Tenants seek supportfor tax measure
by David-Elijah Nahmod
Fed up with high rents and the uptick in evictions, about 150 housing activists and tenants gathered across the street from San Francisco City Hall last weekend to kick off a campaign for a planned November ballot measure that would tax real estate speculators.
Senior residents, including LGBTs, were well represented, along with members of the Latino and Asian communities. These groups, particularly in the Mission District and Chinatown, have seen an ongoing spike in Ellis Act evictions across their neighborhoods.
LGBT people from the Castro and Lower Haight neighborhoods were also out in force.
There was anger, tears, and a fierce determination in the faces and voices of the protesters, who were there to advocate placing an anti-speculator tax on the November ballot. It is not clear whether advocates will gather signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot or if members of the Board of Supervisors will place it on the ballot.
The measure would impose a tax on the profits of those who sell buildings immediately after buying them. The sooner after purchasing a building and then selling it, the higher the tax would be. Buildings sold within two years of purchase could face a 50 percent tax on their profits. The purpose of the measure is to help stem the tide of Ellis Act evictions.
Passed in 1985, the Ellis Act is a state law that allows landlords to get out of the rental business and evict tenants. The tenants receive some compensation; new legislation by Supervisor David Campos would see that compensation increase substantially.
In recent years, housing advocates have accused some out of town real estate developers of purchasing multiple buildings, then invoking the Ellis Act in order to evict tenants. Then they often resell the buildings for huge profits.
Housing activists argue that these developers were never in the rental business at all. These evictions, many say, unfairly target seniors, the disabled, people of color and people living with HIV/AIDS, many of whom are on fixed incomes and have nowhere else to go.
"Stopping speculation is the most important thing we can do to help stop the evictions and gentrification," said Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee. "If it becomes non-profitable to evict people and flip buildings, then hopefully we have a chance to preserve our neighborhoods and our city."
The April 26 rally was a follow-up to the citywide tenants' convention that was held earlier this year.
"We are updating the community on the legislative priorities that they chose from the convention. There will be teach-ins on how to get these laws passed," said AIDS Housing Alliance/San Francisco director Brian Basinger.
Speakers included Norman Fong of the Chinatown Community Development Center.
"You are the heart and soul of San Francisco," he said. "We are here to save people's lives."
One group of tenants talked about how they are fighting back against their eviction.
"We're still living in our homes five months after eviction because tenants fought back," Chandra Redack told the crowd. "Spread the word and get the tax on the ballot. Let's occupy our homes and beat them at their own game."
Speakers alternated between addressing the crowd in English, Spanish, and Chinese.
Alison Wright, a 53-year-old lesbian, attended the rally using a cane. Wright and her partner, Leisa Thornton, are facing eviction. Wright, who declined to name her landlord due to ongoing court proceedings, told the Bay Area Reporter that the couple has been served with three-day eviction notices when they were short on the rent by $12 or less. Wright said that their landlord has flipped many buildings and often refused to make needed repairs.
"They created a law knowing it would be used as a business model," said Wright. "Now how do we stop it?"
Organizations represented at the rally included San Francisco Tenant's Union, Causa Justas, and Eviction Free San Francisco.
Those who want to get involved in the campaign can visit the website of the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition at http://sfadc.wordpress.com/. The coalition can also be found on Facebook.