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San Francisco City Hall Hearing Puts a Face on Ellis Act Evictions

| November 15, 2013
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Tenants facing evictions hold a rally outside San Francisco City Hall Thursday (Bryan Goebel/KQED)

Tenants facing eviction hold a rally outside San Francisco City Hall Thursday (Bryan Goebel/KQED)

Dozens of San Franciscans fearful of being uprooted from their homes, and some who have already been displaced, lined up at City Hall Thursday to tell their stories during a hearing on Ellis Act evictions sweeping the city.

The sometimes emotional testimony included a man living with AIDS in the Castro, a mom who has been homeless for three months and a senior who has lived in the Mission for more than three decades.

“We are fighting, I think, for the soul of San Francisco,” said Supervisor David Campos, who called the hearing before the Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee “to put a human face to what’s happening.”

“We have a tale of two cities,” he said. “We have a small segment of the population that is doing extremely well, and the economy certainly is booming for many people, but the vast majority of individuals are, in fact, struggling to stay in San Francisco.”

Budget and legislative analyst Fred Brousseau presented a just-completed study that found 162 Ellis Act evictions in the 12 months ending last Sept. 30. The act allows landlords to evict tenants in order to get out of the rental business.

Brousseau noted the evictions through September amount to a 145 percent increase compared to the previous 12 months. The figure is likely much higher, he said, because it doesn’t account for tenants who accepted buyouts. The neighborhood with the highest number of Ellis Act evictions was the Mission, followed by the Castro.

The increased number of evictions is hitting a city where more and more residents are struggling to keep up with higher rents. Brousseau’s report says 42 percent of San Francisco households are “rent burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their household income on rent. The number was highest in the Bayview, Excelsior and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods, where 57 percent of households are considered rent burdened.

“The fear is real and it’s based on facts that we now have,” said Supervisor Eric Mar.

Through a translator, Anna Gutierrez with the housing justice and immigrant rights nonprofit Just Cause, described in Spanish how she is facing an imminent eviction from her Mission home, where she has lived for 35 years.

“This injustice has to end now,” she said. “I have seen too many of my neighbors evicted and it doesn’t seem to stop.”

Beverly Upton, who has helped women find shelter and housing in her role as director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, said she and her neighbor are facing Ellis Act evictions from her building on Gough Street, where she has lived for 25 years.

“We’ve never been late on our rent. We’ve never asked for any big improvements,” she said. “Once the advocates and the organizers and the artists are gone, who will be left to care about our city?”

The testimony included a lone landlord, Andrew Long, who argued that small property owners are also hurting.

“Your rent laws need to be more even-handed for landlords,” he said. “You’re driving landlords, especially small landlords, out of business.”

Exploring ways to curb evictions

Campos said it’s important for the city “to have a united front to tackle this crisis.” He’s exploring a number of measures to curb evictions, including a moratorium on all Ellis Act evictions. That would require state legislation, which Campos said he is working on with Assemblymember Tom Ammiano.

Campos has also introduced legislation to create a mechanism for tenants to file complaints when they are harassed by landlords. He’s also asked the city attorney to draft a bill that would double the amount of relocation assistance landlords must provide to tenants under the Ellis Act, and is exploring a measure that would require landlords to report buyouts to the Rent Board.

Meantime, Mayor Ed Lee announced Thursday that he’s formed a “broad coalition” of elected officials, tenants groups and other organizations “to help address the issue of affordability for working-class families in California’s major metropolitan areas.”

“We have to protect our valuable housing stock and prevent Ellis Act evictions that displace longtime tenants and do nothing to add needed housing in our City,” Lee said in a statement.

Below: Report on evictions in San Francisco by budget and legislative analyst Fred Brousseau:

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About the Author ()

Bryan Goebel is a reporter focused on transportation and housing issues. He was previously the editor of Streetsblog San Francisco and a producer and anchor at KCBS radio. He's a lifelong Californian and over his 20-year radio career has worked at stations in Barstow, Redding and Sacramento. Reach Bryan Goebel at bgoebel@KQED.org.
  • Kevin Smith

    The average 50 year old will have moved at least ten times in their life time. But in San Francisco the rent control junkies say one more time will kill them…….