If Prop. 10 wins, su­pes ready with rent con­trol

Mea­sure ‘un­ties our hands’ for ten­ants fac­ing in­creases

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - BAY AREA - By Do­minic Fra­cassa

At the heart of Propo­si­tion 10 is a straight­for­ward ques­tion freighted with com­plex im­pli­ca­tions: Should of­fi­cials in cities such as San Fran­cisco be given more power to craft lo­cal rent con­trol reg­u­la­tions.

To­day, lo­cal law­mak­ers’ abil­ity to shape rent-con­trol poli­cies is sharply re­stricted by the Costa-Hawkins Rental Hous­ing Act. Prop. 10 would re­peal that law and al­low lo­cal of­fi­cials to reg­u­late rent in­creases and what kinds of dwellings would be sub­ject to rent con­trol.

And as Tues­day’s elec­tion ap­proaches, some San Fran­cisco law­mak­ers say they’re be­gin­ning to think about what rent con­trol might look like if

Prop. 10 passes.

The mea­sure “un­ties our hands, so we can ex­am­ine things that work and things that don’t work,” Su­per­vi­sor Val­lie Brown said.

Last month, Su­per­vi­sor Hil­lary Ro­nen in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion in­tended to ad­dress what Costa-Hawkins crit­ics con­sider one of its most per­ni­cious ef­fects. Land­lords are now per­mit­ted to raise a rent­con­trolled unit’s rent to mar­ket rate af­ter the death of the unit’s “orig­i­nal ten­ant.” That can leave sur­viv­ing fam­ily mem­bers and do­mes­tic part­ners fac­ing huge rent in­creases. Ro­nen’s leg­is­la­tion — pred­i­cated on Prop. 10 pass­ing — would al­low sur­viv­ing fam­ily mem­bers and part­ners to avoid those in­creases if they can prove they’ve lived in their unit for at least two years.

“This is one sim­ple, slam­dunk piece of leg­is­la­tion that I be­lieve would pass with­out much op­po­si­tion in San Fran­cisco,” Ro­nen said. “And it would al­low us to pro­tect res­i­dents in the worst mo­ments of their life.”

End­ing rent in­creases for sur­viv­ing fam­ily mem­bers is also the first thing Brown wants to ad­dress if Prop. 10 passes.

“In the 3½ months I’ve been a su­per­vi­sor, I’ve had two con­stituents that have lost their hus­band or wife, and then they get a let­ter from their land­lord say­ing in 10 days or 30 days their rent is go­ing up” be­cause they weren’t the orig­i­nal ten­ant, Brown said. “That’s the thing I want to rec­tify. No de­cent per­son would dis­agree with that.”

In San Fran­cisco, about 65 per­cent of house­holds are renters, ac­cord­ing to the city’s Plan­ning De­part­ment.

Su­per­vi­sor Aaron Pe­skin is sup­port­ive of Ro­nen’s leg­is­la­tion, but he has his sights set on an even big­ger tar­get.

Passed in 1995, Costa-Hawkins put lim­i­ta­tions on lo­cal law­mak­ers that pro­hibit rent con­trol on con­do­mini­ums and sin­gle-fam­ily homes. It also pre­vents cities from lim­it­ing how much land­lords can raise rents when a unit changes hands.

The law also pre­vents cities from ex­tend­ing rent-con­trol pro­tec­tions to newer hous­ing units. In San Fran­cisco, rent con­trol can’t be ap­plied to any hous­ing built af­ter 1979 — the year the city’s laws were en­acted.

Pe­skin said he’d aim to move up that cut­off date.

“Bring­ing that 1979 date some­where around the end of the last cen­tury would make abun­dant sense,” he said. “I would say that if Prop 10. passes, the right thing to do is to

“Re­peal­ing CostaHawkins is the great white whale of the Cal­i­for­nia ten­ants’ rights move­ment. If we don’t re­peal it this year, we’ll try it the next year and the year af­ter that.” Shanti Singh, Ten­ants To­gether in San Fran­cisco

bring a set of build­ings built be­tween 1979 and 1998 un­der rent con­trol.”

Cre­at­ing a rolling date for rent con­trol and tweak­ing rules for sur­viv­ing fam­ily mem­bers are “prob­a­bly the two is­sues where we can build con­sen­sus at the board,” said Su­per­vi­sor Rafael Man­del­man.

Pe­skin au­thored a res­o­lu­tion the Board of Su­per­vi­sors passed 9-2 last month en­dors­ing Prop. 10. Su­per­vi­sors Katy Tang and Cather­ine Ste­fani op­posed the mea­sure. Both de­clined to com­ment.

The wish list of Prop. 10 sup­port­ers on the Board of Su­per­vi­sors over­laps with ten­ants’ rights ac­tivists. They’ve ar­gued that CostaHawkins laid the ground­work for the city’s sky­rock­et­ing rents. Clear­ing the way for city of­fi­cials to ex­pand rent con­trol is es­sen­tial, they claim, to sta­bi­lize spi­ral­ing rental mar­kets and tamp down the dis­place­ment they say rent hikes pre­cip­i­tate.

“Ev­ery time a rent-con­trolled unit gets de­mol­ished or burns down or gets El­lis-Acted — that’s a rent-con­trolled unit we lose for­ever. There are no new ones be­ing cre­ated,” said said Deepa Varma, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the San Fran­cisco Ten­ants Union.

“We’d like to see build­ings au­to­mat­i­cally fall into rent con­trol af­ter a cer­tain num­ber of years. That way, the de­vel­oper gets to make what­ever in­sane prof­its they want to make un­til things pen­cil out, and then those units get added to our rent-con­trolled hous­ing stock,” she said.

Crit­ics ar­gue, how­ever, that get­ting rid of Costa-Hawkins would dis­suade hous­ing de­vel­op­ers from build­ing new pro­jects at a time when they’re needed the most.

Prop. 10’s op­po­nents are par­tic­u­larly alarmed at the prospect of lo­cal law­mak­ers — or cit­i­zens via the bal­lot box — ap­ply­ing rent con­trol to new con­struc­tion pro­jects.

Thanks to ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions from real es­tate firms and prop­erty man­age­ment com­pa­nies, Prop. 10’s op­po­nents have raised about three times as much as the mea­sure’s back­ers. The non­par­ti­san Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia re­ported last month that the mea­sure was trail­ing in a statewide poll of likely vot­ers 48 per­cent to 36 per­cent. The gap was even wider in the Bay Area, where op­po­si­tion to the mea­sure led 54 per­cent to 32 per­cent.

Many of the mea­sure’s sup­port­ers know they’re in for an up­hill fight on elec­tion day, but have vowed to con­tinue to press the is­sue of ex­pand­ing rent con­trol in San Fran­cisco.

“Re­peal­ing Costa-Hawkins is the great white whale of the Cal­i­for­nia ten­ants’ rights move­ment,” said Shanti Singh, com­mu­ni­ca­tions co­or­di­na­tor for Ten­ants To­gether in San Fran­cisco. “If we don’t re­peal it this year, we’ll try it the next year and the year af­ter that.”

Liz Hafalia / The Chron­i­cle

Propo­si­tion 10 sup­port­ers rally in sup­port of re­peal­ing the state lim­its on rent con­trol at the 24th Street Mis­sion BART Sta­tion.

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