Ellis Act or Airbnb—Which to Blame in S.F. Housing Crisis?

A closer look at the number of Ellis Act evictions indicates that the controversial law that allows property owners to evict rental tenants might be more of a symptom of San Francisco’s housing problem, rather than the problem itself.
January 22, 2014, 9am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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The Ellis Act, a California state law that allows property owners to evict rental tenants under certain conditions, has become a firebrand signifier of the housing affordability crisis in San Francisco. Scott Lucas, however, is willing to play devil’s advocate in making a case that the Eliis Act might be more of a symbol, rather than an actual tool, of injustice.

“In fact, Ellis Act evictions represent only a small proportion of the city’s total evictions—and they’re not even historically high to begin with. In the 12-month period ending on February 28, 2013, the total number of Ellis Act evictions was 116—an almost twofold increase over the previous year, but a nearly 70 percent decrease since 2000, when such evictions hit an all-time high of 384. All told, the Ellis Act was behind less than 7 percent of the 1,716 total evictions in the city between February 2012 and February 2013.," writes Lucas.

Lucas even quotes Karen Chapple, a professor of city planning at the University of California, Berkeley, to imply that there might be more likely culprits for the affordability problem: “Isn’t it far more likely…that more units are being lost [from the market] through Airbnb?” asks Chapple.

Not everyone agrees with Lucas, naturally. On the same day that Lucas’s article hit the Internet, Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR (who has written about the San Francisco gentrification controversy before), listed Ellis Act reform first among his recommendations for keeping San Francisco affordable.

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Published on Monday, January 20, 2014 in San Francisco Magazine
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