On a cloudy day in the Mission District of San Francisco, the tenants at 3661 19th Street came together to speak out against their landlord’s attempt to evict them. Just half a block away from Dolores Park on Nov. 15, these tenants organized a lively anti eviction rally of about 70 people — a network of supporters and neighbors — to send a message to the building’s owners. Collective action and organization is vital for the survival of the working class. This too is historically true for San Francisco tenants defending themselves from an Ellis Act eviction. Not a single tenant in the building at 3661 has accepted offers to be bought out.
The tenants’ network includes Eviction Response Network, West Side Tenants Association, Cancel The Rents, and Tenderloin Housing Clinic. This is the second time the tenants of this particular building have defended themselves from an Ellis Act eviction. The 12-unit building — a total of 24 bedrooms and one of the largest buildings to be ‘Ellised’ in District 8 — consists of many seniors, Asians, LGBTQ+, disabled and working-class tenants.
Paul Mooney, one of the tenants and a longstanding member of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, said to the crowd: “The owners are speculators. They bought our building, [and] they’re doing this to other people. They’re using the Ellis Act to target rent control buildings and target long-term tenants like us. The other buildings they bought — they’re doing that too. They’re serial speculators, serial evictors. We want the owners to know that we’re here, that we’re organized, and we’re not going anywhere. We will fight this eviction with everything we have.”
As a state law, Ellis Act evictions happen all across California. Legislatively, the purpose of the act was to allow landlords to exit the rental housing business and to go “out of business” upon the condition they evict and vacate every unit of its tenants. However, the real estate market has exploited this state law for profit. Seniors and those with disabilities have been the most vulnerable sectors of tenants to be targeted by speculators and landlords using the Ellis Act — the former exploiting this act the most. This law only adds to the growing mass displacement which is taking place across the nation and is still allowed to take place during the COVID pandemic.
The second speaker, Larry Kuester, a retired senior and a tenant of 31 years, said: “I am facing eviction by an inhuman corporation, 3661 19th Street, LLC. This inhuman corporation does not care about San Francisco, and they do not care about the people in this building. This inhuman corporation is allowed to evict seniors and working-class people — straight, gay, and lesbian people all by way of the Ellis Act of 1985.”
The building is owned by a group of out-of-town trusts: the 3661 19th Street, LLC, and VR Investments, LLC. After failing to evict the tenents the first time, they filed a second Ellis attempt in October of 2020.
Kuester further described, “San Francisco loses about 400 rent-controlled units a year, and I am afraid that I am going to end up homeless like the 9,800 homeless people that already live here in San Francisco. And so, I ask you to repeat after me: There’s no place like home, so stop Ellis evictions!” The crowd chanted along while a lone construction truck drove by honking in support.
Jackie, another speaker, told the crowd ”In January, I came out of my building and there was a ‘for sale’ sign. Nobody told me that my building was going up for sale.” Jackie is a tenant from another building who successfully averted being ‘Ellised’ out — also organized by ERN and West Side Tenants Association. “The lawyer became frustrated and then started sending me nasty letters. This was nothing but intimidation.”
The sharpest point of antagonism came when the real estate management company sent a process server with a box of eviction papers to serve the tenants. The crowd expressed displeasure, booing him. He responded just with a smile and a wave to the crowd, a gesture befitting someone who is comfortable doing routine evictions.
The last speaker, Yasmine Mortazavi, an organizer with Cancel the Rents, said: “Evictions are always a public health issue[…] We’re in a city right now where there are many, many vacant units. There are more vacant units than there are people without homes—how does that make any sense?” “It doesn’t!” an audience member yelled.
Mortazavi further explained that the Cancel the Rents campaign demands an end to evictions not just in San Francisco but nationwide, as well as well an extension of the eviction moratorium and an end of the Ellis Act.
“There are more workers than there are profiteers and there are more tenants than there are landlords. And if we stand together and organize like we are today, we can and we will win!”
You can stay up to date with the tenants’ struggle at facebook.com/3661.19th.st.tenants