S.F. Supervisors Water Down Controversial Rent Control Resolution

Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Katy Tang amended the resolution expressing support for Prop. 10, eliminating rent-control for single-family homes and new units.

Single-family homes (center) and new condos (right) are exempt from rent control under current law. (Courtesy Image)

It’s been 20 days since the Board of Supervisors spent a painful 49 minutes debating the pros and cons of Proposition 10, a state ballot measure that would repeal the decades-old Costa-Hawkins. Under Costa-Hawkins, local jurisdictions are blocked from creating their own rent-control laws; in San Francisco, that means there’s currently no way to move our rent-control date forward from 1979, to create vacancy control, or to provide housing relief for spouses of leaseholders who’ve passed away. 

It’s in the hands of voters this November, but a symbolic resolution to express San Francisco’s support of Prop. 10 was last put forth to the Board of Supervisors by Supervisor Aaron Peskin. They last voted on it Sept. 4 but it failed (it needed eight votes to pass but only garnered seven), bouncing it back to the Land Use and Transportation Committee to review. This in itself was tricky; Supervisors Katy Tang and Ahsha Safai both sit on that committee and voted not to support Prop. 10 earlier this month. 

But today they changed their mind… sort of. They both voted that they would support the resolution, but only if amendments were made guaranteeing that if Costa-Hawkins were repealed single-family homes would be exempt from rent control, and new units could only be rent controlled pending an economic assessment. 

This infuriated Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, a co-sponsor of the resolution who sat in on the hearing.

“For this Board to say ‘if it happens this is what we’ll do’ is the antithesis of the repeal of Costa-Hawkins,” she said. “If Costa-Hawkins repealed, it allows us to have this full and rich conversation for once. I want to caution you: You are doing exactly what the community is afraid of.” Her statement was followed by a massive round of applause from the audience.

Nevertheless, majority rules, and in these small committees, it’s not hard to pass a vote. With Supervisor Jane Kim dissenting on the issue of single-family homes but agreeing to the amendment on new units, both passed, and the resolution will bounce back to the full Board of Supervisors to see if it can garner that final “aye.” 

The fierce battle that has raged over this resolution is surprising; the Board unanimously voted in 2017 for a resolution to support Senate Bill 1506, which would have repealed Costa-Hawkins if it hadn’t died in Assembly. It has “almost word for word the same language as Prop. 10 today,” Kim pointed out. Prop. 10 has also won massive support from a wide range of city councils statewide, including those in Oakland, Berkeley, and even Beverly Hills.

And Prop. 10 itself doesn’t do anything other than give local governments the right to design their own rent control measures. 

“I urge my colleagues to look at what’s happening around you in San Francisco,” Fewer said. “To tie our hands to even have the simple civil conversation that is so long overdue on how to make this city a viable city for everyone… for our teachers, police workers, social workers, clerks at City Hall. They are all also suffering under our inability to actually address this issue.” 

Deepa Varma, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, spoke during public comment to highlight the massive impact this repeal could have on the future of the city.

“Passing Prop. 10 is the single biggest thing you can do to help the crisis,” she said. “We have to ask you, and you have to ask yourselves: Which side are you on? Are you on the side of renters? Low and middle-income people? Labor unions? Or are you on the side of the 1 percent and real estate dollars? That’s what this conversation is about. This question is about whether you support San Francisco and its ability to pass the laws it needs, versus our housing rules and regulations being ruled by players that only care about profit.” 

The committee’s decision to alter the resolution evidenced the complexity of the issue and further raises concerns over what San Francisco would do if Costa-Hawkins is repealed. If voters choose to support Prop. 10 the Board of Supervisors will undoubtedly wage a messy battle, but in the long run, it’s one we deserve to have.

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