I'm really glad that Mayor Ed Lee has gotten the message and is ready to join the fight against evictions. Although it's hard to tell exactly what he's proposing, except to try to get the state Legislature to modify the Ellis Act and give cities more control over evictions. (The Ellis Act, of course, is only part of the problem, but it's a big part: There is little in the way of legal defense to an Ellis eviction.)
The only way we're ever going to get the state to give local governments the tools they need to fight displacement is if big-city mayors get involved, and this is start. Lee ought to be trying to drag the mayors of San Jose, Los Angeles, Oakland, and every other city that is or will be facing housing pressure to join him.
But we all know that it won't be easy: Landlords dominate the state Legislature. Tenant bills are always an uphill battle, and this one will be brutal, and may take a while. So I'm still looking at what we can do now, in San Francisco.
I've suggested that the city can, and should, raise the statutory relocation fee for Ellis evictions, and Sup. David Campos is going to introduce a bill to double it, from around $5,000 to around $10,000. That's a good start, but there may be even more we can do.
Federal law already addresses the issue of displacement: If you're tossed out of a place because of any development involving federal money, you have the right to be made whole, at least for a while: The Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1970 was set up to ensure that people whose homes were taken for urban renewal or infrastructure project had the right to stay -- not just in the region but in the same city. Under the law, the government is required to pay relocation compensation equal to the difference between what the resident was paying in rent or mortgage and the current market rate -- four four years.
That would give displaced people a fighting chance to stay in their neighborhoods.
The law remains on the books. No court has ever invalidated it. The presumption -- that when you lose your home through no fault of your own, you should not also lose your community -- is pretty well enshrined in the statute.
So why not simply take the same standard -- the same legally defensible standard -- and adopt it as San Francisco law?
The relocation assistance required under an Ellis Act eviction would be designed not to punish a landlord or to make Ellis evictions too expensive, which might not be legal, but simply to ensure that the resident gets to say in town. Just like the feds have guaranteed since 1970 (when a left-wing radical name Richard Nixon was president and signed it into law).
If the state needs to get involved, this is a perfect piece of legislation for all of our local reps to carry. It's so simple and basic. It preserves existing vulnerable communities. It doesn't stop or repeal the Ellis Act; it simply states that part of the cost of evicting someone who has done nothing wrong is to make it possible for that person to rent another equivalent place at existing market rate.
What could possibly be wrong with that?