Along with legislative solutions to curtail real estate speculation and luxury developments a tenant forum on Wednesday night stressed that community resistance and engagement are key to halting displacement.
“There are speculators who come in with a lot of money to get us out,” said Alicia Sandoval, a counselor with the Housing Rights Committee referring to a 27 percent decrease in the Mission’s Latino population from 2000 to 2013. “You know your community best, you all have the power as tenants and as neighbors who know each other. It’s important to create a type of family to support each other – especially in the Mission.”
Working class families living in the neighborhood have also been hard hit by the displacement crisis, shrinking by 26 percent between 2000 and 2013, according to Carlos Bocanegra, an attorney with La Raza Centro Legal.
The forum at Buena Vista Horace Mann attended by 50 people was conducted in Spanish and centered around four key key housing issues – habitability, tenants rights after a building changes ownership, luxury development and evictions. Participants were instructed to split into groups depending on the specific issue had inspired their attendance.
“We’ve come here looking to find out information about what we can do to help,” said a woman who gave her name as Julietta, a Mission resident for 18 years. The woman said that many families who attend her church have been effected.
“One family has been here for 34 years and another for 17, and they were each given a verbal eviction,” said Julietta. “Because the landlords are going to fix up their homes.”
Such evictions are illegal, said Deepa Varma, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, who informed tenants of their rights in the event that their buildings are sold. Varma advised tenants who are living in a building that is in the process of being sold or tenants facing an eviction to capture all communications with their landlords in writing.
Varma shared her personal experience with eviction when her three-unit building changed hands some four years ago.
“The family downstairs was undocumented and they were really scared and immediately they left,” said Varma. “I noticed that the landlord kept finding ways to talk to me verbally. I started reaching out to organizations and do everything by writing. All of a sudden everything changed.”
Varma managed to stay in her building, and made it her goal to help others in the same predicament. Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, of the Housing Rights Committee, said that according to the organization’s data, three-quarters of the people who move out in such situations “probably didn’t need to.”
“I almost never see a tenant who fights who doesn’t do better off by fighting. You get more money, more time – thats huge. And a good percentage of tenants get to stay,” she said.
Other advice given by the tenants rights specialists included insisting that landlords give a 24-hour notice before entering their units and that tenants should heed three-day, five day response notices.
“Those count even on the weekend,” said Varma.
Dairo Romero, community planning manager with the Mission Economic Development Agency, said that the nonprofit developer is spearheading a “small sites program” to use city money to acquire buildings and ensure that the tenants remain.
Still, the aggressive market presents some challenges in this process.
“Some problems we have with this program is the closing time is three months. The investor who has money to do it right away they can do it in a month,” he said, adding that with the help of tenants, a sale can often be facilitated much quicker.
“The way that we go around this problem is organizing the tenants ..they start talking with the owner,” said Romero, referencing such a situation when the organization acquired a building at 3800 Mission St.
“When the tenants have a good relation with the property owner..they have basically convinced the landlord to accept MEDA’s offer because that was their only guarantee that they can stay in the building.”
After listening to the advocate’s advice, one participant broke out in tears. “I don’t live in the Mission, I live in the Tenderloin, but we also have these issues there,” she said. “This is so important.”
The tenant convention was one of several held over the course of a month by the housing advocates in neighborhoods throughout the city, including the Castro, Excelsior, Western Addition and South of Market. The sponsors included the San Francisco Tenants Union, the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, Causa Justa and various other Mission based community organizations.