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Undoing Your Ellis
Yesterday in San Francisco people rallied across from City Hall in Civic Center Plaza to stop real estate speculation in the city and bring a halt to Ellis evictions.
San Francisco, April 26- A couple Sundays ago it was gorgeous in San Francisco. I ended up in a park below Randall Museum at Corona Heights. Folks were shooting hoops, throwing baseballs around, and enjoying another of the city’s pastimes, picking up after their pooches. Amidst all this R&R, I overheard the following conversation:
“If I was rich, I’d go condo right now.”
“Why? Because they’re going to make it so you can’t do your Ellis for 5 years.”
“What do you mean it’s not going to pass?”
“Oh. The right wing.”
Such are the issues of concern on the minds of some San Franciscans on balmy Sunday afternoons these days.
Inquiring minds want to know why.
Which leads into this report on Saturday’s tenant gathering in the city. The rally was organized by the Anti-Displacement Coalition. Hosting tables were Eviction Free SF, Tenants Together, Housing Rights Committee, Chinatown Community Development Center, The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Causa Justa/Just Cause, and the SF Tenants Union.
The rally kicked off with an invocation by Reverend Fong. We all joined in saying: “Fong Boy Big Chew!” “Fight Against Evictions!”
Our MCs for the day were Maria who spoke for espanol speakers; Tammy, who spoke for Chinese speakers; and Mario, who spoke for English speakers.
The focus of the rally was (1) to support a local law to more sufficiently compensate tenants evicted under the Ellis Act, which was introduced by Supervisor David Campos and has passed.
In addition, (2), people were gathered to organize around state legislation to eliminate abuses of the Ellis Act, which is being promoted by Tenants Together, the SF-based statewide tenants right group
And, also (3), the focus also included introduction of a ballot measure for the SF November election that would eliminate real estate speculation in San Francisco.
To address the current housing crisis in SF, the MCs called for building “a strong nonviolent tenant movement in San Francisco.”
The first speaker was Mervin Wong, who spoke first in Chinese and then English.
“I live with my 76 year old Mom. We’ve lived in our home since 1978, 36 years.
“Last year the landlord sold the property to real estate brokers for $1.5 million. One month later they sold it at a profit of $45,000 to more speculators.
“Last February the property changed hands again. They sent us a letter. Then another letter came offering a buyout to leave. It also said if we didn’t take it they’d evict us under the Ellis Act.
“There are lots of evictions in the neighborhood that have been going on. A 98- year old woman was evicted. They don’t care if you’re a senior, or disabled. We got a lawyer in the Tenderloin clinic. Our eviction notice expires next month
“Just don’t take the buyout or let them Ellis you. You can fight it! You may not win, but you’ll make it harder for the speculators. Consult with someone.
“I’m fighting for my Mom and the disabled. This speculation has got to stop!”
Maria Guyen of SEIU Local 21 spoke next. “I woke up in a reminiscing mood,” she said. “I remembered my beautiful flat in the Castro. We had a choice. We worked hard. We weren’t affluent. We were working class. That was sufficient. We supported local merchants. We gave to the city.
“Then the economic downturn came. Many workers gave back to keep the city going, both in wages and benefits.” Maria referred to a story in yesterday’s Chronicle about a city worker who makes $77,000 a year and can’t find a place in the city she can afford to rent. “She says it’s ironic. I say it’s criminal.
“Remember the song, ‘San Francisco. Open your Golden Gate’?
“I say close the gate on speculation. We shall not be moved.”
Next up was Blanca Ruiz, who has been fighting an Ellis eviction attempt in the Mission. “I’ve lived in my home on Florida since 1990,” she told us en espanol. “We’re being harassed by the new landlord. He even took away the keys. He comes in unannounced, when we’re changing, when we’re taking a shower. It’s difficult for my daughter to focus on her education.
“Three times they’ve offered buyouts, each time the amount was higher. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Don’t be afraid, you can fight. There are so many organizations that can help. The only way to save our homes and our neighborhoods and our city is to fight together.
“When I was in Sacramento (to call for reform of the Ellis Act), the politicians made it clear that they want to hear from the Latino community. It’s really important for Latinos and people of color to go and speak to them. They need to listen to us.”
Dean Preston of Tenants Together followed on the mic. “Change is coming to speculators,” he said. “2014 is the year we stopped you. When speculators look at San Francisco, they only see money, profit, a quick flip. We see homes, families. We need changes to Ellis, so speculators can’t use it at all. Real estate interests top priority is to make sure speculators can come into the city and destroy its the social fabric and evict people.
“A perfect storm is gathering to stop Ellis evictions. When these evictions are happening, we are there, at peoples’ homes and in the streets.
But we also need to be in Sacramento; otherwise the real estate lobby is who sees our elected officials all day long. Join us there on May 6 to support the bill to stop Ellis abuses. It’s already made it through the first round, and they said that would never happen. Buses will leave just a block from here.”
Chandra Reddick of 1049 Market Street, who with other tenants in her building has successfully fought off a concerted eviction attempt, spoke next. “When we got an eviction notice,” she said, “I never dreamed that the New York Times and the BBC would show up—on the same day! I’d like to thank Tommy Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee for encouraging us to fight back. My history tells me to stand up and fight. Without the slaves who joined to fight for their freedom, Lincoln wouldn’t have won.
“We’ve won five more months of rent control. We’re in control now. There’s no amount of money they can give me to go. Stay in your buildings, in the streets, block the Google buses.
“I’m not against all techies. There are good techies, like Snowden. I’m just against racist, classsist, sexist techies.
“Let’s occupy our buildings and beat them at their own game.”
The next speaker outlined the origins and purpose of the anti-speculation measure that the Anti-Displacement Coalition hopes to put on the November ballot in San Francisco. “This measure came out of the Tenant Conventions. How many of you were there?” the speaker asked. Many hands went up. These gatherings were, he said, “the largest tenant gathering in San Francisco in 20 years.”
The meetings took place in a number of SF neighborhoods, culminating in a citywide one last January .At the conventions tenants discussed the housing crisis in the city and proposed solutions. During the citywide meeting tenants voted on these proposals. The one with the most support, 75%, this speaker reported, was the anti-speculation measure.
This measure, the speaker reported, is designed to “take the profit out of speculation.” It will require property owners who resell buildings within less than 5 years of purchase to pay a “very stiff” tax penalty on the profit. Speculators, the speaker asserted, are “here to take money out of the city. We’re not going to let them do it. We’ll be the first city to have an anti-speculation tax.”
The last speaker was Brian Basinger of the AIDS Housing Alliance. “Last November.” he said, “at the Harvey Milk Club, we discussed what to do to remember Harvey. We decided to remind people that the last political act Harvey did was to introduce an anti-speculation law before the Board of Supervisors.
“Two days later he was murdered. And then Diane Feinstein killed the law. Harvey gave us the law, and the legacy. Now it’s time for us to pick it up. We’ve got the people and the power. Together we will win!”
On May 17 the Coalition will launch a signature gathering campaign to put the anti-speculation measure on the November ballot.
The remainder of the gathering was spent on purposeful games. Giant cutouts of bowling pins with the name of serial Ellis evictors welcomed justified contact by big kick balls. And colorful piñatas were hanging from trees, likewise welcoming such justified acts.
The winds of change were blowing strong and raw at Civic Center yesterday. And that perfect storm will continue to gain strength.