July 30, 2014

Amended SF condominium-conversion ordinance passes!

On June 11 an amended version of the Condominium Conversion Ordinance passed by a mayoral-veto-proof 8 – 3 vote at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. At the ordinance’s second and final reading one week later, the vote was the same. Supervisors Eric Mar, David Chiu, London Breed, Jane Kim, Norman Yee, David Campos, Malia Cohen, and John Avalos voted yes, while Supervisors Mark Farrell, Katy Tang, and Scott Wiener voted no. The fact that the original sponsors of the legislation, Farrell and Wiener, voted against it indicates how much it changed over the course of several months of negotiations.

The Sierra Club opposed the original version of the legislation (see October-November 2012, page 6). The primary reason was that it endangered San Francisco’s stock of affordable, rent-stabilized (commonly known as rent-controlled) housing, while doing too little to ensure that affordable replacement rental units would be built.

The newly passed legislation is a compromise. Like the original legislation, it provides an expedited condominium-conversion process for the owners of more than 2,000 TIC units (Tenancies in Common). In exchange for this bypass of the lottery system, tenant advocates and their allies worked with the Supervisors (primarily Chiu, Kim, and Yee) to amend the legislation to address concerns about the loss of affordable, rent-controlled units.

Important changes that enabled the Club to support the amended version include a minimum 10-year moratorium on condo conversions after the bypass described above, and a requirement that all TIC units allowed through the bypass be replaced with new affordable rental housing (using a formula tied to the duration of the condo-conversion lottery suspension). In addition, once the lottery resumes, only buildings with four or fewer units will be eligible, and there will be higher owner-occupancy requirements.

While this vote is a victory for affordable housing in San Francisco, it was pointed out more than once during debate on this legislation that this is just one piece of the puzzle, and that much more work is needed to solve the housing crisis in San Francisco. The passage of this legislation sends the message that solving this crisis shouldn’t involve sacrificing one type of housing (affordable rental) for another (ownership).

Karen Babbitt, conservation chair, Sierra Club San Francisco Group

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