The Op-Ed from Scott James in Thursday’s NY Times about the supposedly outsized tenant protections in the city San Francisco is really just another example of irresponsible editorial coverage from the Times.
The first major rhetorical failure is the idea that a single anecdotal example of irresponsible tenant behavior should affect housing policy in any way. Tenant protections, rent control and housing rights are victories in long running battles with high stakes for working class and poor urban residents. Their importance should ring especially loudly in a city as fissured by inequality as San Francisco.
The second and probably more egregious rhetorical failure is James’ suggestion that it is San Francisco’s “extraordinarily difficult” eviction process that leads landlords to keep so many apartments empty. James tips his hand when he explains that:
…a tenant-free property is much more valuable. A check of comparable recent sales in our neighborhood, in fact, shows that empty buildings are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than those with tenants, and with the current housing-price boom, that profit margin (on paper, anyway) increases each month.
For a landlord, an extra room is always a commodity, and that commodity is always going to be more valuable when it doesn’t have any pesky limitations attached to it (you know, like, a standing agreement that it remain someone’s shelter). Because an empty property is exempt from year-to-year rent increase protections, and because it’s value can more easily grow in step with the booming housing market, banks will always assess empty (maintained) properties at a higher value than their inhabited equivalents.
It is the market-created value a landlord earns from a space’s ease of transfer and its potential to one day be luxury real estate that got us here. We’ve let investment value grow too far out of step with a space’s utility as living quarters so let’s not bullshit about loutish, power-mad tenants keeping apartments empty.