Nearly 200 people marched to Vanguard Properties on 21st and Mission this morning to protest the potential Ellis Act eviction of Benito Santiago from his longtime home in the Duboce Triangle. As numerous signs and chants made clear, the landlord evicting Santiago listed as “Pineapple Boy LLC” is Michael Harrison, co-founder of Vanguard Properties.

“We’re going to make it known that Pineapple Boy LLC is evicting a senior who is also disabled” said Santiago, a music teacher to special needs students in the San Francisco Unified School District. “These people hiding behind company names will be put out in the open about what they’re doing to our community.”

Santiago and the two housemates with whom he shares his Duboce Street home were first offered a buyout of $20,000, but when they didn’t accept the offer they were given an eviction notice in November of 2013. As a senior citizen (he is turning 64 this year), Santiago was able to extend the date of his eviction until the upcoming December.

The event, organized by the group Eviction Free San Francisco, began at the 24th Street Bart Plaza with protesters chanting, “Speculators out, tenants rights in” and “United we stand, divided we fall.” One man led a sing-a-long of the classic protest song, “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

“We don’t want to be a place where our teachers and seniors are being evicted,” said event organizer Erin McElroy into the megaphone. McElroy also explained that they plan to deliver a letter to Vanguard Properties at the culmination of the march demanding the company and Harrison rescind Santiago’s eviction notice.

The Anti-Eviction Project recently released a study showing that the 1985 Ellis Act, which allows landlords to exit the rental business, was being used primarily by new buyers who wanted old tenants out. The intention of the legislation, the report said, was to give longterm landlords a way out, not new owners who might be speculating.

Signifying a growing public awareness of the anti-eviction movement, which boasted much smaller crowds a year ago, many members of the media were present. At one point, McElroy was pulled aside for an on-camera interview with Fox News.

Speaking to the crowd, Tony Robles, the president of the board of the Manilatown Heritage Foundation, described Santiago as a “treasure to this city.” Erick Arguello of Calle 24 was also on hand to detail the role Vanguard has played in profiting from real estate endeavors on 24th Street, saying, “Twenty-fourth Street is not for sale.” 

“At heart of eviction epidemic is an extreme rapacity for wealth at any cost,” Robles said. “Evictions are no less than elder abuse.”

The crowd moved off the sidewalks and into the street, heading up 24th to Valencia where it turned north, shouting “San Francisco, not for sale.” Flanked by dozens of officers from the police department, the crowd occupied one lane of traffic on its march to 21st Street, where it then turned east to Mission Street and Vanguard Property’s offices on the corner.

The real estate company clearly knew they were coming. Taped on the door of Vanguard’s Mission Street entrance was a note: “Entrance Closed due to Protest. Please use Entrance on 21st.”

“You guys want to try 21st Street?” McElroy asked into the megaphone, to which the crowd responded with ample cheers.

The march moved to the side entrance of Vanguard’s office, which was also locked. No representative of Vanguard came out to meet the protesters nor take their letter. However, people inside the building could be seen in the second floor window watching the protest unfold from above.

Harrison could not be reached for comment and a representative of Vanguard Properties said that any comments on the protest would be provided by Jay Cheng, the deputy director of the realtor advocacy group San Francisco Association of Realtors (SFAR).

“As realtors our clients are tenanats and homeowners who are just trying to call San Francisco home and what we do is just try to find them housing in San Francisco,” said Cheng. “There’s a severe housing shortage in San Francisco and we’re trying to make sure we find a solution as a community.”

Cheng couldn’t comment specifically on the eviction of Santiago, but said, “Ellis Act evictions are just a symptom that there’s just not enough housing for everyone that wants to be here…We’re trying to work with all sides of the table to address the housing shortage.”

McElroy recommended those in the crowd call Harrison directly and shared his phone number over the megaphone. She also noted that Eviction Free San Francisco has another action coming up on April 11 to protest the eviction of Mary Elizabeth Phillips, a 98-year-old who is being evicted from her home on Dolores Street.

“We’ll be back,” McElroy said as the march came to a close.

According to McElroy, protests like today’s march are vital in fighting Ellis Act evictions.

“When we take direct action, we have a chance of the Ellis Act eviction being rescinded, and that’s what we’re hoping happens with Benito Santiago,” McElroy said.