A Home of One's Own
Tomorrow night I'm attending a forum on gentrification sponsored by the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council. Apart from trying to render my social life rock-dull, I have three reasons for going to this event. In no particular order:
First, I'm trying to decipher San Francisco's housing crisis and develop a more socially acceptable response than the kill-the-IPO-fattened-yuppies bile that currently wells up in my gut whenever I look at houses.
Second, one of the topics of discussion at the forum will be Proposition G, the rent-control measure that passed with an overwhelming margin at the polls last week. As much as I want the city's insane housing crisis to ease, I think Proposition G is a wrongheaded, counterproductive way of approaching the matter. While seeking to protect tenants, the measure has also effectively eliminated the ability of many people of moderate incomes to buy houses. In a backhanded way, Proposition G ends tenancy in common (TIC) -- a method of purchasing property in which people pool their resources and credit-worthiness to make a purchase none could make on his or her own -- as an avenue that leads to home ownership in San Francisco.
The third reason I'll go to the gentrification forum involves one of the panelists, Calvin Welch, co-founder of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, a consortium of nonprofit housing funders and developers. Anyone acquainted with local politics knows Welch is a big deal. Apart from being an affordable-housing honcho, he acts as an informal adviser in Willie Brown's kitchen Cabinet. Welch has run political campaigns, pushed legislation, and organized communities going back to the days of Mayor Jack Shelley. He is one of the wise men of S.F. politics, and I try to listen to wisdom whenever I can.
But there's another reason I want to hear Welch talk about the housing crisis. I want to listen to him because I enjoy a good paradox. You see, Calvin Welch supported Proposition G. But his life experience as a renter, homeowner, and political leader serves as a powerful argument against the anti-homeowner provisions of that ill-advised initiative.
Proposition G prohibits the owners of a building from using the owner-move-in eviction process to clear tenants from more than one apartment in any apartment building. This one-OMI-per-building limit is meant to stop tenancy-in-common home-purchasing arrangements.
It will do that. It will also put home ownership out of the reach of everyone without a trust fund.
Under a TIC, several people pool their resources and buy a building together. For example, three families may use tenancy in common to buy a three-flat building; each family will then live in one of the flats. The families might do this if they are not rich and can therefore afford to live in the city they love only if they buy a piece of a house -- a flat -- instead of the whole thing.
TIC arrangements are not a speculative, rich-guy game. But tenancy-in-common purchases do produce evictions. When three families manage to combine resources and buy a three-flat building to move into, there is a corresponding reaction: The people who had been renting those three flats are evicted in owner-move-in proceedings.
At least, that is what had been happening, until Proposition G passed.
In supporting Prop. G, tenant advocates have focused, wrongly I think, on a temporary disruption of the rental market: the spike in owner-move-in evictions related to increased use of tenancy in common as a way of owning a home.
But when I think of TICs, I think of how the city is gaining resourceful, committed homeowners. I think of how the city is grabbing onto a class of people who will dedicate themselves to San Francisco in a relatively permanent way, people who will raise families, start businesses, create art, and engage in politics over a long period of time.
When I think of tenancy in common, I don't think of evictions so much as the tenant churn, the natural transience that's created when housing policy favors renting over home ownership.
And from now on, because I have researched the property records relating to a particular home in the Upper Haight, when I think of TICs and how they add to the civic life of San Francisco, I will think of Calvin Welch.
Welch came to San Francisco in 1962 to attend San Francisco State University. Ever since, he has burned with political energy. He is the embodiment of civic commitment.
A full account of his career would fill an entire column and more. But even a partial resume is impressive.
In the 1970s, Welch organized food giveaways demanded by the kidnappers of Patty Hearst, helping to bring that insane standoff to a reasonable end. In 1986, he was a prime mover behind Proposition M, the slow-growth initiative that checked downtown construction and kept San Francisco from developing an even more severe jobs-and-housing imbalance than it now has. He has assisted in the funding and construction of thousands of units of affordable housing. He was a key participant in the campaign to pass a bond that funds the seismic repair of unreinforced brick buildings, and which has also created jobs and maintained the character of several San Francisco neighborhoods. He has watchdogged fat and stupid city agencies, including the Planning Department and the Redevelopment Agency. He fought a lengthy battle with the Catellus Development Corp. -- for more than a decade -- to ensure that its Mission Bay development would include a proper amount of housing, both affordable and market rate. He has helped run supervisorial and mayoral campaigns. In 1996, he helped pass another bond to finance affordable-housing construction and create a low-interest mortgage assistance fund.