protest Ellis Act evictions
by David-Elijah Nahmod
A boisterous crowd of about 100 gathered in front of the Bank of America holiday tree at 18th Street and Castro last week to protest an increase in Ellis Acts evictions in San Francisco
The evictions, legal under state law, often target long-term tenants in rent controlled apartments, with seniors, the disabled, LGBTs, and people living with HIV/AIDS particularly hard hit.
The December 20 protest was titled "Happy Holidays – Now Get the Hell Out." According to Tommi Avicolli Mecca with the Housing Rights Committee, tenants in several buildings in the Mission, along with those in the Castro, and Chinatown-North Beach are facing eviction.
A number of organizations were represented at the rally, including AIDS Housing Alliance/SF and the Chinatown Community Development Center.
Enacted by the California Legislature in 1985, the Ellis Act enables landlords who wish to go out of the rental business to evict tenants. Many landlords use the Ellis Act in order to empty their buildings of long-term, rent-controlled tenants so that apartments can be refurbished and sold as condos or tenancies-in-common, according to housing activists. According to information posted at the website of the San Francisco Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, a landlord must pay Ellis Act evictees anywhere from $5,157 to $20,471, depending on the size of the unit, as well as the age and health of the person or persons being evicted. Additional payments of $3,473 are required for each additional senior or disabled person in the unit facing eviction.
According to Jeremy Mykaels, 62, that payment isn't enough to enable him to remain in the Castro, the neighborhood he considers home. Mykaels, who is gay, was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS 12 years ago, and has lived in his Noe Street apartment for 17 and a half years. He was served with an eviction notice by his building's new landlords.
"If my eviction goes through, and because I've been living on a fixed income, there is no way I will be able to afford a comparable one bedroom apartment in San Francisco, let alone my own neighborhood, the Castro," Mykaels said in a speech during the rally. "And so I may well be forced to move out of the city and the neighborhood that I love and where I've lived most of my adult life. I will no longer have access to some of the best doctors equipped to deal with all my AIDS-related health problems and who have helped me to survive up to this point."
Housing activists said an upward tick in Ellis Act evictions is troubling.
"There's an epidemic of Ellis Act evictions," said Avicolli Mecca, a rally organizer. "We want this epidemic stopped. It's a health crisis, which affects seniors and people with AIDS. Fight for our neighborhoods, fight for our city."
Some of the protesters have been fighting back. After being evicted from his home of 14 years, Brian Basinger formed the AIDS Housing Alliance several years ago.
"Don't be powerless, don't let them run over you," Basinger told the Bay Area Reporter. "AIDS Housing Alliance has saved hundreds of homes. There's more of us than them. Use your power."
Minorities and women affected by evictions were also represented at the rally. James Thornton, who is black, was in his Divisadero home for 18 years.
"If you live in a rent-controlled building, the Ellis Act can get you out in six months," he warned. "It can happen to you."
Thornton attended the rally with his sister Leisa Thornton, and her partner, Alison Wright.
"The evictions are part of a business plan in San Francisco to make lots of money and get the lower income people out," stated Wright.
"San Francisco is becoming a city of the rich and the rest of us are being pushed out," said Leisa Thornton.
Many of the protesters were harshly critical of District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who is openly gay and represents the Castro. Wiener was not present at the rally. They oppose Wiener's proposed tenancy-in-common legislation, which is being co-sponsored by District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell and would create a one-time bypass of the condo conversion lottery for eligible TIC owners if they pay a $20,000 fee. The money would be used to help fund the city's affordable housing program.
In an email to the B.A.R., Wiener stated that he is opposed to Ellis Act evictions.
"The organizers of the rally know the law," Wiener said in the email. "They know that landlords who use the Ellis Act to evict aren't eligible to condo convert. They know that this legislation will not encourage more Ellis Act evictions. They know that tenants residing in TICs will get lifetime leases."
Wiener also said that he was targeted at the protest.
"The rally was also personalized to attacking me, not even bothering to mention that there's another sponsor of the legislation. As a result, there was no point in my attending the rally. I will continue to work hard to protect renters and to ensure strong access to HIV services in San Francisco."
Tina Cheng of the Chinatown Community Development Center said that her community doesn't feel protected.
"Seniors don't have cars and can't just move," she told the B.A.R. "Some have been in their units 20-60 years. To do this during the holiday season, how cruel is that? Evictions are domestic violence."
As the protest winded down, Avicolli Mecca urged people to attend a January Board of Supervisors hearing regarding Wiener's proposed TIC legislation.
"Tell your stories," Avicolli Mecca urged the crowd.
According to Wiener, the hearing date hasn't yet been set and is likely to happen in the first few months of 2013.