Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tenants Together Statement on Defeat of Ellis Act Reform Bill

Yesterday, Democratic Assembly Members Sharon Quirk-Silva (D – Fullerton) and Cheryl Brown (D- San Bernardino) teamed up with Republicans Brian Maienschein (R – San Diego) and Beth Gaines (R – Roseville) to defeat SB 1439 (Leno), a modest bill to stop speculators from misusing California’s Ellis Act to evict long-term tenants.  The bill, co-sponsored by Tenants Together and San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee failed on a 3-4 vote, with Assembly Members Ed Chau (D – Monterey Park), Tom Ammiano (D – San Francisco) and Mariko Yamada (D –Davis) voting to support the bill.  The bill would have plugged a loophole that has allowed speculators to purchase apartment buildings and immediately evict long-term San Francisco tenants who are disproportionately elderly and disabled.  With no real arguments against the bill, the real estate lobby relied on a strategy of misrepresentations and campaign donations to prevail.

The defeat of SB 1439 highlights a growing problem in Sacramento.  The real estate industry’s control of Democrats through campaign donations corrupts the lawmaking process, undermining the ability of California’s 15 million tenants to have their needs addressed by legislators.

Tenants saw the same dynamic when Democrats heavily funded by real estate money joined with Republicans to defeat SB 603, our bill last session for fair treatment of security deposits.  That bill would have simply imposed a penalty on landlords who illegally withhold security deposit funds, something that is already the law in Alabama.  The bill was unacceptable to realtor-funded Democrats for reasons they refused to articulate.

With rents, evictions and habitability problems escalating across the state, tenant discontent is on the rise.  We thank all of the tenants and tenant organizations who came to Sacramento, sent letters, signed petitions, made calls and otherwise supported our legislative efforts.  Your presence was felt in the Capitol, and without your support, we would not have made it this far.  We defied the odds and got this bill through the California Senate, but in the end were not able to get it through the Assembly Housing & Community Development Committee.

The Ellis Act reform bill was backed by an incredibly broad coalition of labor unions, senior groups, tech companies, and social justice groups.  San Francisco political leaders --Mayor Ed Lee (SB 1439 co-sponsor), Senator Mark Leno (SB 1439 author), Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, Assembly Member Phil Ting and the entire San Francisco Board of Supervisors – were united for Ellis Act reform.  We appreciate the solidarity and the hard work of all of our allies in this fight.

We are deeply disappointed that Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D – San Diego) did not take steps to secure passage of SB 1439. Tenant advocates were excited to welcome Speaker Atkins – a proven leader on affordable housing construction -- when she recently took over leadership of the Assembly.  As Speaker, she has considerable power to control whether bills live or die.  Her inaction on this bill stands in sharp contrast to the Senate in which President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D – Sacramento) and incoming Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles) fought for passage of the bill, leadership that proved essential in a difficult floor fight.  We urge our members to call Speaker Atkins at (916) 319-2078 and urge her to take a more proactive role in passing commonsense tenant protections like SB 1439.

California’s 15 million tenants need representation and leadership in Sacramento.  Too often, lawmakers claim to be affordable housing champions while refusing to stop unfair displacement, exorbitant rent hikes, security deposit theft, and other abuses of current tenants.  This was the case in the Assembly Housing & Community Development Committee where Assembly Members went out of their way to profess their support for affordable housing, while voting to displace tenants from affordable housing.

98-year old Mary Elizabeth Phillips testified at the hearing yesterday.  How could any lawmaker who claims to care about the vulnerable look this long-term, elderly tenant in the eye, and vote to empower the speculators who are evicting her?

This marks the beginning, not the end, of our fight to change the dynamic in Sacramento and stop unfair displacement of California tenants.  We urge tenants who would like to get involved in our struggle for fairness and justice to visit our website and become a member today.

If you would like to get updates on our campaign to reform the Ellis Act, sign the petition here.

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