The board members of a local Filipino heritage organization, with ties to a high-profile eviction defense battle at San Francisco's International Hotel in the late 1970s, have declined to an accept an award that San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee had planned to extend to them as part of a Filipino American History celebration because they are angry about a growing trend of senior evictions.
In a written statement sent to the media by board member Tony Robles, the Manilatown Heritage Foundation explained that it couldn't accept the award as long as "elders are being preyed upon, evicted and given a de facto death sentence thereof."
The Manilatown Heritage Foundation board members were informed by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu that Lee had planned to recognize the I-Hotel as part of an annual cultural history celebration at City Hall, the statement noted.
"Part of the occasion was to honor the I-Hotel and its many tenants and activists for its contribution to Filipino American history," board members explained.
In 1976, the I-Hotel was targeted for demolition, prompting a historic eviction defense battle led by housing activists who rallied to the defense of the impacted tenants. As a young attorney who worked with the Asian Law Caucus, Ed Lee was involved in that fight — as an activist defending tenants' rights to stay. He frequently referred to this chapter of his personal history while running for mayor in 2011, to demonstrate his sensitivity to concerns about affordable housing.
But now that Lee is well into his mayoral term, a surge of evictions of low-income seniors is worsening on his watch. Tenant defense organizations such as Eviction Free San Francisco are showing up outside landlords' homes and offices to protest eviction notices that threaten to push low-income seniors with few options out of the city.
"The I-Hotel fight was for dignity and it lived by the premise that housing is a human right," the group's statement explained. "The fight for the I-Hotel galvanized the community around the fight for affordable housing, particularly for seniors who sacrificed much and on whose shoulders we stand. The fight included tenants, elders, activists, artists and students who recognized that the real estate developers and financial interests were out of control—power unchecked."