“Realtors’ Fail to Re-Invent Their Image”

BeyondChron, April 22, 2015

Last Friday the San Francisco Association of Realtors penned an Op Ed in the Chronicle lambasting the proposed state bill reforms to the Ellis Act and instead promoting the new local Small Sites Acquisition program as the “solution” to the evictions crisis.

If only the issue of real estate speculation and evictions wasn’t so deadly serious, this would be a good laugh. The Realtors supporting the Small Sites Program is like the arsonist donating to the Fire Department.

The Realtors Association has notoriously lobbied against pro-tenant, anti-displacement policies both at the state and local level. They blocked last year’s effort by Mayor Lee at Ellis Act reform and are now opposed again.

They blocked the state Homes & Jobs Act for the last two years to secure affordable housing funding. They blocked three attempts at state legislation to affirm local cities’ ability to require Inclusionary Housing and are now actively challenging Inclusionary Housing policies in the state courts. They blocked the local Prop G Speculator Tax last November.

The list goes on. All of these proposals would have helped stabilize communities under siege with evictions or with insufficient affordable housing.

But now that there’s a city-funded, anti-displacement program that enables nonprofits to compete in San Francisco’s real estate market, the Realtors are all in favor. They don’t support anti-displacement, they simply support another player in the purchasing competition and higher prices.

The Small Site Program is a limited scope treatment ($3 million this year) for a larger systemic cannibalization of the City’s rent-control housing stock–essentially able to “rescue” a handful of rental properties at risk of speculative sale and tenant evictions.

The Realtors also don’t acknowledge that the City can’t make a property owner sell to a nonprofit. In fact, owners are rejecting offers as we speak. Speculators still bid up the prices. The ideal Small Sites program would be used when landlords want to sell their apartment buildings, without any competition from Ellis-TIC investors at all. But of course that would mean tamping down the speculation market, which the Realtors clearly don’t support.

Let’s be clear, the Small Sites Acquisition program will not “solve” the evictions crisis. Yes it is a very important program, one that came directly out of the community after six years of advocacy and fighting to secure start-up funding from the City. And we want to see it grow to become the core of a Neighborhood Stabilization strategy.

However, in the absence of policies to control speculation and evictions, the systemic crisis of losing rent-controlled housing will continue. So let’s also be clear, that Ellis Reform and Small Sites Acquisition are not a “tradeoff”. The City needs both.

If the Association of Realtors really wants to be part of the solution, they can start by getting on board with the City’s reasonable Ellis Act reform proposal currently at play in Sacramento. Their attempt to re-invent their image shouldn’t fool anyone.

Sara Shortt and Kathy Lipscomb, SF Anti-Displacement Coalition, Tracy Parent, SF Community Land Trust, Peter Cohen, SF Council of Community Housing Organizations