Housing relief – for tenants

Pub date April 27, 2010

OPINION Since the burst of the housing bubble, we’ve seen a lot of attention paid to the plight of homeowners hit hard by the recession and facing foreclosure. Indeed, President Obama recently enacted a protection for homeowners that requires banks to let unemployed homeowners delay their mortgage payments. But until now there has been little talk and even less action on how we can help tenants who are also in danger of losing their homes.

Tenants need economic relief too. Renters have been particularly hard hit by the housing bubble and the ensuing recession. During the bubble, real estate speculation caused San Francisco rents to increase by an average of 50 percent. When the bubble burst, tenants saw their jobs disappear and incomes drop — but rents remained at record high levels. Evictions for nonpayment of rent shot up as renter after renter found it impossible to keep up with San Francisco’s housing costs.

The June 8 election will give voters a chance to change that. Proposition F will give tenants the right to postpone rent increases when they’ve lost their jobs or seen their wages or hours cut.

Many tenants struggle to pay San Francisco’s sky-high rents in the best of times and, when hit with a layoff or reduction in pay, it becomes even more difficult. Any further rent increases would be devastating and put their housing at risk. Prop. F will provide needed relief to those tenants trying to pay high rents with vastly reduced incomes. Unemployed tenants or those who have seen their wages cut by 20 percent or more will be able to get any rent increase delayed simply by filing a petition with the San Francisco Rent Board and documenting that they are unemployed or have had wages cut.

With the difficulties renters face in one of the country’s most expensive housing markets, Prop. F is a mild and measured response to a very real crisis. Prop. F essentially does what any decent landlord would do anyway: give a break to tenants who’ve just lost their jobs and hold off on rent increases until back on their feet.

San Francisco voters should also give a break to tenants on the verge of losing their homes. Vote Yes on Prop. F.

Ted Gullicksen runs the San Francisco Tenants Union.