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Ending Speculator Evictions

Today, on January 12, the Assembly Housing Committee votes on AB 854, which ends speculator evictions under the state Ellis Act. Speculators misuse of the Ellis Act has displaced tens of thousands of longterm tenants, 60,000 in Los Angeles alone. These speculator evictions have also cost Los Angeles over 26,000 affordable rent-controlled units; this misuse of the Ellis Act has worsened the city’s homeless crisis.

Ellis evictions target the state’s most vulnerable tenants, from frail seniors to multi-generational immigrant families. Considering it cost between $500,000-750,000 to build an affordable housing unit, the public cost of replacing units removed by Ellis speculators is staggering (San Francisco just allocated $64 million in funds earmarked for social housing to buy small buildings whose tenants face speculator evictions).

Why does California put speculator profits ahead of the state’s need for affordable homes? The power of Big Real Estate.

It’s well past time for the Democratic-dominated California legislature to stop this outrage. That path begins with the January 12 committee vote.

A New Committee and Campaign

AB 854 is authored by Assemblymember Alex Lee, with Richard Bloom and Phil Ting as co-authors. The bill is co-sponsored by two groups with a long history of fighting Ellis Act abuses: the San Francisco-based Tenderloin Housing Clinic (which I head) and the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) (headed by Larry Gross). THC has served tenants for nearly 42 years and CES for 49.

Why does California put speculator profits ahead of the state’s need for affordable homes? The power of Big Real Estate.

A large coalition of cities and groups across the state, including the California Democratic Party, have endorsed AB 854. Groups identified with YIMBYs and NIMBYs have found common ground in supporting this critical affordable housing strategy.

Big Real Estate has often stopped state tenant protection measures in Assembly Housing. But Speaker Anthony Rendon has appointed a new Assembly Housing Committee that gives AB 854 backers hope.

The East Bay’s Buffy Wicks has replaced David Chiu (now San Francisco City Attorney) as committee chair. This keeps this critical role with a pro-tenant legislator. Wicks’ shift created an opening that has been filled by progressive tenant ally Wendy Carrillo.

Most importantly, a San Diego representative with little past support for tenant protections or affordable housing was replaced by San Diego’s very pro-housing Assembly member Chris Ward. The votes are likely there for AB854 to finally reach the Assembly floor.

Reaching the floor represents major progress. A similar bill was killed by the committee in 2014 (after passing the Senate) and 2015. It became a two-year bill when Assembly Housing lacked the votes for passage earlier this year. A committee more representative of the state’s tenant population makes a big difference.

A Statewide Campaign

Another difference from past campaigns is that from the very start the AB 854 effort sought support from throughout the state. After the 2020 elections THC hired Sarah Abdeshahian, a recent UC Berkeley grad with experience working on state legislative issues, to run a statewide campaign.

Abdeshahian set up meetings with legislators and their staffs across the state. It became clear during these sessions that legislators recognize that California has a statewide affordable housing crisis. A crisis that speculator evictions under the Ellis Act makes worse.

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To help secure support from legislators from districts that lack a housing affordability crisis, AB 854 exempts cities without local rent control laws. So it does not impact realtors or landlords in those districts.

ACCE and the Housing NOW! Coalition held a January 10 media event for AB 854. Both have made passing the bill a top priority. Both are urging legislators to support the bill and are mobilizing the public.

AB 854 is the only remaining bill that the state legislature can pass this year to help protect tenants and affordable housing. AB 854 is the only concrete action legislators can take to address immediate tenant needs.

Governor Newsom’s new budget allocates $9 billion for affordable housing. That’s fantastic! But cities also need to protect their existing affordable housing supply.

That’s exactly what AB 854 does.

The Los Angeles City Council is expected to endorse AB 854 at its meeting today. The timing before the Assembly Housing committee vote tomorrow sends a powerful message that Los Angeles needs AB 854 to help address its acute housing and homelessness crisis.

AB 854 must pass the full Assembly by the end of January. Backers still need 41 votes even though four Democratic seats are now vacant (three of which were likely yes votes). That makes it imperative that enough “moderate” Democrats back AB854.

Every public interest group that has weighed in supports AB 854. The only opposition comes from realtor and landlord groups—both of whom rely on falsehoods to defend speculator profits at the public and tenants’ expense. For example, opponents claim AB 854 prevents owner move in evictions despite every local rent control including that as a just cause. They also claim the measure hurts “Mom and Pop” landlords, even though it only applies to those who have purchased a property since 2018. Working-class “Mom and Pops” either bought their apartments before that date (meaning they aren’t impacted by AB854) or had already been priced out of the market.

78% of Ellis evictions are by owners under five years. These speculators shouldn’t be allowed to wreck people’s lives.

Millions of California tenants live under the threat of displacement due to speculator evictions under the Ellis Act. Ellis speculators have eliminated the tenant security that just cause eviction and rent control laws protect.

randy shaw

Randy Shaw

Please tell your legislator that passing AB 854 is a financially cost-free investment in a more affordable California. AB 854 is a powerful strategy for addressing our housing crisis.

It’s time has come.

We will update this story after Wednesday’s vote.

Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron