Intercept

Intercept

Mission residents trapped in a “chasm of income”

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Mission residents trapped in a “chasm of income”

Clarion Alley street art condemns landlord Kaushik Dattani for using the Ellis Act to evict tenants. Photo by Michelle Lee

Clarion Alley street art condemns landlord Kaushik Dattani for using the Ellis Act to evict tenants. Photo by Michelle Lee

Clarion Alley street art condemns landlord Kaushik Dattani for using the Ellis Act to evict tenants. Photo by Michelle Lee

Clarion Alley street art condemns landlord Kaushik Dattani for using the Ellis Act to evict tenants. Photo by Michelle Lee

Louis Tonkovich, Michelle Lee, and Diego Garcia

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Lower income residents of the Mission District are being displaced more rapidly than anywhere else in San Francisco. 

The Mission District is “ground zero for gentrification,” said J. Scott Weaver, a tenant lawyer who works with the San Francisco Tenants Union.

A study from the Urban Displacement Project (UDP) shows major portions of the Mission undergoing advanced gentrification and ongoing displacement. Out of the displacement typologies that the UDP classifies, these are the most extreme levels of gentrification.  

Although housing crises of the past have had a significant impact on the Mission District, the Rent Control Ordinance of 1979 ensured low-income residents affordable housing for several years. According to Weaver, there are two types of gentrification: gentrification of displacement and gentrification of eviction. Gentrification of displacement occurred in Mission in the seventies and eighties. Landlords would evict lower income residents to make room for higher paying tenants, but those who were evicted could still find affordable homes in the area. However, in recent decades, the rise of the tech sector has changed the whole process. 

“If you look at tech, you’ll see a direct correlation,” said Weaver. “It became very apparent to Mission residents that their homes were being threatened.” 

In cities like San Francisco, the Area Median Income (AMI) rises if the residents of a particular area become wealthier. The AMI effectively raises the bar for what all tenants are expected to pay, regardless of income. When tenants fall below market rate, they become at risk of being evicted, or displaced by their landlords. Usually, tenants who fall below market rate are older and have lived in the area for a longer time, and cannot compete with the younger, well-paid population of the tech sector. 

The Clarion Alley Mural Project is home to many political street art pieces in the Mission. Photo by Louis Tonkovich

Theoretically, the Rent Control Ordinance of 1979 keeps their homes affordable and protected. But a 1985 state policy, the Ellis Act, effectively provided a loophole for landlords. The act allows landlords to evict tenants if they are “going out of business” and have different plans for their property. In reality, the Ellis Act has become a legal way to evict lower-income tenants and raise the rent. 

Landlords can convert their business into a Tenancy in Common, which allows them to continue renting individual units, but at a higher price. More often, however, a landlord will threaten to use the Ellis Act and pressure the tenant into leaving semi-voluntarily. This allows the owner to raise prices without converting their business. This process, called a buy-out, combined with many other exceptions to the Rent Control Ordinance, has allowed displacement to continue, and even accelerate.  

Clarion Alley mural expresses the discontent lower-income residents feel towards the commodification of their city. Photo by Louis Tonkovich

Eddie Stiel is a volunteer with Food Not Bombs, a direct action group that gives free vegan meals to the homeless. He said that the combined pressures of AMI, the Ellis Act and rising rents trap communities in a “chasm of income” where rents skyrocket and the market rate rapidly rises. 

Stiel said that when the housing market is driven by those who can afford to pay the most, the only people who benefit are the wealthiest 10 percent of the population. 

Mural on Clarion Alley examines the morals of evictions. Photo by Louis Tonkovich

Both Stiel and Weaver said that more funding for public housing would be a possible route towards ending the processes of eviction and displacement. 

One long-standing organization that has been combating and alleviating the effects of gentrification and rent prices in San Francisco is the Women’s Building, located in the heart of the Mission District. The organization deals with a wide array of social issues, from unemployment to homelessness. It allows lower-income families to achieve a respectable standard of living through the prospects of employment and housing. The Women’s Building also allows its undocumented attendees to achieve a status of legality. 

The organization advocates for the leveling out of economic and social disparities within San Francisco, including residential disparities and employment. Programs Director Tania Estrada spoke about rent and what demographic comes to the Women’s Building looking for help.

[Soundbite: Tania Estrada on Low Income Families] “So, in San Francisco, studio average rent is about $3000 per month. So, it’s more than $30000 per year. Our community members and the people that we mostly serve are very low income families and with that I can say that these are families that earn less than $20000 per year,” said Estrada.

The tech sector in the Bay Area has been pivotal to the frenetic rise in rent prices and displacement. As a result, the Women’s Building has experienced a strong increase in its requests for help. The rapid development of the tech sector has resulted in the uncontrollable arrival of young tech professionals with considerable incomes into traditionally working-class districts such as Mission.

[Soundbite: Tania Estrada on the Tech Sector] “So, the fact that we have such high-tech and very well-paid jobs, has made an impact in our community and in all San Francisco I would say,” said Estrada.

In turn, this has led to the gradual exclusion of traditional residents and the establishment of middle-class oriented businesses, amplifying gentrification in the Mission District.  

[Soundbite: Tania Estrada on the Housing Crisis] “We are seeing this movement in the city where they need to live and look for other places which is also making an impact in their lives because they are breaking communities,” Estrada said.

One encounter that garnered public outrage and backlash was when the home of Tony Rapp and Patricia Kerman was threatened by Mission District landlord Kaushik Dattani. After rooming together for more than 15 years, the two tenants were given notice that they were to be evicted, per the Ellis Act. Kerman is an elderly woman, and this eviction vastly limited her options. Dattani has a history of evicting tenants, and in 2007 he evicted more than 10 of his residents. 

When asked to comment, Dattani said “I do not wish to be disturbed,” and hung up.

Rapp and Kerman continue to fight the eviction notice, but with the odds stacked against them, maintaining affordable housing in Mission seems to be a luxury most can’t afford.

About the Writers
Photo of Louis Tonkovich
Louis Tonkovich, Staff Writer

Louis Tonkovich is a rising high school senior from Orange County, California. He enjoys reading and listening to music, and is passionate about social...

Photo of Michelle Lee
Michelle Lee, Staff Writer

Michelle Lee, a rising sophomore, attends international school in South Korea. She is a committed athlete, competing throughout the year in track and cross-country....

Photo of Diego Garcia
Diego Garcia, Staff Writer

Diego Garcia, formerly from Spain, is a rising high school junior living in Toulouse, France. He is trilingual in English, French and Spanish, and was...

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