A group of housing rights advocates held a protest outside San Francisco’s Hall of Justice today to call on District Attorney George Gascon to file criminal charges against landlords who they say are wrongfully evicting elderly tenants.
More than a dozen people gathered on the steps of the courthouse at 850 Bryant St. this afternoon to ask that Gascon file elder abuse charges against a dozen landlords that they say have evicted elderly residents via the state’s Ellis Act.
The Ellis Act, a state law enacted in 1985, allows property owners to remove a building from the rental market to convert it to other uses, such as a single-family home or condominiums.
Critics say the law is being abused by speculators who are making profits at the expense of evictions of long-time residents, particularly in places like San Francisco that have seen spikes in property values in recent years.
Lisa Gray-Garcia from POOR Magazine, a nonprofit group advocating for people in poverty, said the evictions turn criminal when done to elderly tenants.
“These people are unable to move, and when they move, they die,” she said.
Mesha Irizarry, whose son Idriss Stelley was fatally shot by San Francisco police in 2001, said she was evicted last October from her house in the Bayview District, where her son’s remains are buried.
“It felt like my son was killed all over again,” Irizarry said.
She said she has since found a senior housing unit to live in and feels lucky not to be homeless, but has suffered health problems from the stress of the move.
Gascon told reporters at a separate event today that his office will investigate any allegations of wrongdoing, but said, “We have to make sure there is evidence of a crime before we can prosecute a case.”
The housing rights advocates acknowledged that the ultimate action will have to come at the state level. They were joined at today’s protest by Luis Rodriguez, who is running for governor as an independent candidate.
Rodriguez called for a moratorium in California on all Ellis Act evictions and for the state Legislature to repeal the law.
“The Ellis Act is part of a poverty-creating structure that can and must be taken down,” he said.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News