Condo policy leaves owners, tenants frustrated

February 3, 2010 6:47:16 PM PST
In San Francisco there is a call to change a long-standing system that allows people to convert their apartment building into condominiums. It is a slow process that can leave people waiting years for the chance to become home-owners.

Some call it byzantine; others simply describe it as hell. Welcome to San Francisco's condo conversion lottery, where people can try for years to win the right to convert their apartment buildings into condos.

They own so-called tenancies in common or TIC's, where several individuals get together to buy a multi-unit building. Unlike condos where each owner has a separate mortgage, TIC's co-owners share a mortgage and are financially tied to each other. It is a cheaper path to homeownership, but risky, which is why winning this lottery is crucial.

The city allows only 200 conversions annually, and this time around more than 200,000 units qualified, so most people end up losers,

"It's unfair, the city should be encouraging people to become responsible homeowners and taxpayers," Benjamin Schein said.

The lottery was created more than 25 years ago to protect renters from being displaced. Supervisor John Avalos says it is still needed.

"What happens as part of the process of buying property and doing a condo conversion is that tenants lose their housing so we want to protect apartment housing," he said.

But the mayor says owners and the city need help. He is proposing everyone now on the list be allowed to convert and pay a $15,000 fee.

"This is to fast track that, generate tens of millions of dollars, those dollars would then go to offset our contributions for affordable housing," Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

But that is sure to face an uphill fight, so those who hit the jackpot today are likely to be the only ones this year.