Displacement, Gentrification, and the Age-Old Story of Greedy Landlords
We must band together and fight for our right to fair and equitable housing.
In 1979 San Francisco passed a rent control ordinance that is enforced by the SF Rent Board. They also offer protection from landlord negligence and eviction; the ordinance covers all rental units in buildings with a certificate of occupancy dating before June 13, 1979.
To many, rent control is seen as a way to maintain affordable housing and fight the displacement of low-income tenants. In 1994, San Francisco voters passed Prop I which repealed the exemption from rent control for owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units. Following this appeal, when more units became rent-controlled, housing decreased and prices for remaining housing rose, furthering income inequality.
Last week, my friend Cleve Jones posted a message on his Facebook page that he was being evicted from his rent-controlled apartment of ten years. He wrote the following: The new owner wants to raise the rent from $2393 to $5200, which is impossible. We will be ok and we are grateful for the financial security that will see us through this unpleasant moment. But it is very clear to us how an event like this could be truly catastrophic for so many others. I’ll keep you posted.
Jones said he isn’t leaving under circumstances he wants. Rather, he said he’s being forced out by the new property owner Lily Li Pao Kue — who doesn’t want him there. “She literally and metaphorically has a sledgehammer over my head,” Jones said. “She’s already building around me.”
Jones came to San Francisco in the mid-70s and his history is rich in helping to create what the world knows as — The Castro, one of the most prominent LGBTQ neighborhoods in the world.
This past Sunday, Jones held a rally to defend San Francisco renters at Castro and Market, where he reviled that he has decided to stay and fight the eviction. This is the Cleve I know — the fighter. It is Cleve that empowered me to stand up and use my voice. Together we have organized marches and events that have brought our community together to fight, celebrate and mourn some of our city and country’s triumphs and failures.
Almost two years ago to the day, I helped organize “A March to Remember and Reignite Hope in The Castro District with Jones, Ken Jones (rest in peace), Historian Gerard Koskovich, GLBT Historical Society, The San Francisco LGBT Center, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandleman, Castro Cultural District, and the community.
With the growing number of vacancies in the Castro District, the march highlighted the need to take active steps to sustain the city’s living queer heritage and culture. Then, just a few weeks later the pandemic hit, and Governor Gavin Newsom orders all bars, nightclubs, wineries, and brewpubs to close, and tells adults age 65 and over and those with chronic health conditions to stay home.
And, here we are two years later and displacement, gentrification and the age-old story of the greedy landlord continue. This all causes communities to disperse, harming are most vulnerable minority communities.
In February of 2022, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed unprecedented Tenants’ Right to Organize legislation introduced by my District Supervisor Aaron Peskin. The law goes into effect this April and protects organizing activities like knocking on the doors of your neighbors and meeting in common areas. It also allows a majority of tenants in a building of 10 or more units to form Tenant Associations — a union at home — with which landlords must negotiate around basic tenant issues. This is an exciting opportunity to build solidarity and community power with your neighbors, and anyone interested in doing so should contact the Housing Rights Committee at the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.
Some key components of the new legislation include:
1 PROTECTED RIGHT TO FORM AN ASSOCIATION WITH YOUR NEIGHBORS — For the first time, If your building is five units or more and owned by a private landlord, then you and your neighbors are eligible to form an association using the new law.
2 NEW PROTECTIONS FOR FLYERING, DOOR-KNOCKING, AND HOLDING TENANT MEETINGS ON-SITE — You can hold meetings in common areas and your unit and allow non-resident advocates to enter the building and speak about their rights.
3 NEW LEGAL REQUIREMENT FOR THE LANDLORD TO MEET AND NEGOTIATE WITH THE ASSOCIATION — For the first time in the country, a landlord whose tenants form an association has the legal obligation to “meet and confer” with the association.
4 ALL OF THESE NEW RIGHTS AND PROTECTIONS BECOME A HOUSING SERVICE — Just like plumbing and heat, all of these new rights — called “organizing activities” in the law, will be classified as an official housing service.
5 IF THE LANDLORD VIOLATES ANY OF THESE RIGHTS OR PROTECTIONS, THEN YOU AND YOUR NEIGHBORS ARE ENTITLED TO RENT REDUCTIONS — This law empowers tenants to seek rent reduction if landlords disrupt any organizing activity.
In 2014, I created “Juanita’s Housing Group” on Facebook to make it easier for my SF family to connect and share housing opportunities, I couldn’t imagine that today we’d have over 11,000 members. I intended Juanita’s List to be a resource for all LGBTQIA+ people and allies in the SF Bay Area.
This year for my annual Juanita MORE! Pride 2022 party, I’ve selected Q Foundation as its beneficiary. Over the past 18 years, Q Foundation has been building a world where everyone has a safe place to live. They have had some amazing accomplishments including becoming the primary rental subsidy provider for the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. This Pride we will use donations from the Party to continue their important work throughout San Francisco and spearhead some new initiatives — one of them is to build the Grindr of finding roommates inspired by my groundbreaking Facebook housing group. In addition to finding roommates, there will be a focus on reducing one of the main points of friction between roommates: paying the bills. A main point of distinction will be their ability to include novel ways to access rent help when a roommate is short on the rent.
Across the United States, so many queer people still dream of leaving home to follow the rainbow that glows over the city of San Francisco. Though, the cost of living is so high that it’s becoming more and more difficult to survive here. So many people flee rejection from their families, unsupportive schools, and communities due to homophobia and transphobia. Many of them are arriving here without employment, housing, or a supportive network and face incredible hardship in finding affordable housing.
We must band together for our rights to fair and equitable housing.
CA.gov — Housing is Key: CA COVID-19 Relief The CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program provides financial assistance for unpaid rent to eligible renters and landlords who have been impacted by COVID-19. Both renters and landlords can apply for assistance
SF Rent Board: The San Francisco Rent Ordinance (SF Administrative Code, Chapter 37) was enacted effective June 13, 1979, by the Board Of Supervisors and signed by the Mayor as emergency legislation to alleviate the city’s housing crisis. The Ordinance created the Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board “to safeguard tenants from excessive rent increases and, at the same time, to assure landlords fair and adequate rents consistent with Federal Anti-Inflation Guidelines.”
Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco: HRC has fought for tenant’s rights since 1979 when a group of seniors at Old St. Mary’s Church came together to organize against condo conversions displacing the elderly. They offer both call-in and drop-in counseling. Our dedicated staff of volunteer counselors is trained to help tenants identify their options for problems with evictions, illegal rent increases, repair problems, security deposit returns, and more.
SF Tenants Union: The purpose of the San Francisco Tenants Union is to promote the preservation and expansion of the rights of tenants and the supply of affordable housing. The website contains many resources, from information on renter’s rights, evictions, roommates, rent increases, a self-help counseling clinic for members and nonmembers, and more.