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Condo conversion bill could circumvent rent control in San Francisco

Flickr user sftrajan

If you’ve tried to find a place to live in the city lately, or even know someone who knows someone trying to find a place to live, you know San Francisco has a housing crisis. For many of the city’s longtime residents, rent control is the only thing that allows them to stay in their homes, but there’s a way for landlords to circumvent it – it’s a 1986 law called the Ellis Act.

The Ellis Act allows landlords to evict tenants if they plan to convert the building to a different use; for example, to move in themselves. In practice, it’s often been used to put buildings on the market at prices that those former tenants couldn’t afford. The last time Ellis Act evictions spiked was during the late 90s tech boom – there were 440 of them just between 1999 and 2000.

A new investigation by San Francisco Bay Guardian reporters Rebecca Bowe and Dylan Tokar finds that our current tech boom is creating similar issues. This past year saw 81 Ellis Act evictions – more than double the year before. Rebecca Bowe spoke with KALW’s Executive Editor Ben Trefny about what’s been happening.

BEN TREFNY: So the fate of some people like that and for people who may not know they're subject to potential eviction down the line is largely in the hands of city officials who are considering different legislation such as changing the rules of condo conversions. Can you tell me a little about that?

REBECCA BOWE: So the discussions that are happening now have to do with a proposal that was put forward by supervisors Wiener and Farrell, which would allow for the conversion of I think somewhere around 2,000 P.I.C. units on two condominiums, and the concern there that has been raised by housing advocates is that this would permanently remove housing from the rental market, it could potentially still be used as rental housing and it would still potentially be subjected to rent control, but once you convert it to condominiums, they are no longer subjected to rent control and so the fear here is that this is sort of setting a precedent of the phrase that's often been used is “cannibalizing the city’s housing stock.” 

So these are sort of the points that have been raised. It’s extraordinarily controversial as you can imagine and from what we have heard, it sounds like there are a lot of behind the scenes negotiations and its a tough place for these supervisors to be, because of course anybody who votes in favor of converting these 2,000 units is not going to be looked upon favorably by tenants.

Click the audio player above to listen to the complete interview.