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Let's Turnout for Ted!!!

As the economy in San Francisco heats up, evictions are on the rise. Tenants and tenants rights advocates have joined together to push for laws that protect tenants. Legislators in San Francisco and Sacramento are responding, but is it enough?

 

TRANSCRIPT

Sara Shortt, Housing Rights Committee, Executive Director

Because this is so extreme right now that tenants really have nowhere else to go when they get these eviction notices or these threats, we are seeing more tenants who are willing to just stay and stick it out and fight.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

San Francisco appears to have recovered gloriously from the Recession. Employment and construction are on the rise… but so are evictions. While a new generation is striking it rich, many thousands of San Franciscans live in fear that the next piece of paper given to them will say they need to leave their home. At a historic gathering of tenants from across the City in February, residents shared their stories of resistance and renewed commitment to stay in San Francisco.

A speaker at the City-wide Tenant Convention was a resident whose struggle to stay in her apartment last year touched the hearts of San Franciscans. The eviction of Gum Gee Lee, her husband and disabled daughter set off a public outcry against the growing problem of evictions.

Gum Gee Lee, San Francisco Resident and Tina Cheung, Senior Community Organizer, Chinatown Community Development Center

So for me coming here today although I went through a lot of struggle and it was a really stressful time for me, but I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I’ve been through.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

What’s driving the eviction crisis are the going prices for rents. The dramatic rise in rents is fuelled by the sudden influx of wealth from San Francisco’s current tech boom. Tyler Macmillan is a tenant rights lawyer.

Tyler Macmillan, Eviction Defense Collaborative, Executive Director

One of the things that we’ve seen in San Francisco in the last couple of years is just an explosion in the rent level and so the profit that you can make as a landlord has just become so enormous that the incentive to remove long term tenants that are protected by rent control has become an extreme incentive.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

Because of the State’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, there’s no limit to the price landlords can set for a vacant unit. Even rent controlled units. [people. power. media] found there are many different scenarios that force tenants out of their apartment. Tenants living in buildings without rent control can see their rents increase dramatically month to month until they can no longer afford it. Many people who are priced out or are evicted have few options they can afford in the city if any at all. Here’s the Executive Director of a tenants rights and counseling organization.

Sara Shortt, Housing Rights Committee, Executive Director

If you’re real low income… often you become homeless, because you can’t just pack up and move. Other people have a little bit of a step up from that and they leave San Francisco.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

It’s not just people with low incomes who are finding it hard to stay in San Francisco. People who are priced out are increasingly middle and working class. Of particular concern to housing advocates is the State’s  Ellis Act. This is one of the most widely used tools for evicting rent-controlled tenants who are paying rents below current market rate. The Ellis Act allows landlords to get out of the rental business. They can evict all the tenants in their building and sell the units. Once the apartments are sold, the amount of rent controlled units in San Francisco is reduced because only buildings built before 1979 can have rent control. The State’s Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act prohibits new units from being rent controlled. Patricia Kerman is a senior on disability who’s been living in the Mission District for 27 years. She received an Ellis Act eviction notice last August.

Patricia Kerman, Mission District Resident

When I got the notice I felt like everything collapsed on me.  I’m on a fixed income, it’s a low income, I can live here, I have roommates and I’ve been here so long under rent control that it was it was doable.  But now, the thoughts of being thrown outta here, I don’t know where I’m going to go. And it’s it’s terrifying.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

Patricia and her roommate are the only tenants left in the building. As a senior she gets a year to move out. In the meantime, construction is already happening in other apartments.

Patricia Kerman, Mission District Resident

After the neighbors moved out they just started tearing all the flats apart. It’s been nothing but noise. It’s another way of trying to get me out.  It’s harassment.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

All types of evictions are up nearly 60 percent since 2010. And last year they were at their highest level since the tail end of the first dot-com boom in 2002. But housing counselors say the problem is much worse than the official numbers reflect. Tenants can be harassed or intimidated into leaving their apartments, without being legally evicted. And these situations are not tracked by the Rent Board.

Sara Shortt, Housing Rights Committee, Executive Director

We call them constructive evictions—and sometimes we refer to it as self-evictions, too, where a landlord gives basically an idle threat, they just either verbally or on paper say, “Hey, you gotta get out.”  And tenants who don’t know enough about their rights, and often more vulnerable tenants like senior, disabled folks, or people who don’t speak English, or people that are in fear because they’re undocumented. They just pack up and leave without getting good legal representation or an understanding of their rights to stay. The other thing that happens is an actual threat of an Ellis Act eviction where they do file a certain amount of paperwork but they never really intend to go through with it, and they just then use that as leverage to buy out the tenant. We’re seeing these buyouts—we think probably about 3-to-1 in terms of the reported Ellis Act evictions.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

Sara says Landlords are increasingly evicting for house rules violations, like having a pet or leaving things like shoes in the common area, even if the tenants pay all their rent. There are other emerging issues threatening tenants who once thought they were safe from evictions. Housing Counselors are seeing evictions from buildings that aren’t under rent control. At this building in the Tenderloin neighborhood, tenants who have lived here for over a decade supported by Section 8 Housing vouchers are being evicted by the new owner. Jessica Khuc is one of the residents who’s being evicted.

Jessica Khuc, Tenderloin Resident

I thought it was impossible because  I we never even saw the owner so I didn’t even know the building was getting sold. I’m seventeen so I practically grew up around here so it’s been sort of my home and I just don’t want to move.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

Section 8 is a program where the government pays landlords what it determines to be fair-market-rent for the unit. But market rent in San Francisco is now roughly double what the government is paying. So even though the government guarantees this rent for landlords, they can get more rent from market rate tenants. Thousands of people who depend on Section 8 to afford an apartment in San Francisco are at risk of losing their homes if their landlords pursue higher paying tenants. Being Section 8 tenants, these residents are having a hard time finding a new place that will take them in.

Jade Truong, Family Representative for Evicted Family

I have 225 Berry waiting list. I have a 225 King Street waiting list. I have 280 Fell Street last week waiting list so one day I hope I lucky I will I can move.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

The new owner, Ty Durekas, one of the executives of OnCare, a tech based service that helps people manage their childcare businesses, has hired the law firm of Bornstein and Bornstein for the evictions. We reached him for comment and he told us he’s doing what he can to support the tenants with their relocation. Evictions are spreading beyond the Eastern part of the city to other neighborhoods. Here’s a Counselor at Housing Rights Committee.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, Housing Rights Committee, Director of Counseling Programs

I have a clients in an eleven unit building in the Sunset right now which is unheard of. Sunset evictions for profit? Richmond three buildings in the Richmond where their tenants are being evicted. We’ve got a building in the Bayview. We’ve got just buildings everywhere. I don’t I can’t think if any part of the city where there’s not evictions for profit taking place.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

Tommi is also seeing that there are more and more large buildings where owners are evicting tenants so they can sell the units as Tenancies in Common or TICs. Buyers no longer have to take on the risk of a group loan when they buy the TIC. They can get an individual mortgage, called a fractional loan. These loans make units that used to be rented easier to buy and sell.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, Housing Rights Committee, Director of Counseling Programs

Now people can actually go into a Tenancy in Common with a separate loan with a separate mortgage for their unit so these speculators and investors are taking advantage of that and now they’re going for the bigger buildings  because whereas before with the four unit buildings they could walk away with a million dollars in profit, now with a twenty five unit building they can walk away with millions and millions in profit. So really it spells the death of San Francisco as we know it.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

With rents so high and few affordable options within the city, tenants are increasingly fighting back. The eviction cases of the Lee family and that of Jeremy Mykaels, a disabled senior with AIDS, were compelling personal stories that the community rallied behind. Last fall, housing groups formed the Anti-Displacement Coalition to advocate for new tenant protections. They decided the best way for people to be involved is to have a series of meetings throughout the city that culminated into a city-wide tenant convention.

Ted Gullicksen, San Francisco Tenants Union, Executive Director

At the neighborhood conventions, those were focused on tenants coming out and brainstorming possible solutions to the housing crisis and proposing actual pieces of legislation, or concepts of legislation, and each neighborhood convention recommended two or three to the city-wide convention and then today the process was that we looked at those recommendations from the neighborhoods and we discussed them and then at the end of the day people ranked them.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

The tenant conventions were one of the many forms of collective actions by San Francisco residents and community groups on the growing problem of evictions.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

Citywide protests like this, neighborhood advocacy, and the tenant conventions have all brought tenant issues to the forefront at San Francisco’s City Hall. And the city’s representatives in the State Legislature are bringing tenant concerns to Sacramento. Politicians have passed and are proposing a number of laws to curb evictions and displacement in reaction to community efforts.

Sara Shortt, Housing Rights Committee, Executive Director

We’ve made great strides in getting our representatives to listen to what’s coming from the community, what we’ve been asking for in terms of solutions, and also to really pay attention to the urgency.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a series of measures that strengthen tenant protections including allowing tenants to bring cases of harassment to the Rent Board and increasing the amount paid out to Ellis Acted tenants. But, the most substantial changes in favor of tenants rights would have to come from the State Level because of the Costa Hawkins and Ellis Act. It’s these changes that this South of Market resident is hoping for. Teresa Dulalas and her family live in a building that keeps being sold. Each new owner has attempted to evict the tenants.

Teresa Dulalas, South of Market Resident

This is our fourth time and we really do hope and pray you know that we’ll win again. We don’t want to live leave our homes we it’s just we cannot afford anywhere else.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

Teresa and her family have until the end of the year to vacate the apartment they’ve lived in for 36 years. She hopes to win her case against the eviction or that there will be new legislation to prevent it. A tenant movement from throughout California built up to a Renter’s Day of Action in February. Here’s a leader in this statewide fight.

Dean Preston, Tenants Together, Executive Director

It was really the first time in decades that tenants have mobilized on a large scale to go to Sacramento. Most of the time in Sacramento the discussion is between landlord and real estate lobbyists and elected officials who they donated to… So our renters day of action was an attempt to start changing that dynamic.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

Following the renters’ day of action, there were two bills introduced that attempted to amend the Ellis Act. Senator Mark Leno’s bill would allow the City and County of San Francisco to prohibit an owner from Ellis Acting a building if owned for less than five years. Tenants Together is a co-sponsor of the Leno bill.

Dean Preston, Tenants Together, Executive Director

Our research shows that three quarters of the Ellis Act evictions filed in San Francisco are by owners that have owned for less than five years.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

Both of the bills have faced strong opposition from organizations representing landlords. We spoke with a representative of the San Francisco Apartment Association which is one of the groups that opposed legislation related to the Ellis Act.

Charley Goss, San Francisco Apartment Association, Government Affairs

Through our research we have found that many people who are invoking the Ellis Acts are the Ellis Act are individual owners and not LLCs, speculators or corporations…Many of them are doing so to move in family members or caregivers and they’ve put their property in a trust or given a percentage of their property to their to a son or daughter within the past five years.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

The Apartment Association agrees with tenant advocates that real estate speculation is a problem. But the Association has very different views on the scale of the eviction problem in San Francisco.

Charley Goss, San Francisco Apartment Association, Government Affairs

The perspective of apartment owners and the San Francisco Apartment Association respectfully is that there is not an eviction crisis in San Francisco.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

Rent Board statistics show that Ellis Act evictions during the first dot-com boom

were highest in 2000. But tenant advocates point to the fact that Ellis Act evictions are up dramatically over the past four years increasing by more than five times. At the state level, the Leno bill reforming the Ellis Act is being amended as it goes through the legislative process.

Ultimately it’s always going to be a challenge to advocate for tenant rights at the State and federal level says this long time housing advocate.

Calvin Welch, Council of Community Housing Organizations

There’s much more sensitivity to tenant issues in San Francisco at the local level than there is in the State of California Assembly which pretty much is owned by Southern California real estate interests and the Federal government which is as if the whole class of tenants don’t even exist.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

Housing policy at the State and Federal level has historically prioritized ownership and Property rights. These are ingrained in the Constitution leading to an imbalance between the control of landlords and the vulnerability of tenants. Advocates keep pressing for local legislative changes to gain stability for tenants.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

For San Francisco’s November ballot, advocates are working towards passing the Anti-Speculation Tax, the initiative that gained the most votes at the City-Wide Tenant Convention. It would increase the real estate transfer tax for people who sell their property after owning it for less than six years. This is just one of the many ways that people are fighting to stay in San Francisco.

Jesus Sanchez, Mission District Resident and Translation by staff from Causa Justa :: Just Cause

Quiero mis cosas. Quiero munidad de regreso. Quiere vivir en San Francisco honestamente. Quiero estar aquí. I want my things back. I want my unit. I want to live in San Francisco and I want to live honestly in the community.

Dyan Ruiz [people. power. media], Reporter

This is Dyan Ruiz for [people. power. media].

 

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