Imagine San Francisco without rent control

Pub date January 16, 2008
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION If you think the mortgage foreclosure crisis is big, imagine what would happen to San Francisco if rent control were repealed.

With 180,000 rent-controlled apartments currently housing more than 350,000 San Franciscans, the end of rent control would be disastrous. Literally hundreds of thousands would be forced from their homes and forced to leave the city.

The pain and suffering people would face as they lost their homes would be immense, making the foreclosure problem seem insignificant by comparison. Maybe even worse, repealing rent control would destroy forever the soul of San Francisco, eliminating altogether the city’s character and diversity and leaving it nothing more than a wealthy enclave affordable only to the very rich.

Envisioning the loss of rent control and the effect that would have is not fantasy. A statewide ballot measure this June would abolish rent control in San Francisco and all across California. The measure would also abolish requirements that developers include affordable housing in their projects. That means we could wake up on June 4 this year with all affordable housing in San Francisco gone — unless we all work as hard as we can to save our rent control and our affordable housing.

In 1979, rent control was adopted in San Francisco, and it was accomplished only because thousands of San Francisco tenants made it happen. People collected signatures, made phone calls, walked precincts, packed City Hall hearings, and demonstrated and marched. Through collective grassroots activism, rent control became a reality. Now many of us think of rent control as something we’ve always had and a law that will always be there.

But we need to face reality: in five months, all limits on rent hikes could be gone. It won’t be easy to save rent control, and we need to begin our work now. The fate of rent control will largely be up to voters in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where most California renters live. Los Angeles tenants are organizing and mounting a strong campaign there. We need to do the same in San Francisco.

The San Francisco campaign to save rent control will kick off Jan. 19 with a citywide mobilization of tenants and allied organizations to plan and begin our work. If we’re going to save rent control, we need the same level of grassroots activism we had when we fought to get rent control in 1979, and we need tenants to come to the Save Rent Control Convention and begin the hard work to keep our homes.

This will be a working convention: following an overview about the measure, we will map out strategies and plans for fundraising, voter registration and education, media strategies, Web site development, rally organization, and all of the other components that make for a successful grassroots campaign. The tasks are many, and there’s not much time.

If we lose rent control, we’ll lose not just our homes but also our city. Saving rent control is not a fight people can sit out and hope someone else will do something about.

Ted Gullicksen

Ted Gullicksen runs the San Francisco Tenants Union.

The Save Rent Control Convention will be Jan. 19, 1–4 p.m., at Centro del Pueblo, 474 Valencia (at 16th St.), SF. For more information on the rent control repeal measure, see or For more information, call (415) 282-5525.