This June, San Franciscans will have an opportunity to vote on a ballot measure – Proposition F – which, if passed, would guarantee free legal counsel to any tenant served an eviction notice. This program, which would be the first of its kind in California, would represent a commitment to confronting the city’s housing crunch in a real and immediate way.
In the past few years, we have seen displacement in San Francisco continue to accelerate. Since 2013, the Mayor’s office of Housing estimates that there have been between 3 and 5 thousand evictions each year in San Francisco; in total, this represents as many as 40,000 San Franciscans faced with eviction in the past five years alone. As a recent New York Times story showed, eviction is a crisis that threatens poor communities across the country, and the threat is growing.
Nationally, about 90% of landlords have a lawyer in their eviction case. For tenants, that number is 10%. Having legal representation often gets tenants a better result in court, but in San Francisco, legal counsel in eviction cases is a right only on paper. In reality, 80% of San Francisco tenants don’t have a lawyer in their eviction case, and while the city’s recently-revamped tenant protections have restricted some of the ways landlords can displace renters, they have not come close to defanging real estate industry greed, which depends on the process being inherently unfair.
We need to level the playing field to ensure that eviction proceedings aren’t just a formality for landlords to go through when they want to evict vulnerable tenants, and a real right to counsel would do that. The idea is proven: in New York City, a program guaranteeing legal counsel to lower-income tenants was expanded dramatically last year, leading to a 24% decrease in evictions.
A right to counsel won’t stop every eviction or win every case. But it would end the era of impunity for the city’s cruelest landlords – serial evictors, owner move-in fraudsters, and speculators, many of whom use bogus threats and scare tactics against tenants who don’t know better or can’t fight back. And that would have a real impact on the homelessness and displacement crises that San Francisco has been mired in. Most of our homeless community in San Francisco was housed here recently – the 2015 Homeless Point-In-Time survey found that 71% of homeless San Franciscans had been housed in the city within 3 years, which was an increase of 10% over the figure from 2013. The data is clear: San Franciscans are being forced out of their homes and into the streets.
Politicians and housing advocates like to discuss the housing crisis in terms of how many units are coming down the pipeline, and how increases in supply will shape demand in the coming years and decades. But for many San Franciscans, the crisis means the threat of losing their home is more serious than ever. It’s time to stem the tide of evictions in San Francisco with a real right to counsel. Please support Proposition F in June.
This June, San Franciscans will have an opportunity to vote on a ballot measure – Proposition F – which, if passed, would guarantee free legal counsel to any tenant served an eviction notice. This program, which would be the first of its kind in California if passed, would represent a commitment to confronting the city’s housing crunch in a real and immediate way.
San Francisco is experiencing a serious housing crisis. Rents are astronomical, and thousands of tenants are evicted each year. When tenants are evicted, many end up homeless or leave the city. In fact, a recent study showed that 70% of those who are homeless in San Francisco were housed in San Francisco within the last three years.
One of the reasons there are so many evictions is the fact that there is a substantial power imbalance between tenants and landlords. Nationally, 90% of landlords go into eviction proceedings with legal representation, while only 10% of tenants have a lawyer on their side. In San Francisco, about 80% of tenants don’t have lawyers when facing eviction cases. And unfortunately, in our legal system, tenants who lack representation tend to lose their cases, even if they shouldn’t. At a time when people are crying out for solutions to our displacement crisis, one simple and impactful step is to make sure any tenant facing eviction has a lawyer.
We know that providing representation to tenants has been proven to reduce the overall rate of evictions as well. This is because landlords who bring unfair, bogus eviction cases can drive out tenants who don’t know the law and legal processes, but the situation is totally different when tenants are represented. Establishing a right to counsel will protect thousands of tenants from being unfairly evicted from their homes.
This is why a growing coalition is supporting Yes on F in June, sponsored by tenant advocate Dean Preston and the SF Right to Counsel Committee. If passed, this initiative would require the City to provide legal representation to all tenants in SF who are faced with eviction. This is a commonsense measure which would go a long way to leveling the playing field between landlords and tenants and stopping unfair evictions.
We are really excited by the broad range of San Franciscans who are supporting this measure. Which includes community, labor, tenant, senior, and neighborhood groups as well as many of the Mayoral candidates. We had an incredible outpouring of support in gathering the signatures to place this on the ballot: our signature gathering efforts gained us over 20,000 signatures from voters around the city, more than double what we needed to qualify for the ballot.
This is an idea whose time has come. Just last year, New York City became the first city to guarantee tenants a right to counsel in eviction proceedings. Please join us in June by voting for measure F to make San Francisco the second city in the nation, and the first in California, to provide a right to counsel for tenants in eviction proceedings.