Supervisors Wiener, Farrell Revive Divisive, Job-Killing, Condo Conversion Plan

by Randy Shaw, 2013-01-24

On January 31, 2012, I described how San Francisco real estate speculators were again seeking to increase condo conversions and eliminate thousands of rent-controlled housing units. The proposal was also a “jobs killer.” Now, with vampire- like power, this often defeated condo plan is back. Sponsored by Supervisors Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell, it will be heard by the Land Use Committee on Monday, January 28. Backed by a small segment of the city’s real estate community, the condo measure is a divisive approach to addressing city housing problems. It sharply contrasts with Mayor Ed Lee’s collaborative strategy, which led to Prop C’s passage (the affordable housing trust fund), and will increase new housing for all income levels. The Wiener-Farrell plan could have come from Congressman Paul Ryan’s playbook, and is at odds with the “we are our brothers’ keepers” value highlighted by President Obama.

It’s hard to kill bad policy ideas. And, as with tax cuts for the rich, this is particularly true when a small constituency with money can reap great future profits in enacting an idea regardless of its broader human or social justice implications.

That’s why the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is again being forced to consider eliminating thousands of units from rent control primarily to benefit a small group of real estate speculators. And why the Board must again reject a measure whose main impact is to make San Francisco’s rental housing crisis even worse.

Divisive and Misguided

Mayor Lee has brought a new spirit of collaboration to the city, which has already paid enormous dividends on city housing policy. Lee brought all of the city’s long warring housing factions together and, with most hopeful but few optimistic, created the remarkably broad coalition that led voters to pass Prop C.

Although Supervisors Wiener and Farrell often support Lee’s actions, they appear to have missed the key to the mayor’s success. Namely, Lee sought action on housing that would help all San Franciscans, not just the well-heeled or politically connected.

Increasing condo conversions and eliminating rent control for thousands of units does nothing to address any of the housing affordability and no-fault eviction problems impacting San Francisco. Instead, it makes them worse.

The Wiener-Farrell measure also kills jobs. By flooding the market with thousands of converted condos, it jeopardizes the many construction jobs on new developments slated to begin. With new condo development finally reviving in San Francisco, the last thing the city needs is to suddenly overwhelm the market with competing properties that bring no jobs, public amenities, nor nowhere near the increased property tax revenue as newly built projects.

Very little thought or policy analysis has gone into the Wiener-Farrell proposal. They are so unconcerned with involving stakeholders that they are moving forward as Supervisors Breed and Yee have just taken office and have had no time to meet with constituencies to assess how to best address San Francisco’s housing agenda.

I hear a lot of ideas about dealing with San Francisco’s housing problem, but only the Ayn Rand crowd promotes reducing rent control. If San Franciscans wanted to further help the 1% instead of the 99%, it would have backed Romney-Ryan over Obama-Biden last November.

Wiener’s Curious Path

Scott Wiener’s close alliance with the city’s most Paul Ryan-like constituency---.anti-rent control zealots--- is curious. Wiener’s closest political mentors are City Attorney Dennis Herrera and State Senator Mark Leno, both of whom have retained the trust of both landlord and tenant groups (Herrera has brought more housing code enforcement actions than any city attorney in city history, while Leno is a key tenant ally in Sacramento and arguably the State Senate’s most progressive and effective legislator).

Wiener is widely described as politically ambitious, but if so he should check the record.
No politician has been first elected Mayor of San Francisco with an anti-tenant voting record. The only local politicians to win Assembly or State Senate seats with such a record are Fiona Ma and Leland Yee, who could count on more conservative Asian-American support (and much of Yee’s Senate district was outside San Francisco).

Wiener brings incredible energy and many positives to his job, but on rent control and condo conversion issues he is out of touch with San Francisco voters.

The Land Use Committee should table the Wiener-Farrell measure, requiring that it undergo a Prop-C like process before wasting more of the Board’s time. The Land Use Committee meeting takes place in Room 263 in City Hall on January 28 at 1:00pm.