Already, the opposition is emerging: The San Francisco Apartment Association’s Janan New told the Chronicle that
many middle-class people use the Ellis Act simply because they want to move into a building they bought. Campos’ proposal, she said, needs to include some sorts of means testing for tenants – “otherwise it’s just clear theft.”
The problem with New’s analysis is that it doesn’t fit the facts. For starters, nobody need to use the Ellis Act to move into a building they just bought; owner move-in evictions are legal already. And in every case I’ve seen, and the vast majority of the cases that tenant lawyers are seeing, the evictions are done by speculators who are buying and flipping buildings. Many don’t live anywhere near San Francisco.
Witness the story of Joshua Stein, who has lived in the Haight for 23 years. He and his wife are both professionals – he’s an audio-visual tech worker at UC Berkeley and “we’re not poor” – but there’s no way they can afford a market-rate one-bedroom unit in San Francisco. “I think we’ll have to leave the city,” he said.
His landlord bought the building less than a year ago, and is trying to clear out all the tenants. “We even asked them if we could buy our unit, but they wouldn’t even listen to us. I know they’re going to sell for far more than we could pay.”
Rosemarie Guiton-Diaz, 61, is a second-generation San Franciscan who has lived in her Mission District apartment for 17 years. “The Mission has been my home and my community,” she said. She lives in a flat with her husband, and her cousin, who has been in the building 20 years, lives downstairs. Together, she said, they have maintained the building – put in new carpets, painted, created a tropical landscape in the back yard – and their longtime landlord respected and liked them and kept the rent reasonable.
“I went to Mission High, I raised my daughter here, and with my family all in the same building, we could take care of each other,” she said.
Shortly after her landlord died, the Ellis eviction threat came. “I think her son wants to move in,” she said of the new owner. “With all the restaurants and things, it’s a ‘scene’ for them. But it’s not a scene for me; it’s where I live.”
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Guiton-Diaz doesn’t own a car. She works at a consignment store in Bernal Heights and takes the bus. If she’s forced to leave town, she said, she’ll have to buy a car. (That’s exactly what the “smart growth” folks want to avoid – but as long as the Ellis Act forces San Franciscans out, the environmental impacts of displacement will be serious.)
Theresa Flandrich is part of the tradition of the old North Beach. She’s lived there for 30 years, raised her son there, and worked as a nurse at the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center. She would visit seniors in their homes on the weekends to do blood-pressure checks and administer medicine. “We help our neighbors,” she said. “It’s a little community.”
In fact, when her former landlady was sick and dying, she took care of her. The corner grocer delivered food and Flandrich arranged for doctors to make house calls. After the woman died at 96, a relative in Los Angeles got the building, the Ellis Act notice arrived.
“There are 21 Ellis Act evictions just on our one block of Lombard Street,” she said. “A severely disabled elderly woman was evicted. One friend told me eviction was a death sentence for him, he has nowhere to go.”
Ted Gullicksen, who runs the Tenants Union, noted that Ellis Act evictions are up 200 percent from a year ago. Maria Zamudio, an organizer with Causa Justa, noted that “people who have invested for so long in their neighborhood, in their communities, that investment has been minimized and dismissed.”
Campos said that he and the City Attorney’s Office have been working for a long time on the bill, and he’s convinced it will pass legal muster. The city can’t overturn or block the Ellis Act, but this bill isn’t aimed at ending evictions (that has to be done in Sacramento.)
“We have an interest in helping people stay in their community,” he said. The current statutory relocation fee – about $5,000 – is not only absurdly low, but is somewhat random, Campos explained: “How long a tenant has been in a unit is relevant. This is more consistent than picking an arbitrary number.”
The landlords will howl, but I would be shocked if this didn’t get six votes – and could the mayor even consider vetoing something like this, at a time of the worst housing crisis in half a century?