San Francisco tenants fight back against unjust evictions

april 22 2015

SAN FRANCISCO – As landlords pushing for higher rents escalate their efforts to evict tenants – often on the flimsiest of excuses – a broad coalition of housing rights and community organizations is launching a campaign to educate renters about their legal rights to stay in their homes.

At an April 20 press conference in the historic, heavily Latino Mission District, Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, said the eviction crisis faced by San Francisco renters is now “hitting an extreme point,” with notices of eviction filed by landlords with the city’s Rent Board growing by 54.7 percent in the last five years.

Rents for one-bedroom apartments in the city grew by 13.5 percent last year, and in February the median rent reached $3,460 – higher than New York City’s $3,000 median.

The 27-member San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition has just issued a report, San Francisco’s Eviction Crisis 2015, analyzing the factors underlying the crisis and the types of evictions that are occurring. The report challenges the legality of many of the evictions, which it says may lack a valid reason or be based on the slightest of pretexts, and says the actual number of threatened or attempted evictions “is many times greater than those reported to the Rent Board.”

Besides strengthening policies and laws that protect renters, Shortt said, “We need to ensure that renters across the city understand the rights they do have, and know how to use them.”

Gesturing toward nearby apartment buildings, Maria Zamudio, campaign organizer with Causa Justa/Just Cause, said the scene in the neighborhood “is a microcosm of what’s been going on in the Mission for years … After years of Cesar Chavez St. being pretty much ignored, on the edge of the Mission, tenants are feeling the pressure of rising rents.” She said the coalition wants to make sure that all tenants, and especially seniors and those whose first language is not English, know their rights and “know that if they fight together, they can win.”

Zamudio introduced long-time resident Doña Margarita, who told reporters she has lived in the same apartment on Cesar Chavez St. since 1963, but is now threatened with eviction under the Ellis Act, a state law that lets landlords evict all tenants from a building if they intend to stop renting apartments there – most often to convert the premises into condos.

“It’s the only home I’ve had in the United States,” Doña Margarita said. “I’ve lived through six different owners of the building. I’ve always been a good tenant – always paid my rent on time, never created any problems, always had good relations with my neighbors. I’ve raised three grandchildren in this apartment, and I will keep fighting this unjust eviction. They will not move me from my home.”

Fellow renter Sylvia Smith is experiencing another growing phenomenon: the “nuisance eviction,” in which landlords make totally false claims about reasons they seek to evict tenants, or greatly exaggerate a minor violation.

Smith, who has lived in the same apartment for 41 years, said she has experienced constant harassment since her building was bought by the current landlord, who has recently acquired nine other buildings in the city. She said she has been alleged falsely to be a drug dealer, and to be a wealthy homeowner.

“She accused me of 60 violations in seven months, when for 41 years under the three previous owners I didn’t get one,” Smith said. “I ought to be in jail right now, with all the accusations she’s made.”

Shortt said that many tenants, unlike Smith, are frightened out of their homes by such allegations, or claims for very minor incidents like carrying bicycles through a common hallway or arguing with a security guard over having a legally parked car towed away.

The Anti-Displacement Coalition says the threat of eviction will likely be worse this year than at any time since the peak of the dot-com bubble in the 1990s.

“Based upon the increasing rates of non-Ellis Act “no and low fault” evictions and the resurgence of Ellis Act evictions, we project that the city is likely to see eviction threat levels exceed 2,600 formally reported notices by February 2016 – the number could be even higher.

“The challenge over the next period will be to not only provide services to victims but also to adopt policies that will reduce the number of unjustified threats and speculator-driven evictions.”

The coalition is holding a Know Your Rights Fair on Saturday, April 25 from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. at the Tenderloin Neighborhood School, 627 Turk St., so tenants can be prepared to fight back when they are threatened with an attempted eviction. Many organizations in the coalition also provide counseling for tenants.

Photo: Doña Margarita tells her story.  |  Marilyn Bechtel/PW

Via People’s World

Berkeley demonstration for $15 at site of 60’s Free Speech Movement

april 17 2015

BERKELEY, Calif. – Low wage workers – fast food, child and home care, security and more – were joined by dozens of area unions and community organizations Apr. 15 in a massive demonstration for $15 and a union. The action began with a rally at historic Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus, site of the famed Free Speech Movement in the mid-1960s.

Participants came from actions all over the San Francisco Bay area earlier in the day, including San Jose and surrounding South Bay communities, San Francisco, and Marin County. Many of those actions targeted McDonald’s outlets.

Mayor Ruth Atkins of neighboring Emeryville drew cheers from the rally crowd as she announced that on July 1, the city’s minimum wage would rise to $14.42 an hour. Other area communities including Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley, have raised or are in process to increase their minimum wages, while State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, has introduced a bill to raise the state’s minimum.

Speaking in English and Spanish, Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, called the Berkeley action “the exclamation point” in the Fight for $15 and said her union was participating in over 200 cities around the country.

Along with statements of support, including Alameda Labor Council Executive Director Josie Camacho’s pledge that the county’s 100,000 union members stand solidly with the campaign, came calls to bring struggles together across traditional organizing lines.

Sheila Tully, president of the California Faculty Association at San Francisco State University, drew attention to a low-wage constituency not always recognized: part-time, adjunct college and university lecturers, many of whom she said earn less than $15 an hour.

“I earned my Masters and my Ph.D. at UC Berkeley,” Tully said, “and I can barely make a living in San Francisco.” Her union stands in solidarity with fast food and retail workers, and with all faculty members, she said. “We know when we stand together, fight together, we win.”

A related message was brought by Devonte Jackson of the Black Lives Matter movement. “We’re seeing that not only are black people being murdered by police on the street, but we’re seeing state-sanctioned violence in the gentrification and displacement of our communities, in income inequality, inadequate public schools, and a less than 3 percent black student population on this campus.”

Jackson urged “organizing at the intersections … it’s not enough to have a black lives matter movement separate from the economic justice movement, the Fight for $15 separate from the migrants movement and the environmental justice movement.”

Immigration activist Maria Echaveste added: “You also need to know that this battle is across countries,” noting that farm workers in the U.S. and in Mexico are oppressed by the same corporations.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune enlarged the circle further, pointing out that those worst hurt by corporate actions underlying climate change are those with the least resources. “One third of Americans live in places where it is unhealthy to breathe, every day,” he said.  “And the people who live in these places invariably are people being paid starvation wages. That’s why the Sierra Club is part of the Fight for $15.”

After the rally, over 1,000 protesters marched peacefully and energetically through downtown Berkeley, stopping at a downtown McDonald’s, and temporarily snarling traffic.

A new study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, The High Public Cost of Low Wages, points out that low wages are costing U.S. taxpayers nearly $153 billion annually in public support for working families.

Speaking on radio station KPFA’s UpFront program April 15, lead author Ken Jacobs, the center’s chair, said higher wages would mean the funds “could be used in a more targeted manner.” He also noted that “some large companies, like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, “are effectively using these programs as a subsidy.”

Jacobs said over half of fast food workers across the country are getting public assistance, as are nearly half of child care and home care workers, and even a quarter of part-time college faculty. Modest wage increases would cause a small rise in costs of goods and services, amounting to half of 1 percent overall, and less than 5 percent for restaurant meals, he said.

Specifically in California, Jacobs said, working families are receiving some $3.7 billion in public assistance, amounting to about half of total public assistance funds.

Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW

Source: Berkeley demonstration for $15 at site of 60’s Free Speech Movement » peoplesworld