, half of those for less than six months.
“These are not the landlords the Ellis Act was designed to help,” Mayor Ed Lee said in support of SB 1439.
Leno’s bill would require landlords to own a building for at least five years before using the Ellis Act to evict tenants. Assemblymember Tom Ammiano also introduced a bill on Feb. 21, Assembly Bill 2405, which would allow San Francisco voters or the Board of Supervisors to declare a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions if city affordable housing goals aren’t met.
Both are small, sensible reforms that would easily pass in a society less consumed by greed than ours is now. Tech leaders should welcome the opportunity to show they understand what’s happening in this city and have compassion for those being displaced, rather than tacitly supporting the real estate speculators.
But it’s also just a first step. The Ellis Act needs to be repealed, not just reformed. More than 1,000 rent control units have been lost in San Francisco in the last two years, affordable housing converted into speculators’ profits. This must end, or the righteous populist anger that is consuming the city will only get worse.