No room left in San Francisco for an artist who helped make the Mission what is - Page 2

Join the march to support Rene Yañez and others facing eviction

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Rio and Rene Yañez
Jess Young

When their original landlord died 13 years ago, Yañez and his fellow tenants pooled their money to make a bid for the house. Golden Properties saw their offer, and doubled it. Now, they are banding together again to refuse Iantorno’s money and fight  the eviction.

“I would rather take my chances and fight it,” Yañez told the Guardian. “And also I see it as resistance to what is going on and affecting a lot of people.”

On Oct. 1, the San Francisco Rent Board released its Annual Statistical Report for fiscal year 2012-2013. The report revealed a 36 percent increase in eviction notices since the year before. Evictions from rent-controlled apartments in particular are at an 11-year high.

The Ellis Act was used 81 percent more than last year, providing the basis for almost 10 percent of all evictions. The law was used with greatest frequency by landlords in the Mission District. Meanwhile, city public health officials estimate that someone earning minimum wage would need to work more than eight full-time jobs to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment downtown.

“It is a disaster,” states Christopher Cook, an organizer with the nonprofit group Eviction Free Summer. “Individuals, families, and increasingly small businesses are being hammered by these twin tsunamis of evictions and dramatic rent increases. Those two factors have been driving people out of the city in ever greater numbers for the past 10 to 15 years.”

Gómez-Peña blames these changes on the mass of high-paid young people produced by the second dot-com boom. They may work in Silicon Valley, but they play in San Francisco, and this new class of wealthy young techies can and will pay any price to live in the city—especially the Mission District.

“I see them everyday, the hordes of iPad and iPhone texting zombies, oblivious to us and our lives, our inspirations and tribulations,” he writes. “I see them in my building and on the street, invading the city with an attitude of unchecked entitlement, taking over every square inch and squeezing out the last drops of otherness.”

It is no easy task to make room for all that wealth when the majority of the city’s residents are renters protected by law against unfair rent increases, landlord mistreatment, and unwarranted evictions. The actual strength of these safeguards may be waning, though, leading Gómez-Peña to warn the public in his letter that, “As renters our hours here are numbered.”

The only way to evict a tenant in San Francisco is by claiming one of 15 “just cause” reasons for removing them. Among those 15, the Ellis Act is something of a landlord’s dream date, skipping all the talking to get straight to the action—eviction. Established in 1985, the California law gives landlords the unconditional right to evict tenants if they are “going out of business.”

In order to implement the Ellis Act, a landlord must evict all of the tenants in his or her building, giving them 120 days notice, and wait five years before they can put the units back on the rental market at an increased price. However, the law does not prevent landlords from renting the units out as short-term lodgings, or converting them to be sold as one massive unit, tenancies in common or condominiums.

“Ellis Act evictions are impossible to fight,” admitted Ted Gullickson, the head of the San Francisco Tenants Union. This makes them an ideal weapon against rent control, which has allowed residents from lower income brackets to hold onto their homes in San Francisco for decades while the values of the real estate grew and grew. Even then, many tenants do not feel secure. Guerra has heard stories about people with rent control living for decades without hot water, working windows, heat, or even a stove. “To have this amazing rent control,” she concludes, “they put up with substandard living.”

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