Monday, May 5, 2014

What you talking 'bout Ellis?! (One volunteer's view on the Ellis reform story so far)

By now if you are living in San Francisco, you should be no stranger to the Ellis Act. If you aren’t a San Francisco resident (although this may still be your concern) or are not aware of Ellis Act evictions, click here. Much like scalping tickets, quick and easy profit is the mantra behind this practice. Essentially, investors are making a quick profit on people’s homes, booting out any tenants currently latched on to their “product.”

Tenants Together, where I've been using my social media skills as a volunteer, organized a massive effort on February 18th to call for more Homes & Jobs (SB 391), restoration of the Renters' Rebate, and reform of the Ellis Act. Referred to as the “2014 Tenants’ Day of Action,” it was the “largest statewide tenant rally in decades,“ sending shockwaves through the state capital.

Soon after the fireworks show in Sacramento, Senator Mark Leno introduced a bill on February 24th to limit use of the Ellis Act to those it was intended to help: long-term landlords, not real estate speculators. It's a simple reform of the law that would require landlords to hold on to any properties purchased for a five year minimum before reselling. Any change to the Ellis Act is going to be a big fight.

The first obstacle brought TT back to Sacramento, to face off before the Senate of Housing and Transportation Committee. After a brief warm up rally, Tenants Together filed into the hearing room along with the opposition. “Opponents of SB1439 showed up in droves” on Tuesday April, 8th (Giants home opening day) in a bizarre attempt at discouraging the passing of the bill. Dozens of the opposition, Small Properties of San Francisco Institute(SPOSFI), swarmed the chamber racing for seating and toting signs that read “Keep the Ellis Act in tact"... catchy. Senator Leno entered the room, and soon after the committee was under way.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Tenants Together Director Dean Preston, joined Leno in summarizing principles behind the bill, and detailing their intent to diminish unjust evictions. The committee then requested all supporters to rise, acknowledging the stance of those in attendance. A modest troop favoring reform stood up.

Proceedings carried on as the opposition showcased a theatrical testimony involving a family and a wheelchair-bound elderly man. The highlight of this production would be a story the head-of-household told, illustrating his “American Dream” to own sizeable property in The City, that would board his entire family. He purchased a 7 unit complex, and sought to move in his sick father (wheelchair senior) in efforts to tend to health needs. This dramatic exposition drew up attention amongst the Committee, who then questioned Leno on possible solutions. The Senator calmly addressed this inquisition, referring to “Owner/Family Move-In” that allows a disabled/senior family member, to evict and move into owned property. This landlord shouldn't even need to use the Ellis Act.

Shenanigans continued as the large mob of opposition cheered and clucked in response to their outspoken colleagues’ rants, rapidly patting their palms together after exclamatory phrases like “this bill is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!” They didn't even seem to know what the bill was actually about.

At the conclusion of the opposing testimonial parade, the Committee again requested the members in protest of the bill to stand and be recognized. A thunderous tremor erupted as the opposition raced to their feet hoisting their signs, fanning their hands.

After an hour long clarification round of questioning and opinion sharing, the present Senators hung on a vote of 2-3, in favor of not passing the bill. 

Tenants Together and supporters crowd surfed their way through the halls littered with the opposition and took solace in the cafeteria awaiting the final tally. It was tense. Finally, Director Dean Preston interrupted the quiet murmur to announce “breaking news;” the bill passed the committee! Senator Leno and Mayor Lee came in to thank everyone, as one could feel the news rejuvenate and breath fresh life into huddle.  

We fought through what felt like insurmountable odds and victory in this instance means we can keep fighting. The next barrier to overcome in the Ellis Act reform bill, will again take place in the state’s capital, before the Judiciary Committee on May 6th. Your support is needed in helping this journey to stand up to wrongful evictions. Sometimes people find it easier to accept the negative consequences forced upon them, but passionate volunteers and displaced tenants that won't give up remind us that adversity can be challenged, and something can always be done in the struggle against injustice.

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