[Hpn] San Francisco, CA - Homeless, tenant measures both look likely for November ballot - San Francisco Chronicle - July 9, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Thu, 11 Jul 2002 09:19:26 -0500


2 hot potatoes being tossed at S.F. voters
Homeless, tenant measures both look likely for November ballot


Rachel Gordon, Ilene Lelchuk - San Francisco Chronicle - July 9, 2002

San Francisco is in for one of the most fiery political seasons in years, as
property owners are readying to take on tenant activists and homeless advocates
are trying to beat back a proposal to strip cash payments to people on welfare.

The battles pitting old nemeses against one another will not be played out at
City Hall but at the ballot. Backers of both measures bypassed the left- leaning
Board of Supervisors, with the hope that voters will be more willing to support
their efforts.

On Monday, activists handed in petitions hoping to qualify two measures for the
November ballot:

-- "Care Not Cash," as the welfare reform measure is called, would convert most
of the money that now goes into cash grants for welfare recipients into programs
for such things as housing and drug treatment.

-- "HOPE," Home Ownership Opportunities for Everyone, would expand the home-
ownership market by allowing tenants to buy their apartments, if their landlords
agree. Passage would expand the number of condo conversions allowed in the city.

Both initiatives have sponsors at City Hall -- Supervisor Gavin Newsom is behind
the "Care Not Cash" plan and Supervisor Tony Hall is pushing HOPE.

Planned or not, going to the ballot also serves another function for Hall and
Newsom: a barometer to gauge their political futures. Newsom is contemplating a
run for mayor in 2003; Hall has also been rumored as a possible contender for
the same office. The fate of the initiatives will help indicate their acceptance
by the electorate.

"Traditionally, or typically, if you have a sponsoring legislator over a
controversial initiative on the ballot, it positions them well for future gains
in office. So there's much more at play here than what's on the November
ballot," said Ross Mirkarimi, a political organizer who ran last year's campaign
for public power and opposes both initiatives.

And just because the fight over "HOPE" and "Care Not Cash" appear headed for the
ballot doesn't mean that the roles for Hall and Newsom have been blunted. Hall
was out front in commending petition signers for their "resounding commitment to
homeownership."

Newsom helped carry 11 boxes of petitions circulated by "Care Not Cash"
proponents into the Elections Department on Monday. The boxes held about 23, 000
signatures from residents who want to see the welfare reform measure on the
ballot. To qualify, officials will have to determine that at least 9,735 of
those signatures came from registered San Francisco voters.

Newsom called his big haul of petitions "overwhelming support for a change,
reform that will save lives.

"They are sick and tired of watching homeless people die on our streets," Newsom
said.

Instead of handing homeless people monthly checks that now range from $320 to
$395 -- money that Newsom says often gets spent on drugs and alcohol -- the
"Care Not Cash" system would give them $59 with a guarantee of housing, food
stamps, medical services, job training and addiction treatment.

The city distributes welfare checks to 8,571 adults who don't qualify for other
state and federal aid. Care Not Cash would affect only the 2,895 who identify
themselves as homeless.

But critics said the measure is an attack on the poor. Steven Chester of the
Committee Against Increased Homelessness, the group organized to fight the
initiative, cast doubt on whether the city can really provide adequate housing.

"It's misguided," Chester said of Newsom's proposal.

The "HOPE" backers also went into City Hall Monday with an armload of petitions
bearing nearly 25,000 signatures, said Joe Capko, who organized the drive. Like
the welfare proposal, 9,735 valid signatures are needed to qualify.

Supporters tout "HOPE" as a way to open up the home ownership market to more
tenants. Under the plan, tenants would be allowed to purchase their units if the
landlord wants to sell. The parties would negotiate a price. It is the newest
twist on rental conversions in the city -- an issue caught in a decades- old
tug-of-war between tenant activists and property owner interests.

HOPE supporters say that tenants who don't purchase their apartments would be
offered lifetime leases and would be provided with rent control protections.

The number of rental units eligible to be converted each year under HOPE would
be equivalent to 1 percent of the city's housing stock. That would pave the way
for roughly 3,000 conversions a year. Now they're limited to 200.

"There are people who have paid rent for many, many years and have not a penny
to show for it, and that's really a pity," said Capko, a marketing consultant
who lives in a two-bedroom rental in Glen Park with his family of five and
aspires to own a home. "Not everyone's going to be able to benefit from the HOPE
proposal, but a lot are."

In general, individual units are less expensive to purchase than single- family
homes.

Tenants Union organizer Ted Gullicksen speculated that in reality, only a
handful of renters would be able to afford their unit because the cost would
still be out of reach for most. Most significantly, he said, is that if a tenant
who buys the unit then turns around and rents it out, the unit would no longer
be regulated by rent control, which limits the amount rent can be raised each
year; this year the limit is 2.7 percent.

"I think what this is intended to do is repeal rent control," he said.

E-mail the writers at rgordon@sfchronicle.com and ilelchuk@sfchronicle.com.

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