Staying power

San Francisco tenants' movement rises up and sets the agenda

Gum Gee Lee, 74, whose family was evicted from its apartment of 34 years, spoke at the tenants' convention of Feb. 8.

Despite the rain on Feb. 8, organizers of a citywide tenants' convention at San Francisco's Tenderloin Elementary School wound up having to turn people away at the door. The meeting was filled to capacity, even though it had been moved at the last minute to accommodate a larger crowd than initially anticipated.

"Oh. My. God. Look at how many of you there are!" organizer Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee, called out as she greeted the hundreds in attendance. "Tenants in San Francisco, presente!"

The multiracial crowd was representative of neighborhoods from across the city, from elderly folks with canes to parents with small children in tow. Translators had been brought in to accommodate Chinese and Spanish-speaking participants.

Six members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors also made an appearance: Sups. John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar, Malia Cohen, Jane Kim, and Board President David Chiu.

In recent weeks, the convention organizers had convened a series of smaller neighborhood gatherings to solicit ideas for new policy measures to stem the tide of evictions and displacement, a problem that has steadily risen to the level of the defining issue of our times in San Francisco.


Ana Godina, an organizer with the SEIU, went to the convention with her daughter Ella, 5. Godina drove from Sacramento to support her colleagues. Three of her fellow union members have been evicted recently, all of them Tenderloin and Mission residents. Guardian photo by Amanda Rhoades

While several legislative proposals are on track to move forward at the Board of Supervisors, the meetings were called to directly involve impacted communities and give them an opportunity to shape the legislative agenda on their own terms, according to various organizers.

Addressing the crowd, Shortt recalled what she termed "some amazing jiu jitsu" during last year's tenant campaigns, which resulted in a 10-year moratorium on condo conversions rather than simply allowing a mass bypass of the condo lottery, as originally proposed.

That measure, which won approval at the Board of Supervisors last June, was designed to discourage real estate speculators from evicting tenants to convert buildings to tenancies-in-common, a shared housing arrangement that's often a precursor to converting rent-controlled apartments into condos.

That effort brought together the founding members of the Anti Displacement Coalition, and momentum has been building ever since. "This is the beginning of a movement today," Gen Fujioka of the Chinatown Community Development Center, one of the key organizations involved, told the gathering. "We are shaking things up in our city."



Around 160 participants attended the first in a series of neighborhood tenant conventions in the Castro on Jan. 10. The one in the Richmond a week later drew so many participants that organizers had to turn people away to appease the fire marshal.

"The idea of the neighborhood conventions was to solicit ideas," explained Ted Gullicksen, head of the San Francisco Tenants Union. "The idea of this event is to review existing ideas and ultimately rank them." From there, the campaign will pursue a ballot initiative or legislative approval at the Board of Supervisors.


Ted Gullicksen, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, and his dog Falcor. Guardian photo by Amanda Rhoades


mind would ever want to rent out a unit, because that will really help with the housing shortage. It's obvious that we should punish those who provide housing because that will incentivize them to provide more housing.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 5:37 pm

The rent regulations mostly apply to multi-unit buildings, not private homes. If a homeowner is renting out a room or such, the rent regs mostly don't apply. So plenty of right-minded owners can rent out a piece of their own home without much regulation, as long as the space is up to code. The only "owners" being put on a leash are mostly the predatory speculators who have bought up multi-unit rental properties just to kick out the tenants.

Posted by Lease on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 7:06 pm

Yeah, sure. Good luck with your head buried in the sand.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 9:05 pm

They just buy and sell.

It's the owners of apartment building that need to be incentivized. Making things harder for them will mean less rental homes available. Why would we seek that?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 9:46 am

"organizers from throughout California are pushing to reform the Ellis Act in Sacramento"

Why would anyone outside of SF and maybe a couple of other cities with rent control give a crap about Ellis?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 5:57 pm

"Why would anyone outside of SF and maybe a couple of other cities with rent control give a crap about Ellis?"


Since San Francisco is the center of the universe, it's obvious that activists from Stockton and Madera care deeply about changing the Ellis Act, even though it is meaningless to their communities.

After all, no social issue is more important than a bunch of aging overeducated, underemployed, white people trying to hang on to their rent-controlled apartments in San Francisco.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 6:14 pm

Bitter much.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 10:42 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 11:14 am

For the proposals that can be passed by the BOS, introduce them and let the supervisors vote on them. Any supes who vote thumbs down should be targeted for removal from office at their next election.

For the remaining list items, get 6 supervisors to put them on November's ballot. If 6 supes won't agree to put them on the ballot, target the naysayers for removal at their next election.

For the final items, get them to the city attorney (via a friendly supervisor's office if possible who can run interference with the CA) and start collecting signatures. November's election turn-out should be huge since tenants know they will be evicted soon if they don't act now by showing up to the polls. If the current momentum carries over the next 6 months, November's turnout might be the largest on record.

For any of the pure revenue measures, use the 50% "general tax" threshold to pass them, but add a secondary ballot measure to funnel any new tax proceeds to building more housing for low and middle-income households, with priorities given to evicted tenants. Make sure the funds are administered by an agency different from the Mayor's Office of Housing since they only build new housing for tenants with low incomes, which only affects about 15% of current tenants living in market-rate housing. This group already has a nice funding steam, although obviously more money is always better. Tenants who earn 100-150% of AMI are completely shut out of new housing since they neither qualify for the 5% of affordable housing units being built by MOH nor the 95% of remaining new private developers units who build only for households above 200% of AMI.

For decades the affordable housing activists have effectively turned their backs on 60% of the SF population that is neither very poor nor rich. Use this election to try to build a much broader housing coalition and good things will happen in future elections too.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 8:02 pm

"For decades the affordable housing activists have effectively turned their backs on 60% of the SF population that is neither very poor nor rich. Use this election to try to build a much broader housing coalition and good things will happen in future elections too. "

This does not mean becoming more conservative, less progressive, it means becoming broadly populist. This cannot be about any affordable housing nonprofit, it has to be about building the most powerful populist coalition.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 9:14 pm

This is a unique chance for the Left in San Francisco to build a broader coalition that includes the middle class, who is being squeezed like never before.

Pragmatic ideas for building more housing for everyone, especially people too wealthy to live in subsidized housing but too poor to buy their own are especially needed.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 11:17 pm

landlord to be so onerous and unprofitable that they close down their business.

What is wrong with this entire approach is that you are treating property owners like devils and simply want to engage in a class war against them.

The left never learns how to broaden their appeal and treat everyone like people.

FYI, about half these proposals are illegal.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 9:49 am

I'm really not sure what legalizing illegal in-laws would do for renters. I can, however, see a pitfall. Single family units and condos do not have rent control protections, but illegal in-laws do. This is something most tenants are unaware of. What we don't know, is what will happen to those units if they're legalized. Will they still fall under rent control? The devil is in the details, and David Chiu is both a very clever attorney and a real snake. I'd be very, very careful about endorsing any proposal coming out of his office.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 10:54 pm

and yet they speak not a word of English. Pathetic.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 10:04 pm

Wow. It's been a long time since I've heard the phrase "China man" or "China people" uttered in polite company... not that we're in polite company. Is this racism, or just ignorance of English language? In this case, I suspect the former. The xenophobic right is always quick to project their racism on others, but with comments like this, it comes through crystal clear.

That said, as an immigrant, I'm always amazed at the poor command of the English language that many native speakers have in the US. Take someone like Matlock, who has such a particularly irritating way of massacring the English language that you can always tell who he is no matter which handle he uses. I have much more sympathy for these old Chinese Americans, who may be struggling with a difficult transition to another country, than the monolingual people who can't even speak their own language correctly.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 11:05 am

"men from China" all the time. We do have a ChinaTowm you know, and calling everyone from Asian "Asian" because you can't tell the difference is actually more racist.

Or are you one of the PC crowd who are always careful to say "people of color" rather than "colored people" or "non-white"?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 11:14 am

You must hang out with old school racists. Here's what Wiki has to say about the term:

"Chinaman is a contentious English language term that denotes a Chinese man or person, or as a Chinese national, or, in some cases, an indiscriminate term for a person native to geographical East Asia or of perceived East Asian race. Although the term has no negative connotations in older dictionaries,[1][2] and the usage of such parallel compound terms as Englishman, Frenchman and Irishman[3] remain unobjectionable,[4] the term Chinaman is noted as offensive by modern dictionaries."

Wake up, Guest. It's the 21st century.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 1:24 pm

Do you have any evidence that men from china are offended? Or is it just guilt-ridden white liberals who think they should be?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 2:05 pm

What does it say about someone who moves to another country and cares so little about communicating with people outside those from their native country that they don't make any effort to learn the language? Or that the "supportive services" paid for by the state have allowed that kind of situation to go on and on and on?

I lived in France for three months and I could manage basic conversations after that time - these people have been here for 30 years and they prolly still can't count to 10.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 4:06 pm

How do you know they can't speak English?
Maybe they just don't want to talk to an obviously
stupid person.

Posted by TrollKiller on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 5:55 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 6:02 pm

I guess the tenant "rights" "activist just have screwed the pooch enough.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 9:32 am

Has any tenants rights activist ever considered that instead of continuing down the punish the landlord tangent, perhaps some incentives should be developed to encourage landlords to rent to low income, elderly or disabled renters? Something such as a property tax reduction or access to low cost subsidized loans for maintenance?

Rent control works until it doesn't. Many landlords of the smaller 2-5 unit buildings are aging (or dying) and are looking to sell their properties. At current sales prices and with frequently quite a bit of deferred maintenance there is no way these buildings will be profitable if they have low rent tenants. You can argue all you want about community, tenant's rights or displacement but if the numbers don't work, the numbers don't work. Likewise, you can attempt to drive down the market price of multi-unit buildings by layering on all sorts of regulations but this just makes the Ellis Act/TIC option that much more attractive.

If our local politicians had any real intention to help solve our housing issues they would not just meet with tenant activists but would also meet with the smaller landlords affected by these proposed regulations. Instead they pander to the economic illiterates in the tenants community while also accepting campaign contributions from the large developers and landlords who are not covered by rent control (post 1979). It's disgusting.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 9:56 am

they regard property as theft, property owners as evil, and therefore landlords exist only to be squeezed and squeezed.

That's why they are not really focusing on anything right now other than the exit strategies. If they can close them all off then landlords will be trapped subsidizing tenants forever. They won't be able to even sell because nobody will buy without an exit strategy.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 10:38 am

Relax. Removing a property owner's exit strategies will never be allowed by the courts.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 11:09 am

focusing on. They don;t just want rents controlled - they want owners to be trapped into never escaping.

Which just shows how callous and mean-spirited they are.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 11:15 am

Their anger comes from having believed the politicians and activists who falsely promised that private property owners owed them lifelong rental housing at a discount.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 12:29 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

Not to mention "disappearing" tenants….

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 9:11 pm

Don't be so sure that you can commit violence so easily. Human beings crave justce.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 1:15 am

Disappearing - As in exiting the business.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 1:52 am

one legitimate way of exiting the business: SELL!!!

If you can't sell for the price you want because of rent control, then lower the damn price. Price, as they say in the biz, cures everything.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 8:07 am

First, if it's a bad deal, nobody will buy it at any reasonable price.

Second, if no landlord wants to take on a building as a going concern, then the only buyers will be the vultures i.e. speculators who will buy it knowing that they can turn a buck by evicting the tenants and/or doing a substantial rehab, demolition, merge and/or a change of use.

Your wet dream seems to be to force property owners to eternally subsidize the lifestyles of people like you. Why should that be public policy? What's so important to the city of you being here and getting a cheap rent?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 8:36 am


And how would your simplistic advice work when the property is a 2 unit building with the landlord living in one unit. Should the landlord be "evicted" from his/her home just because he/she doesn't feel like continuing to provide below market housing to a tenant?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 9:41 am

It's a mark of how difficult the city has made it for ordinary people to offer rental housing to other ordinary people.

It happened with SRO's when the city went too far, so why not with rental buildings? In fact, there are quite a few fires in rental building anyway, and I always wonder . . .

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 6:18 am

not only those who would commit arson and murder, but those who would incite others to do same. Free speech has limits. You can't go around inciting arson and murder and then feign innocence when someone actually takes you up on it.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 8:05 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 8:33 am

These tenant conventions are a total joke. Any serious attempt to deal with San Francisco’s housing crisis should include not just tenant groups but landlords and developers as well since they are the ones who build and run housing. The fact that they were excluded from these “conventions” shows that this event was just a political stunt designed to make a political statement and not a serious attempt to solve San Francisco’s housing problem.

All this carping about the Ellis Act is a fraud. There is no Ellis Act eviction crisis. In fact, Ellis Act evictions represent only a small proportion of the city’s total evictions—and they’re not even historically high to begin with. In the 12-month period ending on February 28, 2013, the total number of Ellis Act evictions was 116—an almost twofold increase over the previous year, but a nearly 70 percent decrease since 2000, when such evictions hit an all-time high of 384. All told, the Ellis Act was behind less than 7 percent of the 1,716 total evictions in the city between February 2012 and February 2013.

The main impediment to building more affordable housing tends to be the so called "housing activists" purporting to represent communities that would benefit from it. That’s largely because many are not so much in favor of affordable housing as they are simply against market-rate housing. And as such they must ignore an essential reality: Affordable and market-rate housing developments don’t have to be enemies. In fact, San Francisco’s city government relies on them working together. Developers are required as a condition of virtually every market-rate project to either build affordable units or provide the city with money to do so.

Thus in vigorously opposing virtually all market-rate housing, these so called "housing activists" by definition undermine the affordable housing cause. It does not seem so to San Francisco’s left, which manages to simultaneously decry rising unaffordability at the same time as opposing market-rate development, which under San Francisco rules, is the surest way of maximizing affordable housing. Market-rate developers can’t get planning approval without also providing 12 to 20 percent affordable units, or paying the city 20 percent of project costs so it can do so.
The voices most stridently against development are often the very same that are lamenting a cyclical rise in Ellis Act evictions. They are blissfully or willfully unaware that success in blocking development leads to scarcer housing leads to higher values leads to greater financial incentive for landlords to get out of the rental business and sell their buildings to tenancy-in-common developers. San Francisco is becoming more and more unaffordable because supply and demand are out of whack. That is just basic economics that can't be overturned at the polls.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 10:18 am

supporters even though the two are mutually exclusive.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 10:39 am

formula for making a quick couple of million bucks:

1) buy a rent controlled building filled with protected tenants at rock bottom price.

2) ellis the whole crew of occupants.

3) make sure you claim accellerated appreciation allowance on your taxes.

4) contract out and then subcontract out at below minimum wage, to refinish the floors, change the bathroom fixtures and paint the joint. (no need to fix the gaping holes in the windows, a pretty coat of paint hides wood rot and mold!!!)

TIC! +TIC! +TIC!! = a couple of million bucks profit!!!!

sign me up!

Posted by Guest eliza on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 10:53 am

Take that away and no TIC's would exist.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 11:08 am

"Staying Power" is best achieved by owning. Create more homeownership opportunities.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 11:12 am

My rent controlled apartment gives me full owner's rights without ever having to pay any property taxes, any upkeep, any anything! And it's for life!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

and the City has to continue to subsidize them because they are low income? I think family bears some responsibility for their elders.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 11:34 am

And they should have saved to buy a house but did not.

So yeah, why should we give a crap?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 11:49 am

but in San Francisco, it is just stupid not to take advantage of these programs. Would anyone give up a deal like subsidized housing in the Bay Area unless you were forced too?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

make sure they continue to get it forever.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 12:28 pm

"equaling two years' worth of the difference between the tenants' rent and what would have been considered market rate for that same unit."

Why do I have 0% trust that the city will be able to responsibly and fairly decide what the "market rate" of a unit is? Also, will there be an appeals process?

What happens when the rich developer hires an attorney to demonstrate the market rate for their place is actually much less than the city's calculation? Will the appeal process take months/years, since there will be a massive backlog, thus ironically allowing people to stay in their rentals longer while it's all sorted out?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

There are well established state and federal regulations for how the delta is to be computed that the City would be wise to incorporate into this legislation.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 2:51 pm

you're thinking of cases where the government does eminent domain and seizes a property. That doesn't apply where a private owner is instigating the change, especially when that is a reaction to bad government policy.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 3:04 pm

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