Sup Eric Mar listens at the Haight-Richmond tenant convention


By Tim Redmond

The Park Branch library was so packed for the Haight-Richmond tenant convention that people who arrived late had to wait outside the door until somebody left and made room. The beyond-capacity crowd was another sign of how profoundly concerned tenants are in this city – and the energy in the room was yet another indication that 2014 could be the Year of the Tenant in local politics.

Sup. Eric Mar, who represents the Richmond, was on hand, taking notes, and told people outside that he was interested in many of the ideas. Sup. London Breed, who represents the Haight and Western Addition, wasn’t there, and many of the attendees remarked on her absence. She told me she was home sick and hadn’t heard about the event until two days earlier.

Among the biggest complaints we heard: Tenants feel as if there’s nobody at City Hall who speaks for them, they’re frustrated at the lack of transparency about who actually owns their buildings, and they fear eviction will drive them out of the city forever.

Some of the suggestions (including much higher statutory relocation fees for Ellis evictions) echoed the Castro convention. But by far the most popular proposal came from longtime affordable housing activist Calvin Welch, who suggested that the tenant movement revive the concept of an Anti-Speculation Tax, which dates back to the days of Harvey Milk.

Welch pointed out that the most important goal of tenant activist should be getting as much housing as possible out of the private market – an expensive proposition, since the city would have to buy up overpriced property and turn it over to land trusts or nonprofit management. But increasing – substantially – the transfer tax on property that was sold within a year of its purchase would both provide a big chunk of money. (Another big source of money: Forcing the people who rent apartments as hotel rooms through Airbnb to pay the city’s hotel tax – “which,” Welch said, “by my by-of-the-envelope estimates would bring in about $300,000 a day.”) (more after the jump)