How the Eviction Defense Collaborative Lost Their Home to Tech
Ask a Tenant Attorney: Evicting the Eviction Fighters or How the Eviction Defense Collaborative lost their home to Tech
Ask a Tenants Right’s Lawyer is your chance to learn how to survive as a renter in San Francisco. Attorney Daniel Wayne has a lot of the information you need to keep you in your home. This month’s topic: How the Eviction Defense Collaborative lost its home to Tech and what you can do to help Got a question? Send an email to email@example.com and we will forward it on or check out Daniel’s website: www.wayne-law.com for more information about tenant rights issues.
Here in San Francisco the majority of residential rental properties are protected by a city-wide Rent Ordinance which provides for eviction protections and/or rent control. These laws were designed to provide tenants with some measure of protection and security in their homes, and to protect the diversity of the city at large. So, should similar protections be extended to service-providing nonprofits?
Currently there is no rent control or “just cause” protections of any kind for commercial tenancies in San Francisco. As a result commercial tenants, including nonprofit tenants live and die by the terms of their leases. If a commercial landlord agrees to a long lease (typically five or ten years) the organization has some measure of stability. If their landlord will only agree to a month-to-month lease, they are subject to the stormy seas that are ever-changing San Francisco real estate market.
Enter the Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC); a nonprofit legal clinic that provides legal services to tenants of all income levels on a sliding-scale basis. The organization works tirelessly to make sure that tenant protections are upheld, but no such protections exist for nonprofits and small businesses facing displacement. At the end of December the EDC’s long-term lease at their mid-market offices terminated and they found themselves, like so many San Francisco tenants before them, displaced from their long-term home.
The current commercial real estate market has a 6% vacancy rate coupled with an ever-shrinking amount of small office space, which spells trouble for nonprofits. Office vacancy in the city has declined 57% since its 2010 peak and while massive construction in 2015 added almost 6% to the city’s stock of office space, over 88% of this space has been pre-leased in negotiations that nonprofits have little access to.*
As a result, non-profits that deliver vital services to the most vulnerable of the city’s residents, and in some cases deliver vital services on behalf of the city, have very few options and will continue to face a shrinking supply of available office space with a growing demand.
Just as the city is losing long-term residential tenants and in turn some of its racial and socio-economic diversity due to no-fault evictions, bogus eviction attempts and tenant buyouts, so too does the city risk losing part of its character when nonprofit social services organizations can no longer afford to remain in the city they serve.
In EDC’s case, they were able to secure a space at 1338 Mission St between 9th and 10th Streets – but at a cost of literally double their prior rent. While it looks like EDC should be able to land on their feet thanks to some heavy lifting and a little luck, the increased costs have a direct correlation with their ability to maintain the same volume and quality of services. The increases in expenses must come from somewhere – salary cuts, layoffs, decrease in services. Or more generous donors and funders will need to step in to fill the gap.
What is the City’s Role in All This?
This all leads to the question – does the city have a responsibility to pass protections to ensure that these organizations can stay in the city they serve? The city happily allows tech companies to use its bus stops for their shuttles, and provides them massive tax breaks under the auspices that the presence of tech increases tax revenue, but what of the theory that nonprofit social services companies reduce costs to the city that would otherwise be shouldered by the tax payers? I don’t pretend to be an economist but it seems to me that the city gets a tremendous benefit from nonprofits like EDC and has a strong incentive to ensure they can continue to exist. For many people the EDC is the difference between a roof and the street. Homelessness costs the city money. What about providing concessions to ensure that nonprofits like the EDC can afford to remain in San Francisco where it helps thousands of displaced tenants avoid homelessness?
This dynamic is one that many cities struggle with. In response to displacement caused by gentrification of their neighborhoods, three cities in the U.S. have enacted rent control measures- New York City from 1945 to 1963, Albany, NY in 1948, and Berkeley, CA on four separate occasions beginning in 1978. In Berkeley, these controls were accompanied by “good cause” protections for commercial tenants. Each of these measures were challenged in court by commercial landlords, and in California the state legislature preempted any court decision by passing SB 692 (The Costa-Keene-Seymour Property Investment Act of 1987 or “The Keene Bill”) which banned commercial rent control state-wide. The Keene bill, sponsored by the California Commercial Council and endorsed by a long list of real estate groups and developers, took effect January 1, 1988 and sealed the fate of commercial rent control in CA. Since then, in states where commercial rent control has not been banned, such as New York and Washington, councilmembers are still proposing rent control measures to protect their city’s small businesses and nonprofits, but are consistently met with opposition from wealthy real estate groups and developers.**
Displacement affects us all. These service-providing nonprofits need protection from the market place, not because they are special and different, but because the community needs its services to make San Francisco the best city it can be: a world-class city that provides for its inhabitants and serves the needs of us all.
Which leads me to the plug:
The Eviction Defense Collaborative is launching a campaign to raise $500,000 to cover the cost of their of displacement. This amount will cover the increase in rent they face over the next three years as well as some of the increased expenses mentioned above.
To help EDC stay in the city it serves, you can donate at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/evictiondefense or send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Many thanks to Terra Graziani at The Eviction Defense Collaborative for her help on this piece.