Suddenly, low-income tenants could lose homes over water, garbage fees
Some of the 196 tenants who received warning notices claimed they didn't know they were responsible for the fees. John Martinek tried to help his friend, a 55-year-old Parkmerced resident and veteran, after he was hit with a bill totaling more than $600.
"He might've owed it, but here's the thing: They never told him anything about paying water and garbage," Martinek said. "They never once asked him, they never once said a word. They were trying to scare him, there's no question about it. They were trying shake him out of there." He said his friend had been spared from eviction thanks to legal assistance.
Johnston, meanwhile, dismissed the idea that tenants were in the dark on how much they owed. "It's patently ridiculous to suggest that residents who have signed a lease weren't aware that they had to pay their bills," he said.
In most cases, garbage charges in San Francisco are either included in the rent or are completely separate from rent, collected by a private company and can't be grounds for eviction. Water bills are typically included in monthly rent or collected by the city — and thus aren't grounds for eviction either.
WHERE IS DAVID CHIU?
Of the 14 eviction proceedings that are going forward, McMillan said, 10 involve tenants who receive Section 8 housing assistance, a federal program administered by the San Francisco Housing Authority. Of those 10, eight concerned disputed fees, he said.
There are a total of 170 Section 8 tenants at Parkmerced, according to figures cited by Megan Baker of Catholic Charities CYO, and 82 of them were among the 196 tenants who received three-day notices.
While Parkmerced previously attracted renters enrolled in the Section 8 program, Stellar stopped accepting those housing applications about a year ago, Baker said. Her organization provides emergency financial assistance for families at risk of homelessness and has been working with Parkmerced tenants since October 2009.
Baker added that she'd met with some tenants who were charged attorney's fees on top of the back-payments. "They don't have the means to pay legal costs," she said. "These very large charges are not going hand-in-hand with their monthly statements. It's all of a sudden. It leads us to think that in the process of changing management and gearing up for redevelopment, they really don't want low-income tenants."
In the wake of recent coverage about the trend of eviction notices in the Guardian and other publications (See "Low Income Tenants Face Possible Eviction at Parkmerced," Politics Blog, Oct. 7, 2011), the three-day notices have slowed, reports Wolf, of the Rent Board. "There were no notices this month," she said, referring to October, which could be a sign that management had taken a different tack under pressure from housing advocates and media scrutiny.
Shortt, of the Housing Rights Committee, noted that she had sought assistance from Board President David Chiu after her organization began working with impacted tenants. Chiu cast the swing vote on Parkmerced, sparking the ire of tenant advocates, but professed to be looking out for tenant interests.
Chiu introduced 14 pages of amendments to the Parkmerced development agreement intended to strengthen tenant protections, and used those changes to justify his support for the project. However, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force determined Nov. 1 that members of the Land Use and Economic Development Committee violated the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance when it considered Chiu's amendments, because the public wasn't provided with full documentation of the proposed changes.