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Uncategorized Protests work! Ellis Act eviction called off after noisy...

Protests work! Ellis Act eviction called off after noisy direct-action campaign


Benito Santiago speaks out against his eviction at a rally that disturbed Vanguard Realty
Benito Santiago speaks out against his eviction at a rally that disturbed Vanguard Realty

By Tim Redmond

SEPTEMBER 3, 2014 – A local real-estate speculator has dropped his effort to evict four Duboce Street tenants under the Ellis Act after a series of protests and direct actions brought unwanted attention to Michael Harrison and Vanguard Properties.

Harrison, operating through the company Pineapple Boy LLC, was trying to throw out Benito Santiago and three others at 149-151 Duboce. Santiago, a musician who teaches in the San Francisco Public Schools, became an outspoken foe of the Ellis Act and has helped organize demonstrations against evictions all over the city.

In the most recent action, protesters descended on Vanguard’s Mission Street Office and demanded a halt to the eviction. Harrison is a co-founder of Vanguard.

The noisy action caused some bad behavior by the realty folks and attracted a fair amount of press.

And this week, Harrison informed the tenants that he was withdrawing the Ellis Act eviction and putting the building up for sale.

Santiago’s lawyer, Matt McFarland of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, told me that the tenant organizing was a key factor in forcing Harrison to drop the Ellis Act case. “We didn’t win this in court,” he said.

Nothing against the great work the McFarland and his colleagues do, but he agreed the protests played a big role.

“This win shows us that direct action has direct effects, and that organizing can and does actually keep people in their homes,” Erin McElroy, on organizer of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, said.

It’s tough to fight an Ellis Eviction in court – not impossible, but difficult. The state law essentially allows a building owner to “go out of business” by clearing out all of the tenants in a rental property.

It’s used by speculators who buy buildings with tenants in them, clear out the occupants, and then resell the place at a huge markup as tenancies in common.

Harrison has done several previous Ellis Act evictions.

But the attention that organizers have brought to this case can’t have been pleasant for Vanguard, and while we’ll never know for sure (he hasn’t returned my phone calls), it’s entirely possible that Harrison just decided this particular bit of speculation wasn’t worth the hassle.

That’s an important message: The law on its face may be against tenants, but that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. Every protest, every statement, every action that calls attention to the people who are throwing longtime San Franciscans onto the streets for quick profits, can have an impact. And if it happens enough, and the targets find that the tenants aren’t going quietly, we may see the Ellis eviction tide start to turn.

Of course, this struggle may not be over — someone else is going to buy Santiago’s building. Organizers are hoping to work with the San Francisco Land Trust to see if the place can be kept from future speculators, but at least any potential buyer will be on notice: Another Ellis Act attempt won’t be easy.


Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. So Sam, What’s your background? Oh wait a minute you’re a republican and Christian (which has nothing to do with Christ; I should have realized immediately, Thank God I make enough money where I am worth the cost as you put it. I’ve lived in the city for almost 40 years,

    I come from old money, (which apparently your didn’t) and republican and I never recall my parents describing the poor in terms (worth the cost or added value) Change is good, it’s awesome that we have now created a city that family friendly and basically white and hetero= Culturally Sterile. Yippee You can have the city that is no more, kind of like buying a business with no customers.

  2. Damn, sam.. you really don’t have shit going on do you.. do you really have to weasel your way in every single conversation. You should get out a little so you can lose all that fat.

  3. Ben, your emotional appeal is not without its cuteness but, bottom line, you are asking for a subsidy because you cannot afford to live in the place that ideally you like to think that you should be able to live in.

    Hey, guess what, I think I deserve to live in Aspen but I cannot afford it and so I do not.

    You haven’t been “helping your landlord to pay his mortgage”. You have been paying rent because otherwise you would have been homeless. Had you taken the risks that your landlord did, you’d be secure now, but you didn’t and so you are not.

    Nothing in your plaintive appeal tells me why public policy should favor you being subsidized. What have you done for the city? What have you done for those of us who allow you to be subsidized? Where is your added vale? and why should we care whether you are here or a few miles away in Oakland?

    Instead of asking for charity, show why you are worth the cost. i’m not seeing it.

  4. Yknow Sam, I have lived in the same unit for 33 yrs, and yes it is under rent *stabilization*, (a more accurate term than rent control). As it should be. I have helped my landlord pay his mortgage for a third of a century, and that should acquire me some standing. It isn’t a free handout that I’m getting, I pay my rent and havent been late with it even one time, and I take care good care of his property.

    I am also a senior living on a very limited disability stipend, I suffer from 4 chronic and fatal illnesses along with the usual problems of age, and removing me from my home of 33yrs so that a speculator can make some money is not a benefit to society nor SF, it is simply wrong, and would require me to leave this city that I’ve made my home for almost 50 yrs. You and the others who say I should just accept reality sound rather hard hearted and not the typical San Franciscan; if you’ve been here 20yrs it does not seem to have done you any good with regard to social values.

  5. As usual, “son of”, you offer no facts, evidence, statistics or argument – only personal attacks. Further proof, if it were needed, that my points are valid.

    But it was a typo – I envisaged North Korea as a possible new home for Dave, since he appears to love housing being centralized with a government which also suppresses free speech – much like it appears you would like to do here.

  6. The United States is part of North America, last I checked. Better get your medication dosage evaluated by the psychiatrists you can afford to employ with your vast wealth. Good thing, too, because you one seriously ill fellow.

  7. Dave, it is not corporations and speculators who are driving tenants from their buildings. It is a set of punitive laws that make that inevitable. Those who flip these buildings are simply addressing a need – they are the buyers of last resort for buildings that no investors would be interested in running as a rental.

    You are in no position to talk about the “heart of this city” The heart of this city is not forcing those who take risks and commit capital to provide housing for others to be punished and vilified. This is still America, not Cuba or North America, and the Ellis Act exists because it ensures important property rights, and sets limits on how far cities can go in violating them.

    I’ve lived in Sf for over 20 years and it is a far better town now than it was back then. We live in the global center of the most exciting business around, and that is a unique privilege. The fact that you can’t deal with that and lack the smarts to flourish here doesn’t change that.

    You are out of touch and on the wrong side of history.

  8. Dear Sam,
    Please go back to where you came from, you and people have destroyed the integrity of ‘the city’. You are not one of us, so please crawl onto your Google buyout some other city. As far as the lack of drive and ambition. Are you fu##king kidding? Does this include the elderly and the sick. Where you from, because you know nothing about about the heart of the city. So these corporations that buy and empty out buildings because they want to get out the business? This isn’t capitalism, it’s greed and that does not make me a socialist.
    I am sure a many people would love to share their thoughts with in person

  9. The real question tenants like these have to ask themselves is whether there is an infinite supply of owners willing to continue accepting low rents? Or is it inevitable that you cannot expect a free lunch forever.

    Thousands of rent-controlled units “vanish” from the market every year because the owner gets a vacancy and doesn’t want to risk getting a “lifer” as a new tenant. So it makes more sense to TIC the unit (often creating an affordable home ownership opportunity for an existing SF tenant) and then, if he still wants to run a rental building, buy one ten miles north, south or east of the city where there is no rent control.

    These tenants will be kicked out because they are quite simply not fiscally viable.

  10. Could also by a byproduct of the prospect of paying out increased relocation fees depending on what happens with upcoming challenge in court. I’m sure the kicking and screaming at the mans place of business didn’t hurt his decision the back out. I’m sure he already as the drawings done, perhaps the subdivision plan approved by the Dept of Real Estate so surely this will be part of the sale package. Perhaps the next owner will have the cajones to go through with it. That will be the real tragedy for these folks, that they have “won the battle, but lost the war” as the ultimate investment destiny for their low rent units is as TICs. Maybe if the tenants were willing to pony up and pay more rent so the investment penciled out for a new owner they would be allowed to remain? Wishful thinking I know…

  11. blue collar workers have been left behind. We need a living wage. If I was one of those high paid hi tech workers I would object to shelling out my dollars for some box I dont get to spent time in.We need an o.p.a. for rents. I know these rich capitalist murdered James Degnans daughter to get rid of the o.p.a. in the 40,s and blamed william hierins.

  12. There’s nothing to fight about. The majority agree with property rights and with the great American tradition of home ownership. Sounds like you have achieved that yourself although the “limited equity” part sounds odd to me.

    But I maintain that such schemes can only help a small, fortunate minority. The vast majority of SF residents rely on their own ability to buy or rent, and on the willingness of their fellow citizens to sell or rent to them, and not on some paternal entity to subsidize them. And I don’t see that changing.

    Dismissing those with drive and ambition as being “the one percent” is juvenile. It is those with quasi-socialist ideas who are the real one percent – the vast majority of Americans are very happy with capitalism and property rights.

  13. I live in a limited equity coop on land owned by the Land Trust, the numbers worked out fine, we pay less to own than to rent, and the building ownership was targeted to existing tenants, nearly all of whom earn less than 40% Area Median Income. Its time for the low income and working class to get a fair deal and chance for ownership, not just people like Sam and the 1%, these are our homes, outside speculators are just coming in and taking advantage of people, all Sam’s arguments about force can be turned around,…its the force of rich speculators dollars and access to credit which is putting innocent people out in the street. Sam is a good friend to everyone, because he constantly reminds everyone of the need to stand up and fight back. Thank you, Sam

  14. It’s very unlikely that any owner would sell a property for less than market price. Why would they?

    A land trust is just another buyer who has to compete with other buyers for any given property. Their best hope is to bid more than anyone else.

    But a land trust will have the same problem as any other potential buyer of this building. It is not viable on the numbers and so the owning entity will make a loss every month and must be willing to absorb that. And that is why the idea of a land trust buying and running a building full of low-rent tenants can only be occasional – the solution doesn’t scale.

    The building on 23rd Street which was recently bought by a land trust had decent rents and turnover, and so was viable. This building does not appear to be, and therefore the only likely buyers will need the tenants to go one way or another.

  15. Yes, and how did that peasant revolution work out in Russia and Eastern Europe? In particular why did those nations have to build walls and fences to stop people leaving?

  16. A majority of people in California support the state’s Ellis Act in particular, and property rights in general. You are the minority, not me.

  17. So your theory is that everyone should do a 180 if somebody else protests? Are you admitting to being spineless and having no principles?

  18. You don’t think that corporations and wealthy folks bribe, blackmail or intimidate others to achieve their ends? Our only defense is the power of numbers. Peasants with pitchforks will eventually prevail.

  19. “Personally speaking, a protest would make me MORE likely to proceed with an eviction but then I guess we are all different.” Yeah, not all of us are assholes.

  20. It’s never a victory when ex-democratic, ex-legal or forceful means are used to engineer a result. Unless you think it is OK for corporations and wealthy folks to bribe, blackmail or intimidate others to achieve their ends, then neither can it ever be ethical or right for protesters to pressure people to not exercise their legal property rights.

    If you seek an amoral world where might is right, I can damn near guarantee you that you will be less happy with the outcome.

  21. “Squeezing the poor”? Are you kidding me? When economics shift, you either roll with it or find yourself left behind. Are you also insisting that supermarkets sell you your groceries for 1967 prices? Nobody owes you a fucking thing, so give the pity party a rest.

  22. I’m with Sam. This is a stay of execution, not a cancellation. Why would anyone buy the building if they weren’t going to evict? Santiago and friends should put the celebration on pause and look into how they plan to support themselves long-term.

  23. It would be nice if the SF Land Trust can pull off the purchase. Doesn’t the current owner have to be willing to work with them and sell the building at a discount? Is that likely?

  24. Excuse me!!!! It’s the speculators that came into a low income neighborhood to kick out those that are already struggling to hold on and to get ahead. The low income that have been paying rent for years to slumlords, living in dilapidated buildings, and in challenging neighborhoods. Once again, kicking out the working poor to favor the wealthy rich. How much more can you squeeze the poor to favor the rich in this society? That is what is at the crux of the downfall of our economy–nationwide. Sam, you’re not seeing the whole picture.

  25. Personally speaking, a protest would make me MORE likely to proceed with an eviction but then I guess we are all different. The owner here is instead selling the unit and of course the only buyers for a building with low-rent tenants will be a buyer who is going to evict, so I think your celebrations may be premature.

    At some point, expecting someone else to subsidize your aspirations and lifestyle, and relying on the kindness of strangers, no longer works. Some of these tenants need to understand the importance of self-reliance.

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