Let’s get something out of the way up-front: I don’t believe that people who can’t afford to own a home are lazy, bad people who deserve to be evicted and forced to live in the backseat of their cars or underneath the bushes of our public parks. When I moved to SF, I was a renter. I can tell you some crazy stories about my landlord and rental experiences. I’ll also be honest: I’m fortunate enough that thanks to a variety of circumstances I was able to afford a home in San Francisco. Again, though, here’s the important thing: tenants are not bad people, and I’m not going to spend time calling them names or describing them in an offensive manner that does nothing to help the public dialog about SF housing. I wish Randy Shaw and his editors at beyondchron felt the same, but since he can’t find honest facts to support his hysteria, he instead relies on the time-worn tradition of name calling.
In just the first three paragraphs, homeowners are vilified as “real estate speculators,” a “small segment of the real estate community” and a “small constituency with money” – if his divisive language doesn’t turn you off, you can read on to find out that homeowners can’t be progressives but are instead the “Ayn Rand crowd” and “the city’s most Paul Ryan-like constituency.” Seriously?
Name calling aside, the gist of his argument seems to be:
- Mayor Lee is the consensus Mayor, who would never ever offer legislation like this, and…
- We have brand new supervisors who haven’t had a chance to form opinions or talk to voters about housing policy in the city, but really…
- Condo conversions would kill jobs because….
- San Francisco would suddenly have too much housing supply to make other development financially attractive…
These arguments are so factually weak that you can almost understand why he resorts to name-calling instead of constructive dialog. Let’s look at them:
1) Domestic Abuser Mirkarimi is just one example of a situation in which Mayor Lee was willing to lead, even when it wasn’t politically popular. While his tenure as Mayor may show him to be more consensus oriented, he’s been willing to take principled stands for what is right when the situation called for it.
2) Housing policy isn’t something new to the political debate in San Francisco. It’s been debated and discussed almost ad nauseum for decades in San Francisco. I have a hard time believing that a recently elected politician hasn’t already been in dialogue with his or her constituents about housing policy. Furthermore, the condo bypass legislation was available in draft form for months before the election, so it’s not like some crazy-policy-from-outer-space just landed in San Francisco. More time is not needed for everyone to get familiar with the proposed condo bypass legislation.
And finally, items three and four: condo bypass legislation will kill jobs and destroy the market for new homes in San Francisco! This argument is so specious that I’m almost embarrassed for Mr. Shaw. It is predicated on false assumptions and ignores the facts behind San Francisco housing demand and supply.
Tenancy-in-Common owners are homeowners, not speculators
A large portion of the people living in TICs will remain in them as condos. Mr. Shaw’s argument rests on his presumption that immediately upon completion of condo conversion, the owner of every single newly converted condo would immediately sell their home. Common sense (and any level of personal knowledge of tenancy-in-common owners as part of the San Francisco community instead of a divisive stereotype relegating them all to Ayn-Rand-Paul-Ryan-Loving-Really-Rich-Speculators) says that the owner occupants of TICs that become condos are not all going to immediately sell. However, if we want to rely on something more common sense, we can look at the stats.
Tenancy-in-Common owners invested in San Francisco because they didn’t want to leave
A search of the MLS reveals that in 2012, there were about 22 sales of condos that were newly converted from tenancies-in-common. Given that 200 units are allowed to convert per year (not including fully owner occupied 2 unit buildings with a clean eviction history that can bypass the lottery), this suggests that only 10% of newly converted homes would be sold. TIC groups started forming when “entry-level” buyers in SF got priced out of the single family and condo market. It was a (relatively) affordable way for someone to take advantage of the benefits of home ownership (tax deductions, build equity) without having to leave the city. Does it make sense that people who chose the most challenging form of home ownership are suddenly going to flee the city, when they chose to buy a TIC because it was the only realistic way for them to remain in San Francisco?
Condo Conversion Would Lower Mortgage Payments for Many
The benefits to homeowners who convert from TIC to condo financing (which can only happen when the property converts from a TIC to a condo) are that they are no longer jointly liable for a shared mortgage (old-school TIC financing) or for a shared property tax bill (which still exists even with fractional financing). Furthermore, they are all immediate beneficiaries of the incredibly low interest rates that are available to condo owners but aren’t available to tenancy-in-common owners on a group loan (jumbo financing, few lenders, thus higher rates) or fractional financing (boutique financing offered by a few local lenders with higher rates and more restrictive terms). The homes that remain owner-occupied will be occupied by people who have more disposable income and more security in their homes. Would the SF economy benefit from a few thousand homeowners who were able to refinance into a mortgage that gave them more disposable income every month? I’d say Yes! Would that kill jobs? I’d say absolutely not!
San Francisco has Far More Demand for Housing than Supply
San Francisco has a general plan, one part of which is the Housing Element. One part of the document is the Housing Element: Data Needs and Analysis (pdf file) that lays out background data about housing availability, supply, and anticipated demand. It’s a meaty document that was published in 2009, and while the entire document is worth a read, for our discussion I want to highlight a few numbers to show how demand for San Francisco housing far outstrips supply. Case in point:
Accounting for new production, demolitions, and alterations, the City has seen a net increase of over 18,960 housing units – an annual average of almost 2,010 units – in the last nine years [2000 - 2008]. In comparison, a net total of 9,640 housing units were added between 1990 and 1999 or an annual rate of about 964 units per year. (Page 1.26, Housing Element: Data Needs and Analysis)
From 2000 – 2008, the city added about 2,010 homes per year. It wasn’t enough, even though it was almost double housing creation in the 1990s, which averaged just 964 homes per year!
So we’ve got a twenty year track record of producing – at most – 2,010 homes per year. How does that compare to what we should be building to meet demand?
The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), in coordination with the California State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), determine the Bay Area’s regional housing need based on regional trends, projected job growth and existing needs. San Francisco’s fair share of the regional housing need for January 2007 through June 2014 was calculated as 31,190 units, or about 4,160 units per year. (Page 1.41, Housing Element: Data Needs and Analysis)
Yes, you got that right – according to the SF Planning Department, based on factual research, SF would need to build 4,160 homes per year to meet anticipated demand from 2007 – 2014.
The Condo Conversion Process Creates Jobs & Revenue
The process of condo conversion itself creates jobs for surveyors, construction tradespeople, and attorneys (well, maybe I shouldn’t mention this one) to name just a few. Having personally been through a condo conversion, I can tell you that it is a lot more than just submitting some forms to the planning and building departments. Condo conversions require a professional survey and the appraisal of all the homes in the building that want to refinance into a new mortgage. Condo conversion also requires that the owners correct any items noted by the city during one of three inspections required by condo conversion: a general building inspection, a plumbing inspection, and an electrical inspection. As you can see condo conversion itself creates jobs for plenty of local small businesses.
The condo lottery bypass legislation itself is filled with revenue generating fees that are estimated to create almost $30 million dollars in revenue:
- $20 million in bypass fees would go to affordable housing
- $6 million in processing fees for the city’s planning department
- $2 million in mandated repairs and upgrades for TICs to comply with condo conversion requirements
And for those roughly 10% of newly converted condos that would sell soon after conversion, the city would get additional income from the real estate transfer taxes collected, not to mention that the newly sold homes would be re-assessed at current market value, adding to the city’s annual income from property taxes for years to come.