Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]
San Francisco is one of the few U.S. cities that retains some rent control protections for tenants. It is situated on a peninsula so sprawl is impossible and the beneficiary of what seems a permanent tech boom and subsequent real estate boom, rent controls are what keeps the city somewhat affordable for ordinary working people.
Two-thirds of San Franciscans are still renters making this expensive place very unlike most U.S. cities.
Naturally, real estate speculators have long sought to find ways around our rent control provisions. They usually lose politically in the local arena so they went to the state legislature and won something called the "Ellis Act" which allows them to evict all tenants - even long-standing, older/disabled, legally "protected" tenants - if they will swear up and down that they are taking the building out of the rental market for at least five years.
We don't let them sell it off as condos but they can create "Tenancies in Common" in which multiple owners hold a multi-unit property together. (Full disclosure: I've been part owner and occupant of such a property - just two units - for more than 20 years.)
Recently Jeremy Mykaels found himself on the wrong end of such an Ellis Act eviction and he is fighting back. He has been speaking at community events and has created EllisHurtsSeniors.org which includes a boycott list of 31 San Francisco properties not to buy because the owners recently used the Ellis Act to evict one or more senior or disabled tenants.
Since he is gay himself, he's particularly conscious of the danger to older gay men living with HIV on fixed incomes. They have spent a lifetime creating a network of social connections and medical services they will never be able to duplicate in a new locality.
Here's some of Mykaels' story:
”We just had a big election in this country choosing between two distinct views of government - the 'we're all in this together' view where we don't abandon the vulnerable among us and the 'you're totally on your own' limited government approach.
“California, and San Francisco especially, voted for, and for the most part agree with, President Obama's 'we're all in this together' view of government which is why years ago we put in place rent control laws to begin with.
“Shouldn't we act accordingly and do our best to protect our senior and disabled long-time residents and keep them from losing their homes just because someone else wants to make a windfall profit?
“...I think using the Ellis Act to evict seniors and/or disabled tenants who have lived in their apartments for 10, 15, 20, 25 years or more, most times just subsisting on fixed incomes and who may be forced to move out of San Francisco altogether because they won’t be able to afford a new apartment here with rents at least 2-3 times higher than they have been paying under rent control, is simply WRONG!
“This is not how a compassionate community or city should treat its seniors and disabled residents and it is my goal to outlaw using the Ellis Act by owners and real estate speculators to evict senior and disabled tenants from their rent-controlled apartments.
“On a personal note, I have always been a very private person not prone to sharing information regarding my problems publicly with people outside of my small circle of friends and family and I have always tried my best to handle these problems on my own.
“But now, faced with the loss of my home and the real possibility that I will be forced to leave my beloved city of San Francisco forever, I have decided to publicize my eviction - even if that includes having to make my health problems and financial limitations public as a result of this effort.
“I am not looking for pity. I just want to shed a light on a growing problem in this city for many senior and disabled tenants like myself and hoping for a little justice. I may eventually lose this fight, but at least I will know that I took a stand and didn't fall prey to the intimidating tactics of real estate speculators and their lawyer to get me to vacate my home.
"'They are motivated by greedy landlords and speculators who want to make a ton of dough selling' the buildings. His group has tracked at least 26 buildings where Ellis Act evictions have been filed this year…”
Median rents these days in San Francisco are $3000/month. According to federal government suggestions, your housing costs should be one-third of your income. At the current rent level, that means San Francisco renters would need to make $108,000 annually to live here. Many don't, of course. And the city is not (yet) willing to become nothing more than a boutique playground for the extremely rich.
Along with Mr. Mykaels, I find myself asking: can't we capture some of this wealth coming into our community to preserve the life styles and lives of our long-time residents?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jacqueline Herships: Forced to Sell Your Home? Relax