Opinion

By Tommi Avicolli Mecca and Brian Basinger

The AIDS eviction capital

IN THE 1980S the Castro District was heralded as a model of compassionate caring for people with AIDS. Now it's the AIDS eviction capital of the world.

That's the reason for the AIDS Housing Alliance/S.F.'s "No Fast Pass to Eviction" legislation. One of the most important pieces of legislation protecting the housing of San Francisco residents with AIDS in the history of the epidemic, it would stop the targeting for eviction of seniors and people with AIDS, 90 percent of them from two-unit buildings and a vast number of them in the Castro.

"No Fast Pass" and another pro-tenant bill will be heard by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' Land Use Committee Nov. 8 at 1 p.m. The other bill would allow spouses and domestic partners as well as family members to live together despite the terms of their lease.

Since the dot-com boom in the mid-'90s, 10,000 seniors and people with AIDS in rent-controlled apartments have been targets of real estate investors hell-bent on making big bucks in get-rich-quick schemes. Using the state's Ellis Act, which allows someone to buy a rental building and immediately "go out of the rental business," investor groups empty two-unit buildings and form tenancies in common. Owners of these buildings can then circumvent the condo-conversion lottery. This is a zero-sum game in which speculators win and vulnerable tenants lose. The landlords and Realtors rake in the big dough, and the tenants get put out on the street.

Rent Board stats back up this trend: Ellis evictions are up 49 percent this year. In 2003 65 percent of Ellis Act evictions involved the disabled (including people with AIDS) and seniors. Sup. Bevan Dufty's District 8 (Castro-Noe Valley) has doubled the number of these displacements compared to other areas of the city. This year alone 750 seniors and disabled people will be evicted by TIC Ellis Act evictions. Low-income people cannot afford to find replacement housing. Since there's not an adequate safety net in place, they all too often become homeless.

Under "No Fast Pass," the owners of buildings without a speculative eviction of a senior or disabled person would get first dibs on the condo-conversion lottery. Public policy should reward good behavior. Building owners who do the right thing by not targeting seniors and disabled people would be able to convert to condos more quickly.

The second piece of legislation, Domestic Partners and Family Protection Act, would also help keep tenants in their homes. Its raison d'être can best be summed up by our city's new motto: "Get married, get evicted." If you live in an apartment with a lease that restricts the number of occupants and move in a spouse/domestic partner, you can be evicted. The same applies to bringing in a family member.

San Franciscans used to have the right to move in partners and family members. A court case known as Artel v. Sharpe eliminated it. The facts of the case are simple: a woman in a studio with a lease that specified only one person could live there got married and moved in her husband. She was evicted. She fought and won on the Superior Court level. When the landlord appealed, she lost. Since that time, landlords have been able to tell partners and family members, Get outta my building. Talk about anti-family.

You can help: Come to City Hall Nov. 8 at noon for a rally followed by the hearing at 1 p.m. Meanwhile, call or write Mayor Gavin Newsom (415-554-6141, gavin.newsom@sfgov.org) and your supervisor. At press time, Newsom isn't supporting either bill. Residents of the Castro-Noe Valley area are especially urged to contact Dufty (bevan.dufty@sfgov.org, 415-554-6968, 415-554-6909 fax).

Remind Dufty that it's his responsibility to ensure that the Castro is no longer the AIDS eviction capital of the world.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is an activist-writer who works at the Housing Rights Committee. Brian Basinger is a disabled person with AIDS and founder of the AIDS Housing Alliance/S.F.