Friday, July 10, 2015

Why is the head of a CA affordable housing agency evicting tenants from affordable homes?

You may have heard about the Ellis Act exacerbating the housing crisis in San Francisco. To recap: real estate speculators are buying up rent-controlled apartment buildings for a (relative) bargain. Property values are low because the rents are lower (less than than, say, $4000 a month for a two bedroom apartment) so new owners get a pretty sweet deal, considering the value of the land is actually very high. Then under the Ellis Act they evict the whole building of its tenants in order to turn the units into condos, TICs, or demolish the building entirely. The Ellis Act isn’t used by professional landlords. It’s used by real-estate speculators who want to make a quick profit. 78% of Ellis Act evictions happen within the first five years of new ownership.

It’s not just a San Francisco problem. Any tenant protected by rent control could become a victim of an Ellis Act eviction.** Last year 725 rent-controlled units disappeared in Los Angeles, and since 2001 the city estimates a total of 19,000 homes have been lost. Santa Monica has lost nearly 2000 homes. Housing activists like me hate the Ellis Act, because I fight everyday to keep people in their homes.

Advocates don’t always talk about it this way, but homes protected by rent control are the largest stock of affordable housing in California. In this housing crisis, we can’t afford to lose ANY KIND of affordable housing. However, to take one example, in San Francisco we are losing more affordable homes under rent control than we can catch up to that loss by building more.

Now instead of helping in this crisis, the chair of the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) Board, a government agency tasked with supporting affordable housing is doing the opposite: evicting his tenants using the Ellis Act. The irony was thick enough to attract national attention. By evicting rent-controlled tenants, Matthew Jacobs is removing affordable housing from the market, and even plans to build luxury housing in its place.

Matthew Jacobs was appointed by Governor Brown to his board position. According to its website, CalHFA “supports the needs of renters” and “programs that create safe, decent and affordable housing opportunities for low to moderate income Californians.” This hypocrisy is a tough pill to swallow. Right when tenants and families are fighting to stay housed, when the first time in history the outmigration of people from California is greater than the migration here because the cost of living is too high, when tenants unprotected by rent control are facing 400% rent increases, Governor Brown has appointed a fox to protect the henhouse. Matthew Jacobs has no right sitting on the California Housing Finance Agency board and the Governor should take the action necessary to have him removed immediately.

What are we doing about it? Hundreds of tenants are being unfairly evicted though the Ellis Act, but the state legislature sits on their hands. Modest legislation to amend the Ellis Act stalled thanks to the political power of the California Association of Realtors, the biggest donor to state politics, that profits from real-estate flipping and displacement. Meanwhile, long-term tenants are losing their homes. Activists are taking to direct action to the streets and to the ballot to fight back.

Our next opportunity at the state level is next Tuesday July 14th when CalHFA holds its first board meeting since the news broke about the evictions. So far CalHFA has released a statement supporting Jacobs. "As the chairman of the CalHFA Board, Mr. Jacobs has fully supported the mission of the Agency by providing oversight on the implementation of financing and administrative programs to increase affordable rental housing throughout the state so more Californians have a place to call home.”

It’s clear that CalHFA doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation. So victims of Ellis Act evictions are going to educate them by testifying at the next board meeting, including Steven Luftman, the last tenant standing in the Los Angeles building emptied of his neighbors by Jacobs and the Ellis Act. Since the meeting is in Sacramento, we’re also going to confront the halls of power at the Governor’s office to demand his removal with letters sent from all over the state.

If you can, join us in person at 801 12th Street, Sacramento, 9:30am, July 14.

If not, there are three ways to support tenants and affordable housing:

Send a letter to the governor demanding that he remove Jacobs. We already have 800 letters and want to bring at least 1000 with us Tuesday.

Call CalHFA (Director’s office: 916.326.8000) this week to demand that Matthew Jacobs be removed from the CalHFA board.

Donate to Steven Luftman’s GoFundMe campaign to cover the cost of his flight from Los Angeles to Sacramento next Tuesday. It’s important that Steven can confront his evictor in the halls of power and be there to deliver our demand letters to the Governor.

Mark your calendar and attend the next CalHFA meeting in Southern California. It’s in Burbank on September 10. Join the Tenants Together email list to get updates.

** That’s only because rent control usually comes with eviction protections called “just cause,” meaning that a landlord has to give a reason to evict you. In most cities in California, landlords can arbitrarily evict tenants and wouldn’t need to use the Ellis Act. You only need the Ellis Act if you want to undermine rent control and just cause protections. If you just want to “get out of the landlord business” as the Ellis Act states, really you can just sell your building to someone else who does want to be a landlord.

Originally posted on DailyKos

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