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Voting To Protect Your Tenants Rights in San Francisco

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Election Round-Up: A Tenant’s Guide to the November Elections

Ask a Tenants’ Rights Lawyer is your chance to learn how to survive as a tenant in San Francisco. Tenant’s Rights Attorney Daniel Wayne has a lot of the information you need to keep you in your home. This month’s topic: The Election! For more posts from Daniel check out his blog at www.wayne-law.com/blog. Have a suggestion for a topic you want Daniel to tackle?  Send an email to alex@brokeassstuart.com and we will forward it on.

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We know: you’re sick of hearing about this election. And you’ve probably read enough motivational literature about why it’s important to vote on November 8 even if you’re disenchanted with the whole thing. But here’s another reason to vote: We have some really important local elections that could directly affect you renters out there. Our region’s housing crunch has prodded politicians and signature gatherers alike across the Bay Area into offering up a slew of ballot measures that could affect the future of affordable housing. Now more than ever, tenants and supporters of tenant’s rights need to make their voices heard on the local level.

With your help, 2016 could go down as the year tenants regained some of the ground we’ve lost in the last five or six years. Voters throughout the East Bay–and even in some of the historically landlord-friendly bergs of Silicon Valley–have a chance to significantly improve tenants’ protections in their cities.

Here in San Francisco, voters are getting their say on no fewer than six propositions that could have real impact on the city’s stock of affordable housing. Just in time for the election, here’s a quick rundown of what’s at stake.

District 5 Supervisor – Dean Preston

This one is limited to those of us who live in District 5, where long-time housing rights activist Dean Preston is challenging incumbent London Breed. A former civil-rights attorney, Preston has spent the past sixteen years working for tenants’ rights–first as a staff attorney at the nonprofit Tenderloin Housing Clinic, then as founder and longtime director of Tenants Together, California’s only statewide tenants’ organization. Preston has been endorsed by a bevy of civic groups and leaders–not to mention by this very site. We believe his strong track record of local and statewide organizing makes him the clear choice for District 5.

Jane Kim for State Senate

As you might have heard, SF supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Weiner are facing off for the District 11 State Senate Seat. We support Jane Kim due to her proven progressive chops and her excellent record of negotiating for expanded affordable housing. Thanks in part to Kim’s efforts, the Giants’ Mission Rock development is 40% affordable (versus the 15% Mayor Lee initially gave in to), and many rent-controlled units are protected from condo conversion. Meanwhile, Scott Weiner has been busy supporting the pro-Airbnb legislation, helping criminalize poor and homeless folks, blocking sensible solutions to housing shortages, and ordering our naked brethren to put on pants. Let’s promote Jane Kim to the State Senate, and bide our time until Weiner’s term expires in 2018.

Vote NO on Propositions P and U

The Association of Realtors has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into funding these two sneaky measures, which aim to trick San Franciscans into handing over big profits to developers. Proposition P purports to improve the bidding process for the city’s affordable housing projects. The measure would mandate that the city (specifically, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, which oversees development projects) get at least three bids for each project. Sounds OK, right? Nope. This misleading proposition would just snarl up much-needed affordable housing projects in needless–and potentially costly–red tape. Prop P could also make it so that the housing that does get built is the cheapest, rather than that which best meets the needs of residents, neighbors, and the city.

As an unwanted bedfellow of shady Prop P, the Realtors have also given us the mean-spirited Proposition U. Prop U supposedly expands housing for “middle-income residents” who make between 55% and 110% of the area median. It cynically purports to help those middle-income workers by enabling them to apply for “affordable” units. No doubt, more should be done to help San Francisco’s teachers and tradespeople afford their homes. But Prop U would expand middle-income housing in the sleaziest way possible–by taking affordable units away from poor and low-income people.
Developers, of course, love Prop U because it would enable them to charge double for a given unit and still call it “affordable.” Please vote NO on this ugly measure.

For a more detailed take on P and U, check out the SF Examiner. And if you still have doubts, here’s an open letter from SF faith leaders protesting these measures.

Vote YES on Proposition C

While Propositions P and U would do nothing to create or maintain affordable housing in San Francisco, Proposition C is a bond measure that makes loans available for landlords and nonprofits to rehab older multi-unit buildings. This will help preserve the city’s stock of affordable and rent-controlled units. As Mission residents know, these older buildings have an odd habit of burning down, often displacing long-term and vulnerable tenants– and thereafter being replaced by shiny new condo towers. Vote YES on Prop C to help preserve rent-controlled units.

Vote YES on Proposition M

Currently, the Mayor has complete control over the Mayor’s Office of Housing and the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development.  Proposition M creates a Commission that will oversee these offices, and requires the Commission to hold public meetings and report to the Board of Supervisors.  It will make these offices more transparent and more accountable to the general public.

Vote NO on Prop O

Ah, San Francisco, where even the lowliest ballot measure has a full thirty-year backstory. (The Tenant’s Union provides a good summary of how Prop O came to be.) We’ll skip the saga for now, and just say that Proposition O would allow the Lennar Corporation to build fewer housing units and more office space in their gigantic, years-in-the-making development project at the Hunters Point Shipyard. This would mean more money for the Lennar Corp., and potentially more displacement of current residents. Let’s vote NO on O.

Vote YES on Prop W

It might not be explicitly housing-related, but Proposition W is one of the more exciting items on this year’s ballot. Prop W ups the transfer tax on luxury real estate to a top rate of 3%. This means that any time a building in SF is sold for $5 million or more, up to 3% of the sale price will be funneled into the City’s General Fund, where with any luck, it’ll be spent on affordable housing projects, homeless services, and care for our elderly neighbors. This tax will be levied on only the wealthiest investors, and is expected to generate nearly $27 million for the city. Vote YES on Prop W!

Vote YES on Prop X

Prop X promises to make it marginally more difficult for developers to displace arts organizations and industrial tenants by mandating that new development either make room for existing arts and industrial spaces, or pay into a fund. This is an imperfect solution to a thorny problem, but for now, it’s better than nothing. Vote YES to preserve San Francisco’s arts and industrial spaces.

If this little taste has made you thirsty for more, check out the comprehensive voting guides put out by the SF Tenants’ Union, the League of Pissed-Off Voters, and Stuart himself.

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Daniel Wayne - Tenant's Rights Attorney

Daniel Wayne - Tenant's Rights Attorney

Daniel Wayne is a San Francisco based tenants rights attorney and the managing partner of Wolford Wayne LLP. His firm focuses on protecting and asserting the rights of residential tenants throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He is an active member of the California State Bar, the San Francisco Bar Association, and the Tenants Together Network. He is a regular volunteer at the San Francisco Tenant's Union, and has appeared on 91.7 FM KALW's "Know Your Legal Rights" Program. He received the Outstanding Volunteer in Public Service award from the San Francisco Bar Association in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and has been named a Super Lawyer Rising Star each of the past three years, an honor bestowed on the top 2.5% of Attorneys in their first 10 years of practice. He is originally from Seattle, Washington and makes his home here in San Francisco. You can follow him on twitter at @sftenantlaw or visit his website: www.wolford-wayne.com for more information.