The commitment to "no displacement" has not been offered in writing.

Instead, internal emails among staffers at the Mayor's Office of Housing gripe about intransigent Midtown residents having it too good. Tenants are accused of subletting rooms or whole apartments, and even using Midtown units as pied-à-terres.

A former longtime property manager at the site tells SF Weekly he believes perhaps 10 percent of the complex's residents were gaming the system in this way. "The parking lot," he marvels. "It looks like a car show!"

A quick jaunt around Midtown's parking lot does indeed turn up its share of Cadillacs. Some of the vehicles even sport Mitt Romney bumper stickers.

The city's contention that Midtown residents are locked into artificially low rents and ought to be "paying their fair share," undergoing income verification, and being made to contribute an appropriate sum to fund long-neglected rehabilitation and new construction on their own homes is difficult to argue against.

And yet, the city argues against it every day — with rent control.

Midtown dwellers' rents are low — paying well less than $1,000 for a three-bedroom setup is par for the course. Unlike residents at a public housing project, however, Midtown tenants' rents aren't calculated as a percentage of their verified incomes (as the city hopes to impose in the future). Rather, rates were established when denizens moved in, and raised incrementally in the years since — not unlike just about every other renter's experience in San Francisco. Per the contract nixed on Dec. 23, Midtown's rental rates were set by the Board of Supervisors.

Well, that's unique. But in Midtown — as is, again, the case with regards to the city's scores of thousands of privately owned rental units — residents living within the same four walls since the Nixon administration pay comically low rents inspiring bafflement and envy among younger city dwellers. This is a situation that can lead to its fair share of iniquities: A real estate broker tells SF Weekly that, at one of his recent listings, no fewer than a dozen would-be buyers told him they were seeking to purchase an investment property while remaining within their rent-controlled apartments.

That'd be galling for any landlord. And, in fact, city officials claim Midtown residents have pulled this stunt, too. So, the city's move to demand income verification and extract a "fair share" from tenants was applauded by landlords and pro-landlord advocacy groups — who wish they could do the same.

"The city wants to do what makes sense for the city on its property, but not on other people's property," says landlord attorney Paul Utrecht with a laugh. "The city's desires here — on their face, they seem to be justified. If you have a dilapidated building and you have tenants who can afford to pay more rent, it makes perfect sense. It's not inconsistent with the goal of keeping housing affordable. It's not inconsistent with the goal of helping poor people.

"What they're doing is very good public policy." But, here's the rub: It's "inconsistent with rent control."

According to a different set of lawyers — the Midtown tenants' lawyers — what the city is doing enables rent control. And that makes destroying villages, or saving them, or destroying them to save them, that much more complicated.

In a city where more than 60 percent of residents rent rather than own, it's hard to overstate the political taboo against even mild criticism of the Rent Control Ordinance. Leland Yee was known to critique rent control, former colleagues say — behind closed doors. The feds may have nabbed Yee on a wire conjuring up an arms deal with foreign jihadis. But they didn't catch him badmouthing rent control.

Rent control, in this city, applies only to structures erected prior to 1979. If the landlord of your brand new Mission Bay high-rise wishes to triple the rent at the conclusion of your lease to accommodate the tech bus hordes, she need only provide you with a 60-day notice. If you reside, however, in a pre-'79 structure, your rent can only be increased every year by 60 percent of the Consumer Price Index — a matter of, perhaps, several dozen dollars a month.

Regardless of one's inclinations, rent control is the only thing preventing many thousands of San Franciscans from being economically banished. Without it, San Francisco's population would turn over with a regularity fitting the boomtown this is. In a city of renters, this is a deeply mortifying prospect. Even temperate discussions addressing mere potential rent control tweaks are quashed out of fears they'll initiate a descent down the slippery slope to its weakening or out-and-out abolition. As such, only a fundamentalist adherence to the present iteration of rent control is acceptable in this city.

But not for this city. When the government finds itself in the role of landlord, it sees things differently.

The complaints leveled by the city against Midtown residents — insufficient rental money to properly maintain the site; longtime residents being locked into startlingly low rates; aging empty-nesters dwelling in underpriced, cavernous units — mirror the lamentations made by private landlords across San Francisco. Midtown residents' rents were set artificially low at the onset and have stayed low. But most any renter who's lived in San Francisco for even a few years is paying a pittance compared to the lessee who signs her papers tomorrow. Arguments that Midtown's residents are milking the city ring hollow to the city's landlords — who would argue the city has been milking them as a matter of civic policy.

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CCHO really are the trained lap dogs of San Francisco politics.  First they took Prop B affordable housing trust fund of 2008 and frittered it away on orders from Newsom--either you play ball with me or I will cut of city money.  Then they proceeded to eviscerate onsite inclusionary with 2012's Prop C, losing ground in order to make up for the cuts to redevelopment.  As a major component of the Non Profit Industrial Complex, they prove the point that any group which receives funding from the City is ethically compromised from advocating politically.

CCHO has not won a contested election in more than 25 years.  The only way they are able to prevail at the ballot box is when Willie Brown lugs their ass over the finish line.  CCHO is an adjunct of what is known as the San Francisco Information Clearinghouse that was set up with Calvin Welch as political director, Rene Cazanave as shin kicker, Sue Hestor as legal mind and Dale Carlson as fundraiser.  This cabal has insinuated itself into the fabric of the City Family and has become devoid of any independent political component.

Now CCHO finds itself having gone to the mat in pushing Prop C only to be cut off by the Mayor who is pursuing a political project designed to drive CCHO's political base to extinction.  Yet dependent upon the crack of city funding, these junkies will only pursue their own immediate financial interests.  The numbers do not lie.  At current rates of change, the increasing speed with which the neoliberal dominance is consolidating its power and the decreasing speed with which the CCHO is able to contest that mean that this is a game of rapidly diminishing musical chairs.

Countless times the CCHO and its nonprofit cohorts have sandbagged populist political measures at the behest of the Mayor.  Affordable housing, development equity MTA reform, these clowns know how to sing for their supper.

The game will never end because the value of the CCHO is to present the illusion that the City is doing something about housing for the unrich.  Given that the entirety of economic development policy in San Francisco is antagonistic to anyone who's lived here for any amount of time yet they still need our votes the careful management of appearances is paramount to preserve the appearance of careful management.

mblaircheney topcommenter

Rent Control once again rears its ugly head, as usual vilified and misrepresented.

Proposition 13 locks in property taxes for residential & commercial owners, not unlike locking in rents for their tenants. No hue and cry from the haves on that score. Rent Control in San Francisco passed shortly after relief from oppressive government taxation kicked in for those holding real estate assets. This colossal coincidence has completely slipped pass SF Weekly fact checkers.

Propose this… put on the ballet…  a measure that would rescind Rent Control and Proposition 13 in one fell swoop. Everyone goes back to market value... rents whatever the market will bear, taxes revert to 'true' value based on the property in todays market.

Fat chance that anyone will vote for it, unless you grant them 'line item veto'…

At least SF Weekly does not bear the tag line 'Fair & Balanced', or we might confuse them with having an agenda...


joe, i commend you on your  effort to make this some sort of parable about the city's rent control laws but that dog don't hunt.  and i say this a landlord of a pre-1979 structure subject to rent control.

apart from the site's complicated history of self-mismanagement and deferred maintenance there's so much that simply doesn't apply to the regulatory world i live in. first off, i assume that any rent would have reset to market by 1979 before rent control was instituted. second, you neglect to mention anything about capital improvement pass throughs. third is the question of illegal subletting - i assume any lease worth its salt would forbid that kind of profiteering.

this is a clusterf@!k no doubt but its one not because of rent control but rather years of neglect by the city and mismanagement by the tenant owners. calling it anything else is just wrong.

whateveryousay topcommenter

Being a landlord sucks in SF.  The City must now live under the rules they have created.  Irony.  

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