Long Term Residents of San Francisco Pushed Out of City

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New York City is criticized for its rent stabilized laws, and how they negatively hurt city growth.  But as tenant organizers, we see rent stabilization as a powerful means to protect the diminishing affordable housing in our city, and to keep long-term and low income residents from being displaced. We are also familiar with the myriad of ways, both legal and illegal, that landlords subvert the rent regulation laws. From state sanctioned MCIs to excessive non-rent fees, there are numerous ways that landlords can raise rents above the prescribed amounts. 

Advocates often draw parallels between the San Francisco and New York City housing markets. They are both extremely expensive, and tenants in both cities are facing enormous gentrification pressures. Both dense cities have rent regulation laws.

In San Francisco, these laws are subverted by the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to essentially evict all their tenants by “going out of business.” In a city that has seen enormous influx of high-income residents, the Ellis Act is used to evict long-term, low income tenants and convert a building to condos or other more lucrative uses.  Tenants are evicted under this act at an alarming rate: according to a 2013 report from the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst, there was a 170% increase in Ellis Act evictions over the past three years, and 38% increase of evictions in general.

Tenants who are evicted under the Ellis Act are entitled to $5,261 per tenant up to a $15,873 limit, and slightly inflated amounts for elderly or disabled tenants. Last week, San Francisco supervisor David Campos proposed a measure that would require landlords to pay the difference in rent for tenants displaced under the Ellis Act for a comparable apartment for two years. In the proposal, according to an article in the SF Gate, “An evicted tenant would receive either the $5,261 or the difference in rent, whichever is more.” San Francisco also recently passed legislation that would prioritized those evicted under the Ellis Act for affordable housing in the city.   While all these measures are in place, the fact remains that low-income and long term residents are being forced out of the city, and the Bay Area altogether.

Airbnb is also providing landlords in San Francisco incentives to displace long term residents, Chris Butler was evicted from his rent-controlled apartment under the premise that his landlord needed the apartment for a family member to move in.  According to another article in the SF Gate, “Instead, he said, the owner shuffled around existing tenants and listed two of the four units in the building on short-term rental site Airbnb for $125 and $145 a night – considerably more than the $1,840 a month Butler paid.”  Studies are beginning to show that landlords in San Francisco as well as other cities are using Airbnb to skirt rent laws and displace long term residents.  (PLUS, read more about the sharing economy and how it may serve to reduce wages and decrease affordability here.) 

Living up to its history of activism, tenants in San Francisco have not been standing idly by as capital-seeking landlords displace them from their homes. There’s been a huge amount of resistance, from blocking buses taking tech employees to work from their homes in Oakland and San Francisco, to bus ads encouraging tenants to fight back against evictions, and an upcoming day of tenant action on February 18th.

New York City tenants living under rent stabilization and rent control have a great deal of protections, and are not subject to laws like the Ellis Act.  Tenants always have the right to a renewal lease, and can stay in their apartments, no matter who owns the building.  For this reason, tens of thousands of low-income New Yorkers have retained the right to stay in their homes, even in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn where the housing worth has skyrocketed.  

Unfortunately, landlords in New York City do find ways to skirt rent stabilization though harassment such as buy-outs, decreased services for rent-stabilized tenants, and through overcharging newer residents.  Tenants in Crown Heights have identified these issues and are fighting back against these tactics.  Join the Crown Heights Tenant Union at our next meeting!  

When: Thursday, February 20th at 7:00 pm

Where: Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in the Atrium; 520 Prospect Pl (at Classon) in Brooklyn

We’ll be planning for our own action on the morning of February 28th in Crown Heights.  Save the date and join us!

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Friday News Round Up!

This is what happened while we all watched the Olympics:

  1. Travelers looking to avoid expensive and dull hotels can turn to Airbnb to rent unique accommodations on a per-night basis. Its growing popularity has many New Yorkers, looking to earn a few bucks, posting their apartment for “micro” subletting on the website. It’s a great deal – I recently returned from vacation myself and we booked many of our accommodations through Airbnb. The only problem is that in New York it is illegal. State law requires that those living in residential “Class A” dwellings must stay for a term of at least 30 days. The law was initially designed to crack down on slum landlords turning their properties into dirty and dangerous hotels. Read more at The Atlantic Cities.
  2. If you are familiar with New York City Predatory Equity you are familiar with Larry Gluck. This notorious landlord is perhaps most well known for his role in overleveraging the historic Riverton Houses in Harlem, but we have run into him all over Bronx and Brooklyn as well. Gluck has been on a selling spree. Several months ago he sold 111 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg for $56M, and this week he sold 122 unit Stevenson Towers in the Bronx to a private investor who we believe is named Abraham Greenspan. Greenspan paid $14M for this building – $114,000 a unit. Most buildings in the Bronx go for about $70,000 – $90,000 a unit, according to Crain’s NY. The building has a $10M mortgage with J.P. Morgan Chase.
  3. Public employment is on the rise again, after a long and painful decline. However, these numbers exclude public school teachers, whose ranks continue to shrink. Jordan Weissman of The Atlantic suggests that this inconsistency is a hidden casualty of the housing crisis. Property taxes, which disproportionately fund public education, have fallen in the past several years. Read more.
  4. In the wake of Sunday’s attack in Wisconsin, City Comptroller John Liu has called on Mayor Bloomberg to allow Sikh members of the NYPD to wear religious gear. In a letter delivered to the Mayor this morning Liu writes, “Our City can enact meaningful inclusion of this community by changing NYPD rules to allow Sikhs to serve without having to forsake their turbans and beards.” Washington, DC has recently changed their rules to allow religious garb while on duty, and NYC law requires that workplaces foster supportive environments for all religious practices.

That’s all for today! Thanks for reading – and be sure to tune in next week for a guest post from former Surreal Estate and UHAB Organizing employee Elyssa White!