Photo by Lola M. Chavez

As 14 rent-controlled tenants of one Folsom Street building prepare to fight their evictions, housing rights advocates organized a block party on Saturday to support them.

“There are a ton of evictions happening here on Folsom Street. There are buildings that are being demolished that are full of tenants,” said Maria Zamudio, housing rights campaign organizer for Causa Justa. “We decided to have a party with our community and neighbors to remind [people] why we are fighting for this neighborhood.”

Zamudio and other advocates who hosted the afternoon block party drew a connection between rising rents, evictions and a number of market-rate development projects planned in the neighborhood.

“Folsom street is being hit hard,” said Deepa Varma, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union. “These evictions are happening at the same time that a luxury development is being slated a block away. You can only imagine the kind of economic pressures that puts on the rest of this street.”

While Ellis Act evictions, which legally allow landlords to evict their tenants in order to exit the rental market, are most prevalent in the Mission, activists said they are alarmed by a number of evictions specifically within a “two to three block radius” of a proposed market-rate development project at 2675 Folsom St.  The project has been dubbed “the Fright on Folsom” by opponents, who say it fuels displacement.

Throughout the afternoon, neighbors and passersby stopped on the block of Folsom between 24th and 25th streets to listen to music and speeches addressing the eviction crisis, and to show support for those in the middle of it.

“We fight gentrification with our culture and our music,” said Susana Cortez of the salsa group Orquesta Adelante! “Let’s fight gentrification the fun way.”

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Despite lighthearted moments as neighbors mingled and broke out in dance on the sidewalk, testimonies given by those whose lives are being uprooted by evictions set a more somber tone.

“The future is very uncertain and my life is currently on hold,” said Leigh Ann Cavanaugh, who is one of the 14 tenants at 2820-24 Folsom St. facing displacement. “But we here to show that if you push us, we will push back.”

Cavanaugh said she was touched by the outpouring of support by some tenants who also struggled with evictions but managed to stay in the neighborhood.

“I’ve been down this road already,” said artist and Mission native Dogpaw Carrillo, who in 2015 was evicted from his Mission home of 31 years. “[The Mission] is a battle ground and I’m here to support [those tenants] in that fight.”

Carillo said that often, the tenants who occupy rent-controlled units in the neighborhood are “artists, activists and long-term community members” much like himself.

“Everyday I think about  [having to leave] San Francisco. It is daunting when you’ve been in one place for a long time,” he said.  “It’s a feeling of ‘the clock is ticking.’”

After refusing an initial buyout offer made by their landlord around Christmas, the group of tenants at 2820-24 Folsom St., which includes seniors, artists, and fixed-income residents, have until April 2017 to remain in their homes.

“Seeing the community come together for us today is an illustration of the fact that San Francisco doesn’t appreciate opportunistic landlords,” said tenant Brian Lucett, who is a teacher and has lived in the building for three years.

Still, Lucett said that the looming eviction and legal battle has already taken a toll on many of the building’s tenants.

“We have dealt with [a year] of uncertainty that has been full of anxiety,” said Lucett. “I’m willing to fight as much as I can, but none of us are wealthy by any stretch and court battles cost money.”

Patricia Kerman and her roommate are two longtime Mission tenants who attended the block party in a show of support. Since 2012, they have been fighting two eviction attempts by their landlord.

“The fight is more than personal, it’s for the city that I love,” said Kerman, who has been living at her 20th and Folsom residence for some 30 years.

With the support of housing rights groups, Kerman has been involved in several actions, including a protest in front of her landlord’s office to draw attention to her own eviction. Varma said community organizing is a crucial component in fighting displacement.

She pointed to the success of the neighboring Pigeon Palace, a six-unit apartment building at 24th and Folsom occupied by a group of artists, educators, and activists, who managed to avert displacement by staging actions to discourage potential buyers after their rent-controlled building was put on the market. Last June, they managed to buy their building at probate auction through the city’s Land Trust program.

“They too were at risk of their house being flipped for a whole lot of money,” said Varma. “What we learned is that we don’t win if we don’t fight.”

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