Fight back to save your home

Pub date October 29, 2013

By Tommi Avicolli Mecca and Fred Sherburn-Zimmer

OPINION The good news from San Francisco these days is that tenants are fighting back in a big way to save their homes. Speculators and investors intent on making a killing in a sizzling real estate market are not always having an easy time getting rid of those who stand between them and obscene profits.

While tenant resistance has become a hot ticket item in the local mainstream media, legislators are introducing a slew of new laws aimed at curbing speculation and the housing crisis. Even the Mayor’s Office has gotten into the act, intervening in at least two recent high-profile evictions: the Lee family and 1049 Market.

A low-income elderly Chinese couple and their disabled daughter, the Lee family chose to stay and fight when the Sheriff’s Department gave them notice that it was coming to lock them out after an Ellis Act eviction. Hundreds showed up in support, with a large number of people willing to block the door and risk arrest. TV went live from the protest. Within no time at all, the Mayor’s Office stepped in to negotiate with the landlord for more time so that the Lees could find an affordable place to live. While the Lee family didn’t ultimately get to stay, their struggle brought public attention to what is happening here in San Francisco.

When the tenants in the artist live/work lofts at 1049 Market received letters from their new landlord saying that the city was forcing him to evict them because of an outstanding code violation from 2007 that he inherited when he bought the building, they didn’t take it lying down. It wasn’t true that the city was making him evict anyone. He had the option to bring the building up to code, something he found “economically infeasible.”

Tenants from 1049 Market contacted Housing Rights Committee where we work, and we helped them organize. We were afraid the landlord’s other two buildings on the same block might meet the same fate. The story made the cover of the San Francisco Examiner about a week later.

Suddenly, the Department of Building Inspection announced that it had discretion in terms of the code violations, especially the costliest of them. DBI’s deputy director sent the notice of violation back to its staff for review. The city began meeting with the landlord to try and prevent the tenants from being evicted.

Negotiations are still in progress, but the fact that the City has stepped in so aggressively on the side of the tenants is a major victory. Of course, it’s due to tenants fighting back when so many people told them they couldn’t win.

Jeremy Mykaels, a gay disabled man who’s lived in the Castro for the past 40 years and in his current apartment for almost 18, decided not to move when new owners (investors from Atherton and Union City) threatened him with an Ellis eviction. They went through with it after he turned down a buyout.

Eviction Free San Francisco, a direct action group, organized protests in SF, Atherton, and Union City. Attorney Steve Collier of Tenderloin Housing Clinic challenged the eviction in court. A judge just threw out the eviction on a technicality. The jury is out on whether the investors will start the process all over again. Fight back. It could save your home. 

Tommi Avicolli Mecca and Fred Sherburn-Zimmer work at the Housing Rights Committee.