Civil Disruption! Ron Conway rallies 75 tech companies to write angry letter about evictions


ron_conway_1By now you probably know that affordable housing has become the preeminent social and political issue in the San Francisco. Longtime city residents have been forced out, and commuter shuttle riders have paid the price. Lawmakers have acknowledged it, trying to make up for lost time by stimulating a spree of building and exploring new ways of adding housing inventory.

The chants of the bus-stoppers have been heard, it seems, as on Wednesday tech industry coalition registered its support for tenants rights in a letter to the California Senate.

The letter addresses members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and urges them to pass legislation next Tuesday that would pave the way for reforming the Ellis Act, a state law that provides a pathway for homeowners to remove their units from the rental market.

In February, California State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced SB1439, a bill that would curtail abuses of the Ellis Act, by mandating that landlords (whether individual or incorporated) own a building for at least five years before they are allowed to invoke the Ellis Act and remove renters. Or more accurately, the Senate bill would allow the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to enact these changes, a necessary step since the Ellis Act is a statewide law.

Supervisors David Chiu, Scott Wiener and David Campos were present during a press event announcing the bill on February 24th. The bill has so far passed the Committee for Transportation and Housing and will go before the Committee for the Judiciary on May 6. If it clears the judiciary, it must be brought to a Senate vote by May 30th, and, if it continues, would need to be voted on by the Assembly by August 31st.

The bill has the broad support of tenants rights groups and San Francisco officials, but the resistance and reach of the San Francisco Realtor’s Association means its passage at the state level is not a sure thing.

Enter chairman and “scoutmaster of tech,” Ron Conway (a Pando investor). On Wednesday, Conway sent an open letter to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of his organization’s board of directors and 75 San Francisco member companies. The language of the letter maps extremely closely with that escaping bullhorns in front of buses and the homes of the evicted.

“Real estate speculators are misusing California’s Ellis Act to evict long-term rent paying tenants, who have done nothing wrong but are casualties of a loophole in the Act that must be closed to prevent further displacement.”

These claims are backed up by a report from Tenants Together, a renters’ rights group,. The report, released in early April, found that 71% of Ellis Act evictions in the past five years were initiated by landlords who had owned their buildings for less that three years. Moreover, it found many cases of serial evictors who rampantly withdraw units from the rental inventory and profitably convert to tenants in common or condo situations, escaping rent control protections and profiting handsomely.

The entry of (an acronym for San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation) into the fray is an encouraging sign of solidarity, if a tactical one. The “tech” community has been maligned by activists for causing the housing crisis, resulting in safe attempts like this one to overcome the bad publicity. and its member companies do have political clout, and the fact that Conway was able to marshal all these companies in a timely fashion suggests there is a will to do more.

But not every member has joined the cause. Of particular note, Airbnb, which has come in for criticism for enabling speculator evictions by providing a platform they can use once tenants are out, is not among the companies on the list.