By: Andrew Stelzer
Listen to the story at 7 minutes 30 seconds with Rose Aguilar, Nuala Sawyer, Tim Redmond, and Joe Eskenazi.
An initiative on the June ballot that would guarantee any city resident facing eviction the right to an attorney has received an unexpected endorsement from Supervisor Jeff Sheehy.
December 2, 2017
Listen to the story at minute 15:45 at the following link: https://kpfa.org/player/?audio=273962
Supervisors and tenants rights groups squabble over the best way to offer eviction defense.
Wednesday, Nov 15th
Supervisors London Breed and Jeff Sheehy announced a plan Tuesday to offer legal service to renters who are served eviction notices. It’s pitched as a right to civil counsel — similar to that which individuals accused of a crime receive.
“San Francisco still doesn’t have a law that exists which give tenants the right to counsel,” Breed says. “Ninety percent of eviction cases go unrepresented, and it severely affects the outcome of those cases. The city already spends $4.4 million on legal services for eviction defense for low-income individuals, but we are incredibly limited and can only serve a small percentage of those who actually need help.”
At first read, the proposed legislation sounds good. In a city plagued by evictions, the right to an attorney could be a way to hand a little more power to the renters, who face teams of property owners’ lawyers skilled in the ins and outs of legally removing tenants from their homes.
But dig a little under the surface and the legislation raises more questions than it answers. Sheehy says the plan will “provide immediate relief for our most vulnerable — seniors, people with HIV/AIDS, and longtime residents” — a narrow category, and one that implies someone over 65 would receive the right to counsel, whereas a 35-year-old may not.
Breed says the legislation will only apply to people earning a certain Area Median Income — but didn’t define what that was.
And the funds would only go toward victims of “no-fault evictions” — a vague term that again looks good on paper, but gets tricky once it’s broken down. If a tenant has a roommate the landlord claimed they didn’t know was living there, or someone leaves a stroller in the lobby repeatedly, or a service dog isn’t properly licensed, any eviction notices served would technically fall under the “at fault” category.
Finally, the amount the city would spend on such a venture also seems up for debate: Breed quoted $4.4 million, Sheehy $3.9 million.
Oddly, the “tenants, legal non-profit organizations, and tenant advocates” listed on the press release who would be attending the supervisors’ announcement failed to appear. That was not an accident.
“We find it odd that after all these years, supervisors would suddenly introduce this kind of legislation with no outreach to the SF Tenants Union, less than two weeks after we announced a ballot measure on this exact topic,” says Deepa Varma, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union.
The ballot measure Varma references, the No Eviction Without Representation Initiative, calls for all tenants faced with eviction the right to legal counsel — regardless of age, medical status, income, or time lived in S.F.
“San Franciscans believe our judicial system should give everyone a fair shake, but when the vast majority of tenants evicted from their home don’t even have a lawyer, the one-sided result is anything but fair,” tenant lawyer and former District 5 supervisorial candidate Dean Preston says. “This initiative will ensure that, if you’re facing eviction, you will have someone by your side.”
When asked why some of the city’s major tenants’ rights organizations — such as the SF Tenants Union or Tenants Together, were not involved, Breed says they have “not only not reached out to my office, but they have not reached out to Sup. Sheehy’s office. There’s no need for a ballot initiative because we can do this by ordinance. Why wait to do something like this on the ballot when we can do it directly at the Board of Supervisors? The ballot measure is just a waste of time.”
Jon Golinger, campaign manager for the ballot initiative, disagrees, saying, “This is nothing but a political power play by City Hall politicians desperate to try to derail a citizens’ ballot initiative, but it won’t work.”
As the June election is still more than six months away, and they haven’t started to collect the 9,485 signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot, Golinger and his cohorts had largely kept a low profile about the measure — but the last-minute presser called at City Hall forced them to come out of the closet quickly.
There’s no date set for which the Board of Supervisors will review Sheehy and Breed’s legislation.
A bit of confusion around press conference announcing plan to pay for lawyers for tenants facing eviction
Supervisors Jeff Sheehy and London Breed held a press conference this morning to announce legislation that would provide legal assistance to tenants facing eviction – a clear response to a ballot measure that was filed less than two weeks ago.
That came a day after Sheehy announced the legislation at a D8 candidate debate.
But at this point, the press release, the statements at the press conference, and Sheehy’s comments at the debate are very different from the proposed legislation that has been sent to the city attorney. The sponsors aren’t on the same page. So it’s not clear what will emerge from the legislative process.
The plan was thrown together pretty quickly, after it became clear that the ballot measure had strong support in the city. Breed said today that an initiative was useless because it would be better to do the work at the board.
The two supervisors, later joined by Assemblymember David Chiu, announced they were planning “to protect tenants from fraudulent evictions through the provision of legal counsel for no-fault eviction cases.”
Breed told reporters that the right to counsel would be determined in part by a sort of means testing – people who made more than 60 percent of area median income might not be eligible.
Most evictions in San Francisco are not “no-fault” evictions. Many landlords create fake causes – things like “breach of lease,” which can be as minor as leaving a bicycle in the hall or hanging laundry out a window.
So according to the press release, those would not be covered in the new law.
Sheehy said at the debate that his measure wouldn’t provide counsel to tenants of nonprofit or public housing, and he told me after the press conference that since the city is subsidizing that housing, the taxpayers would by footing the bill for both sides in the legal process. Better, he suggested, to mandate mediation.
(The taxpayers, of course, pay for both sides in many criminal cases, since the district attorney and public defender both are funded by the city.)
But at the press conference, Breed said the bill would cover all tenants, including residents of buildings owned by nonprofits or public housing.
But a copy of the proposed legislation provided by Sheehy’s office late in the day is very different: It would apply to all tenants, with no means testing. It would provide full-scope representation starting no less than 30 days after a tenant gets an eviction notice.
And it would require the board to fund the program – at a cost Sheehy estimated at a little less than $4 million a year.
It’s clear that providing legal counsel to tenants facing eviction is way cheaper than providing services for people who have become homeless because of evictions. And it’s radically less expensive than building new housing.
But the politics of this are a little weird. Sheehy and Breed never spoke to anyone in the tenant community before introducing their bill (and although the original press release said “tenant advocates” would be at the press conference, only the three politicians were present.)
When I asked Breed about that, she said that the tenant groups had never contacted her or the other supes before launching their initiative.
Jon Golinger, who is running the initiative campaign, told me that the measure was still “full speed ahead.” He said that it’s still not clear what the actual legislation will say – and what might emerge from this Board of Supes and this mayor.
It’s pretty obvious that the event today was a political move; Sheehy is after all facing a challenge in June from Rafael Mandelman. The whole event was pulled together so quickly that even the participants weren’t on the same page.
Sheehy said he would like to get this done quickly, so it can be part of next year’s budget. But that assumes this board will pass the measure without watering it down so much that it will become worthless.
In which case, the initiative is still headed for the June ballot.
November 14, 2017
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN)-- Weeks after advocates announced a ballot measure guaranteeing tenants legal counsel in evictions, two San Francisco supervisors today announced legislation that would do largely the same thing.
The legislation, which is being developed by Board President London Breed and Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, would provide city funding for legal representation to lower-income residents in no-fault evictions, although the exact details are still being worked out.
According to a 2014 city report, around 80 to 90 percent of tenants go through eviction proceedings without legal representation.
The city already provides some funding to nonprofits that provide legal aid to tenants, and also for immigrant legal defense. Sheehy said the legislation expanding legal representation for tenants is expected to cost the city somewhere around $3.9 million, but noted that similar programs had found that every dollar spent on eviction protection services saved four dollars on services provided to the homeless.
"Keeping people in their homes is better than paying to take care of people on the streets," Sheehy said.
San Francisco supervisors in 2012 approved legislation sponsored by then-Board President David Chiu providing $100,000 for a similar civil counsel pilot project.
A report from Stanford University two years later showed that those funds helped bring in an additional $2 million in pro bono legal assistance and allowed the city to represent 1000 clients, Chiu said.
"I authored legislation to establish a civil counsel pilot program because many tenants are not aware of their rights," said Chiu, who is now a state Assembly member. "This proposal will expand on that work and protect renters facing evictions during the worst housing crisis in our city's history."
The legislation announced today is strikingly similar to a ballot measure introduced by tenant advocates less than two weeks ago, which would also provide a legal right to counsel but does not limit eligibility by income.
Advocates for that measure, which is backed by groups including the San Francisco Tenants Union, said Breed and Sheehy had not communicated with them before introducing their legislation. They intend to continue collecting signatures and aim to get their measure on the June ballot.
Jon Golinger, campaign manager for the SF Right to Counsel Committee, said his group is "happy to talk" but noted that the proposed legislation excludes many tenants. He described the legislation as a "political power play by City Hall politicians desperate to try to derail a citizens' ballot initiative."
"Five years ago City Hall politicians promised a right to counsel for tenants but they failed to deliver and thousands of San Franciscans have been evicted without the benefit of legal counsel as a result," he said.
Sheehy said he hoped for a "collaborative relationship" with ballot measure proponents, but noted that the proposed measure did not include protections for domestic violence victims that he planned to include in the board legislation.
"When you do things by the ballot, you can't go back and fix mistakes," he said.
Breed, however, was blunter.
"There's no need for a ballot initiative. If we can do this by ordinance, why wait?" she said. "The ballot measure is just a waste of time at this time."
The legislation is expected to be introduced within the next few weeks, according to Breed and Sheehy. Proponents of the ballot measure have until Feb. 5 to collect the necessary signatures.
By Matier & Ross
November 6, 2017
If poll numbers were grades, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee would be at the bottom of the class.
Lee, whose second term has been haunted by growing traffic congestion, homeless encampments and skyrocketing rents, scored a 30 percent job approval rating in a recent Public Policy Polling survey.
Lee’s negatives were at 50 percent, with 19 percent unsure.
The findings from the Oct. 3-4 survey by the North Carolina-based outfit are the lowest private polling numbers on the mayor’s performance we have seen since his re-election in 2015. The survey of 501 likely voters had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
On the bright side, Lee is doing a lot better than President Trump. His approval rating in the city isn’t underwater, it’s at the bottom of the sea — 13 percent favorable to 83 percent who disapprove.
The Lee and Trump ratings were part of a more extensive poll commissioned by backers of a proposed ballot initiative calling for the city to hire lawyers to help tenants fight evictions.
On that question, the tenants are the clear winners — 60 percent of those surveyed say they would support the measure.
by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
November 5, 2017
A coalition of tenants rights advocates on Tuesday took the first step toward creating a ballot initiative to provide a right to legal counsel for victims of evictions in San Francisco.
It’s similar to the right to legal counsel in criminal court; instead of public defenders, the legal counsel would be structured by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.
Deepa Varma, head of the San Francisco Tenants Union, told me she’s seen many cases fall through the cracks in her time as a tenant attorney — and it’s heartbreaking.
“It happened every week,” she said.
“[An attorney is] a prohibitive cost for most tenants,” Varma added. “If someone could afford that much, they’d own a house.”
That hurdle leads to tenants taking buyouts for fear of eviction, Varma said, even when the law is on their side. Without representation, tenants are often in the dark about their rights.
The measure needs at least 9,485 valid signatures by Feb. 5, 2018 to qualify for the June 2018 ballot, according to the coalition of tenant groups who aim to pass it.
Ballot measure for June, 2018 could be litmus test for local politicians
A coalition of renters and advocates, led by Dean Preston, who ran for supervisor last year, filed the paperwork today for a ballot measure that would guarantee every tenant facing eviction in San Francisco the right to a lawyer.
“This will go a long way toward improving the eviction problem,” Preston said. “Tenants who go to court without a lawyer almost always lose.”
In fact, he said, nationwide 90 percent of tenants facing eviction don’t have legal representation, while 90 percent of landlords do.
“Housing is a fundamental human right,” Preston said. And that means people who risk losing it have a fundamental right to counsel – just as people who risk losing their freedom in a criminal trial have a guaranteed right to legal representation.
The No Eviction Without Representation measure needs 9,485 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The city has allocated money to help nonprofits fund legal defense for people facing eviction, but it’s not enough to cover every tenant. And there’s no rule in place saying that nobody facing eviction, whatever their income level, has an absolute right to counsel.
Early polling suggests that the idea has a lot of support. A poll released by the SF Right to Counsel Committee shows that 60 percent of likely voters support the idea, with only 27 percent opposed. That’s a 2-1 margin, great news for any nascent campaign.
The poll also shows that only 30 percent of voters approve of Mayor Ed Lee’s job performance, and 50 percent disapprove.
The measure could become a litmus test for candidates running for supervisor in the spring and the fall: In San Francisco, politicians always want to sound pro-tenant, but when it comes to money – funding equity proposals – they often fold.
For more information, check out the group’s website, and to volunteer to collect signatures, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The group plans a Dec. 2 kickoff, and will need to get signatures by Feb. 5, 2018 to make the June ballot.