Roberto Alfaro Sr., 67, has lived in his Mission District apartment at 164 Lucky St. for 27 years. Ana Gutierrez, 66, has lived in the unit next door for 34 years. Both are retired, disabled and living on a fixed income. These are the only San Francisco apartments they have ever known.
Last month, they were told they were being evicted under the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords to take rental units off the market.
“I raised all my kids in that place,” said Gutierrez, who lives in the apartment with her two sons. “I’ve been there ever since I came to San Francisco.”
“We don’t know what to do,” she added.
Alfaro and Gutierrez were among dozens of people who gathered beneath the Christmas tree at 18th and Castro streets on Wednesday to protest Ellis Act evictions. Carrying signs in English and Spanish that read “Happy Holidays. Now get the hell out,” the protesters called on state legislators to repeal the Ellis Act and for local politicians to lend their support.
No landlords were present at the protest.
Tenants in at least 17 buildings in the Mission have gotten eviction notices under the Ellis Act over the last few months, said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, director of the counseling program at the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.
To evict residents under the Ellis Act, landlords must inform their tenants 120 days in advance or a year in advance if the tenants are seniors or disabled. They must also pay tenants a $5,157.27 relocation cost — $8,595.44 if the tenants are seniors or disabled. The unit must then remain vacant for five years.
In some cases loopholes fail to protect the most defenseless tenants, said Lucia Kimble, lead San Francisco organizer for the Mission-based tenant advocacy group Causa Justa. She told of a Mission resident who is on the verge of being evicted from the home on Capp Street where he has lived for over 30 years. He is a senior with a long-term illness, which under the Ellis Act typically would mean that he must be given a full year to vacate his apartment. But this tenant will have to leave within 120 days because his apartment is registered as a single-family home and thus exempt from additional protections.
Kimble called for loopholes like these to be addressed by the state immediately.
Ellis Act evictions usually affect the most vulnerable tenants in San Francisco, Mecca said, including seniors, tenants with disabilities and immigrants who cannot afford San Francisco’s increasingly expensive rental market if they are forced out of their rent-controlled apartments.
Among them is Morning Star Vancil, a disabled veteran who has lived on Valencia Street for 32 years. She is a survivor of stage-four cancer and her doctors are based in San Francisco. But her landlord is threatening to evict her under the Ellis Act and Vancil doesn’t think she can afford another apartment in the city.
“By the time I pay my rent, I’m barely making enough to buy food and stuff I need to survive,” Vancil said.
It costs $2,126 a month on average to rent a studio apartment in San Francisco, an increase of 22 percent since 2008. This gives landlords who want to boost their rental revenues an incentive to evict residents under the Ellis Act, Mecca said.
“Are we going to let profits continue to be held over people’s lives?” asked Kimble.
“No!” responded the crowd of tenants and supporters in unison.
Lotta Garrity, who lives on Guerrero Street, said the Ellis Act allows landlords to rent to rich Silicon Valley employees while forcing out the tenants who work in San Francisco.
“We are going to provide housing for them, not for the workers of this town,” Garrity said. “The workers of this town can go live in Hayward in a trailer. Well, I say the heck with that.”
Garrity, a retired nurse and cancer survivor, has lived in her apartment for over 30 years. Her Christmas gift this year was an eviction notice, she said.
“I really feel it is a kick in the face to someone who has served the community all these years,” she said.