Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Seniors demand
response from Realtors


Ethel Silverstein, seated on walker, waits to address a rally outside the San Francisco Association of Realtors, where her list of the 30 dirtiest eviction landlords was read. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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Housing activists, led by members of Senior and Disability Action and the Housing Rights Committee, converged upon the San Francisco Association of Realtors to demand an end to the escalating number of Ellis Act evictions.

It was noted throughout the protest that seniors, the disabled, people with HIV/AIDS, and people of color were among the hardest hit by the evictions. Some protesters were on crutches or in wheelchairs, while others were in their 70s or 80s. All were either facing eviction or had already lost their homes.

Passed in 1985, the Ellis Act allows landlords who want to get out of the rental business to evict tenants without reason. The current tech boom, like the dot-com boom of the 1990s, has seen a rash of evictions from real estate speculators who purchase multiple properties, evict all residents, then sell the units as condos or tenancies in common for huge profits. Activists have argued that these developers, some from out of town, were never in the rental business at all, and should not be allowed to invoke the Ellis Act.

Gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos, whose Mission district has been called "eviction central" by some, recently passed legislation that greatly increases the payments to tenants from landlords who use the Ellis Act. Seniors and the disabled were focusing on the physical and emotional hardships they face when evicted, which no amount of money could compensate them for, they said.

"These are seniors who are facing the assault of eviction," said Tony Robles, housing organizing director for Senior and Disability Action, as he addressed the crowd of about 50 during the April 22 action at 301 Grove Street, the Realtors' headquarters. "Eviction of seniors from their homes is nothing less than an assault on their well being: their health, their finances, their lives."

Robles pointed out that many seniors have told him of the health problems they now face due to the stress of impending evictions.

Jay Chang from the Realtors' association came out of the group's office to accept and deliver a letter from Robles to Walter T. Baczkowski, the association's chief executive officer.

"I know that you, as an Asian American man, know about eldership," Robles said to Chang as he handed him the letter. "You are a future senior. There is pending Ellis Act legislation from Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and Senator Mark Leno. Don't oppose them."

Robles was referring to Ellis Act reform legislation that the gay lawmakers introduced earlier this year in Sacramento.

Leno (D-San Francisco) has authored Senate Bill 1439, which authorizes the city to prohibit new property owners from invoking the Ellis Act to evict tenants for five years after the acquisition of a property.

Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has authored AB 2405, which would allow local jurisdictions – by a means of a vote by a Board of Supervisors or public vote – to enact a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions when the local housing element is not met.

Chang accepted the letter, which he promised to deliver to Baczkowski. He declined to address the crowd or to offer a comment to the Bay Area Reporter.

"This is elder abuse, not a PR moment," shouted protester Lisa Garcia, pointing at Chang. "We don't hear a response."

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, director of counseling programs at the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, told the crowd that since 1997, 2,000 units have been lost to Ellis Act evictions.

"Most of those with AIDS become homeless as a result of eviction," he said. "One of the results of homelessness is death. When you are homeless you cannot maintain your drug regimen. It leads to death."

Avicolli Mecca said that the average lifespan of a homeless person with AIDS was 52 years, around 28 years less than people who have stable housing and medical care.

Mary Spoerer, 75, held up a sign that said "Stop Hellish Act Evictions."

"I'm a senior, evicted from my home of 36 years," she told the B.A.R. "It still hurts."

Spoerer is currently in a roommate situation with a disabled man.

"If he's evicted, I'm on the street," she said.

Ethel Silverstein, a woman in her 80s who's being threatened with eviction, brought a sign that listed the "Dirty 30," the worst Ellis Act evictors. All, she alleged, were real estate developers or speculators.

"I've been in my place for 30 years," Silverstein said. "I'm disabled. I'm not well. This is outrageous. The developers have to get off their duffs and say we have parents, we have children, we can't do this."

Bonnie Spindler of Zephyr Real Estate was on "Ethel's list," as it's called. The B.A.R. attempted to reach Spindler at her office. Spindler's receptionist, who declined to give her name, refused to put the call through to Spindler and called the claims by the protesters a "gross exaggeration."

"In a lot of cultures, people respect their elders," said Erin McElroy of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. "What does this say about our culture?"

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