Hundreds attend hearing to call for action on evictions

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Hene Kelly of Senior and Disability Action leads supporters in a chant calling for an end to evictions.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE

Tenants, organizers and residents impacted by Ellis Act evictions packed the Board of Supervisors Chambers at San Francisco City Hall today, Thu/14, for a hearing called by Sup. David Campos on eviction and displacement in San Francisco.

“It seems to me that we have a tale of two cities,” Campos said at the outset of the hearing, which was held by the Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee. “The vast majority of individuals are struggling to stay in San Francisco. We must act urgently to address this crisis, which I believe is a crisis.” He added, "We are fighting, I think, for the soul of San Francisco."

Tony Robles of Senior and Disability Action, who showed up at the hearing wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with pobre (the Spanish word for “poor”) printed across the front, expressed his frustration with the surge of evictions taking place in the booming economic climate. “We have been overlooked – the workers, communities of color … it’s almost as if we are an afterthought,” he said.

Fred Brousseau of the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst’s office delivered a report on his recent analysis of eviction and displacement trends across the city.

Overall evictions in San Francisco rose from 1,242 in 2010 to 1,716 in 2013, reflecting an increase of 38.2 percent, according to San Francisco Rent Board Data highlighted in Brousseau’s report. 

Ellis Act evictions in particular increased by 169.8 percent in that same time frame, he said, with the most recent data showing a total of 162 Ellis Act evictions over the twelve months ending in September 2013. That number reflects units evicted, not how many tenants were impacted.

Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union emphasized that tenant buyouts, frequently offered in lieu of an eviction, are also driving displacement even though these transactions aren’t reflected in city records.

“We need to get in control of these buyouts,” he said. “There are about three of them for every Ellis Act eviction. When you consider them in combination with Ellis, the numbers are very dramatic.”

Brousseau also showed a slide profiling the people who’ve been impacted by evictions citywide. Almost 42 percent had some form of disability, the data revealed, while 49 percent had incomes at or below the federal poverty level.

On the whole, Brousseau said, a total of nearly 43 percent of San Francisco households are “rent-burdened,” a term that officially means devoting more than 30 percent of household income to monthly rental payments.

Throughout the afternoon, tenants shared their stories and fears about getting frozen out of San Francisco by eviction. “I’m looking at shopping carts, and I’m terrified,” one woman told supervisors during public comment. “You have to do something. It might not be enough for me right now, but you can’t do this to any more people.”

Hene Kelly noted that elderly tenants are being disproportionately impacted by Ellis Act evictions. “They don’t have the reserves, they don’t have the jobs, and they don’t have the money to be able to move if they are evicted,” she said. Referencing landlords and speculators who are driving displacement, she added, “It makes me think of cabaret. Money, money, money, money, money makes the world go round.”

Campos noted that he is working with Assembly Member Tom Ammiano on a proposal to grant San Francisco the authority to place a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions.

He’s also working toward legislation that would create a mechanism at the San Francisco Rent Board allowing tenants to register complaints of harassment or other forms of pressure from landlords seeking to drive them out.

His proposal also envisions doubling the amount of relocation assistance that landlords would have to provide to tenants, in the case of no-fault evictions. He also mentioned the possibility of regulating buyouts, by requiring landlords to record these transactions with the rent board, and possibly prohibiting property owners from charging market-rate rent directly after completing a tenant buyout.

Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Lee recently announced that he is working with Sen. Mark Leno on legislation that is meant to reduce Ellis Act evictions. That proposal would require additional permits or hearings before an Ellis Act eviction could go forward, and place more stringent regulations on the sale and resale of properties where tenants have been evicted under the state law.

Just a couple weeks ago, a coalition of housing advocates proposed a sweeping package to turn the tide on evictions.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that housing advocates are gaining momentum as the spike in tenant ousters continues in pricey San Francisco, where rents are the highest in the nation.

"We’ve never been late on our rent," noted Beverly Upton, executive director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, who is battling an Ellis Act eviction. "We’ve paid for every improvement ever done in 25 years. And now we have to leave." She appealed for legislators to take action for the sake of the city's future, asking, "Once the advocates and the organizers and the people who care are gone, who will be left in our city?"