San Francisco neighborhoods fed up with Ellis Act evictions

SF State professor and San Francisco Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguia used to carry poems in his pocket. But stopped because he kept pulling out eviction notices.

Murguia was one of more than 60 people who crammed into a Glen Park bookstore to listen to a panel of politicians and activists address San Francisco’s housing crisis Wednesday, March 12.

Attendees were concerned over the city’s drastic increase in Ellis Act evictions, of which the city’s rent board recorded a 145 percent increase between September 2012 and September 2013. Attendees shared personal stories and discussed its effects on the fabric of the city and what San Francisco’s politicos could do to regulate it.

The Ellis Act is a state law that gives landlords the right to evict all the tenants in a building and leave the rental business.

San Francisco Unified School District teacher and Ellis Act victim Sarah Brant represented her building on Dolores and Market streets at the panel. Bay Area real estate group Urban Green, which owns 385 units in San Francisco, purchased her building last year.

“(Urban Green) bought this building knowing who lives here,” Brant said. “These people are speculators, so why should we treat them like landlords?”

Members of the audience echoed her sentiment.

“If someone scrapes their money together and wants to live in their own building, then I have no problem with that,” said former University of California Berkeley professor David Linger. “Its everything else that I have a problem with.”

Almost everything else, said Linger, is real estate speculation. The recent housing boom in San Francisco has led to an increase in speculation — buyingproperty and hoping to resell it quickly for exorbitant profit — in many working class neighborhoods like the Mission District, Chinatown, the Fillmore and the Western Addition.

Supervisor John Avalos addressed the housing crisis and accused members of the Board of Supervisors of “pay to play politics”—supporting developers, speculators and tech companies —rather than the people city officials represent.

He discussed legalizing tens of thousands of illegal in-law units in San Francisco, making them susceptible to rent control and tenancy laws, and left the crowd with one of San Francisco’s most investment-crippling plans: an anti-speculation tax. The anti-speculation tax would claim 50 percent of the profits of bought-and-sold buildings if the new owner did not keep and maintain the building — as a landlord — for at least one and a half years.

“Let’s build a little more community tonight,” Murguia said.