Supes panel delays
by David-Elijah Nahmod
A San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee delayed action Monday, January 28 on condo conversion legislation that would allow some tenancies in common to bypass the lottery by paying a fee.
Under the legislation, sponsored by Supervisors Scott Wiener (District 8) and Mark Farrell (D2) tenancy in common owners who are eligible for the lottery – and to be eligible for the lottery, a building must be owner-occupied and cannot have had any Ellis Act evictions – can pay a $20,000 fee per unit and convert to condos, according to a summary Wiener posted on his Facebook page. The money would be used for affordable housing development.
The legislation specifies that any tenants living in these TICs are entitled to lifetime leases and protections from rent increases. Converting a TIC would allow the owners to refinance their mortgages at a potentially lower interest rate, among other benefits.
The board chambers was packed with local residents, many of whom took part in a lively protest outside of City Hall prior to the hearing. Many of the protesters were seniors, living with AIDS, or otherwise disabled. They were present to protest the escalating Ellis Act evictions across the city.
Wiener and Farrell's legislation does not apply to buildings where owners have used the Ellis Act to evict tenants.
The board's Land Use and Economic Development Committee held the hearing. In addition to Wiener, who chairs the committee, panel members Supervisors Jane Kim (D6) and David Chiu (D3) were present, along with Farrell.
Rose Eger, 58, and Cindy Huff, 56, told the Bay Area Reporter that all occupants of their eight-unit Richmond District building were served with Ellis Act eviction notices on January 5 and were given 120 days to vacate the premises.
"People don't look at the bigger picture," said Eger. "How can we remove the incentives in place that encourage landlords to convert to tenancies in common."
Farrell pointed out that many of the TIC owners who would benefit from the legislation were working families and single moms.
"They're people who live their lives in our city and simply want to stay," said Farrell. "We want tenants to be secure in their units and this legislation guarantees that. I would never support legislation that increases evictions and hurts rent control."
Kim stated that the real solution was to build more housing units.
For Lance Wills and Greg Avant, both 45, the proposed legislation is a godsend. The Potrero Hill couple, who have a 15-month-old daughter, said that condo conversion would save their home.
"We built our family here," Wills said. "We want to stay. Our mortgage rate is rising. We would rather pay $20,000 to the city so we can get refinanced at a lower mortgage rate."
Wills said that the third unit in their building was occupied by a tenant who they considered part of their family.
"We are in favor of him getting a lifetime lease," Wills said.
Castro resident Tim Denike, 35, shares this sentiment. He purchased his TIC in 2007 and admits to being in a little over his head.
"With a condo conversion I can take advantage of lower mortgage rates," Denike said. "I have no plans to flip the unit or leave it."
The openly gay San Francisco native said that his mother has lived in a rent controlled unit in the Sunset district for 35 years, and that he strongly supports rent control.
Housing advocates Tommi Avicolli Mecca and Jeremy Mykaels oppose the legislation.
"The reality is that what Wiener is doing is not helping the housing situation, he's making it worse," said Avicolli Mecca. "Cannibalizing the rental stock to provide home ownership to a group of folks lucky enough to afford a TIC is not good public policy. Why hasn't the city been building housing that middle-income folks can afford? If the TIC owners are having problems with mortgages, go after the banks as other homeowners have been doing. Don't incentive the eviction of more tenants via Ellis, buyouts, and threats."
Mykaels, a gay senior living with AIDS, said a cohesive housing policy is needed. He said that his website, http://www.ellishurtsseniors.org, lists properties where Ellis Act evictions have occurred.
Wiener said that he supports legislative efforts to change the Ellis Act, which is a state law.
"I continue to support state Senator Mark Leno's legislation restricting the Ellis Act," he said. "He and others have attempted to move it forward, and to date it hasn't succeeded. But I support it."
Brian Basinger of the AIDS Housing Alliance said that 13 people with AIDS were evicted from his former Pearl Street residence in two years. "The building was bought by a serial evictor for $700,000," Basinger stated during a speech at the protest. "It's worth $1.2 million now."
But Wiener said that the protesters were addressing a separate issue that has nothing to do with the proposed legislation.
"We need to stop the evictions that are happening," he said in a statement to the B.A.R. "We also need to prevent TIC owners/former renters who managed to scrape together a down payment from going into foreclosure. Both renters and TIC owners deserve housing stability. To suggest that we have to help either struggling renters or struggling owners stay in their homes, but not both, is a false choice. Both deserve our help."
Chiu requested the matter be postponed to February 25 so that tenant and homeowner groups can meet.