Daniel Everett believes the current housing situation in San Francisco is “an affront to decency.”
An attorney who represents clients throughout the Bay Area in a variety of criminal defense matters, Everett sees first-hand how a disproportionate amount of minorities — especially African Americans — are being evicted from their homes.
African Americans represent 6 percent of San Francisco’s population, yet are 29 percent of the Eviction Defense Collaborative’s clients, Everett pointed out.
By comparison, Latinos represent 15 percent of San Francisco’s population and 17 percent of the EDC’s clients; Asians represent 34 percent of San Francisco’s population and 10 percent of the EDC’s clients; and Caucasians represent 42 percent of San Francisco’s population and 30 percent of the EDC’s clients.
“The African American population has certainly been bearing the brunt of the housing crisis,” Everett noted. “No other racial or ethnic group is so overly represented.” He added, “This has echoes of stealing Indian land in the misguided quest for expansion and ‘progress.’ In today’s terms, it is San Francisco’s African American population that is being stepped over in the pursuit of ‘progress.’”
What is happening to African Americans and other minorities who are losing their homes and being pushed out of San Francisco? They moving in with friends and relatives, or moving to the East Bay, where housing is more affordable, according to Everett.
Everett pointed out that the fact that African Americans and other minorities are leaving San Francisco means that the city loses its diversity. “The decrease in the African American population leads to a decrease in African American culture,” Everett said. “It is that cultural diversity and vibrancy that is the basis for our values. It is the basis for what makes San Francisco San Francisco. We are all being robbed of that vibrancy when the housing court aggregates or sidesteps its ethical and legal responsibilities. We are all being robbed.”
Everett further pointed out, “The African American population left in San Francisco has below median income, which makes it difficult to hire an attorney, so what we have is a situation where landlords are allowed to evict folks in an almost railroaded procedure with no accountability.
“With such a staggering loss of our African American population, it is appropriate to ask what has gone wrong while the city’s housing court is not adhering to bolstering the laws that are in place.”
Everett, who graduated from Hastings College of the Law in 2007, began working as a criminal defense attorney in 2009. He hosts a weekly community radio show, Folk Law, on San Francisco’s 88.1 FM at www.folklawradio.com. Everett said that his business has grown 50 percent within the past year. “I feel the community is rushing to me in droves,” he stated.
What is contributing to the housing crisis? Everything from the tech invasion to development, Everett said.
The Ellis Act, a state law passed in 1980 that gives landlords the right to go out of business and evict tenants, is also a huge factor in the housing crisis.
Everett added that another thing that needs to be done to help solve the housing crisis is that there needs to be more transparency with the courts and oversight of the courts and courts need to uphold and apply the law properly. “The city has taken steps to address the problem to a certain extent, and now the ball is in the court’s court to act on what the city has done,” he said.
Hope SF from the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing on South Van Ness, firstname.lastname@example.org, was not forthcoming with any statements on the Ellis Act or city housing status.
However, Tommi Avicolli Mecca of San Francisco’s Housing Rights Committee, was. “Ellis is what you use to get around rent control and make more money,” he explained. “That’s what the Ellis Act is about in San Francisco. It’s all about greed. Greed is what San Francisco has become. Why aren’t we building affordable housing in San Francisco? Again, it’s the two cities. We’re building for the city of the rich people. That’s what San Francisco is. That’s what we’re becoming. We can’t build our way out of the housing crisis. By figuring out how to bring rents down, we can make the city affordable for the poor and the middle class.”
Mecca summed up the current housing situation this way: “It’s a catastrophe. It’s probably the worst housing crisis to hit the city. I don’t think we’ve ever seen it like this. Now we’re seeing big buildings being wiped out of tenants. Investors or speculators are buying them. They buy the building and flip it. They buy the building for $1 million and end up reselling for $2 million, after evicting all of the tenants by threatening them or the Ellis Act or buying them out. We have a 98-year-old woman being evicted right now. It is beyond immoral. It’s reprehensive. And we wonder why people are on the street.”
Mecca added, “The whole way we do housing in this city and country baffles me. What we’re doing is driving out all the city’s diversity. One day people will wake up and it will be too late. We’re losing the heart and soul of our city. It’s like “A Tale of Two Cities,” but it’s real. We are a tale of two cities right now.
“I don’t know what it takes to wake the city up,” Mecca emphasized. “The city has to wake up in a big way. We have to change the way we do housing. If we don’t, what are we going to be left with? We are going to be left with a big rich people’s playground. It’s a disgrace when your teachers don’t live in the city, when your firefighters don’t live in the city. It’s beyond unreal — it’s like the twilight zone! We’re seeing mass evictions now. The speculators and investors don’t care. They’re just out for the money. They rape and pillage and they walk away. Do they have any consequences? No.”
Peter Cohen is the co-director of the San Francisco-based Council on Community Housing Organizations — CCHO. He stated, “I have little doubt that the evictions crisis has had a disproportionate impact on minorities, seniors, the disabled and people with HIV/AIDs. They are often the long-term residents who are most vulnerable to the machinations of unscrupulous landlords and property speculators.”
Yet the crisis of displacement and the threat of gentrifying neighborhoods is no longer just an issue affecting the poor, the working class and disadvantaged communities. It is a reality for the middle class too, Cohen pointed out.
Cohen stated, “The speculation frenzy and the dramatically growing wealth gap — San Francisco now has the largest income inequality of any city in the country — have put even everyday middle-class folks at risk of losing their apartments and/or being permanently priced out of San Francisco real estate. I hear about middle class professionals being ‘Ellised’ out of their apartments in Noe Valley and Pacific Heights, as well as working-class Latino families getting evicted from their Mission apartments.
“The market-rate development industry is just not providing for folks. So, the current evictions epidemic and the housing affordability crisis have a unifying aspect to it. More and more people are being bound together by their vulnerability — in relative degrees of crisis, of course — and their intolerance at the ravages of the real estate speculation market. From crisis is growing a broadening movement to take action and push back.”
Cohen further stated, “The answers are many. As everyone says, there is no silver-bullet to deal with runaway housing costs. But I think the focus needs to be on discouraging and preventing the speculation as much as it is on strengthening the response and triage systems to assist people getting evicted.”
What has been done to help fix the current housing crisis in San Francisco, and what still needs to be done?
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has outlined a 7-point plan to address the situation, which includes protecting existing rent controlled units, preventing evictions and increasing production of affordable and market rate housing, according to Sophie Hayward of the Mayor’s Office of Housing.
With regard to this, Cohen stated, “At the state level there is now a serious effort to reform the Ellis Act, which is the most poisonous of the eviction ‘tools’ used by speculators. At the local level there is legislation in the works that would put requirements on speculators to pay serious relocation fees to evicted residents, and there is legislation to begin tracking and regulating TIC conversions which is often the key critical point in the speculation process that evictions happen.
“The Tenants Convention [in February], attended by more than 600 people, resulted in a priority for an anti-speculation tax ballot measure this coming November intended to put a stiff taxation disincentive on quick ‘flippers’
of residential real estate.”
Cohen further noted, “There is a great need to increase production of affordable housing so we can keep up with the need. As much as we do well in San Francisco by relative standards compared to other Bay Area jurisdictions, we still fall short of the meeting the needs for very-low-income, low-income and moderate-income San Franciscans. So, those folks have limited options, given they are permanently shut out of the high-priced real estate market, which is only getting more and more expensive as the tech workforce floods the city with growing population. So we need to produce the below-market housing that it takes to ensure people can live here and have places to go when they are evicted by private landlords.”
Cohen further explained, “The city's General Plan Housing Element dictates that SF should produce 61 percent of all its new housing at prices affordable to very-low, low and moderate-income residents. The general performance, however, is about 30-35 percent of production for those income levels combined. Thus, the gentrification cycle gets more and more impacting as market-rate housing production is so imbalanced with the affordable and below-market rate housing. That imbalance needs to be better controlled through these boom-bust development cycles.”
More information about SF CCHO can be found on its website, www.sfccho.org/.