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SAN FRANCISCO—Families living in the South of Market area and community advocates participated in a protest along Natoma Street on May 13 to bring focus on the plight of long-time residents, among them Filipino families, who are facing eviction from their homes.
Organized by the Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (APILO), Senor and Disability Action (sdaction.org), South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN) and West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center, the protest centered on Filipino families facing eviction on 521-523 Natoma Street.
According to a press release distributed to media, some tenants in the building received verbal buyout offers from representatives of Big Tree Properties Incorporated, who had recently purchased the building. This was after families claimed that some people had come to look and take photographs inside each unit of the building, and conduct interviews without advising them of the purpose of the “inspections.”
In the same release, it said that upon learning of that the tenants were not interested in the buyout offers, Big Tree Properties sued those tenants, accusing them of, among other things, “poor housekeeping” and of making alterations to the property, as well as various breaches of very minor technicalities within highly complex leases.
According to community advocates, some of the tenants being evicted include Filipino-American senior citizens, including Ernesto Bustos, who is undergoing dialysis.
Bustos, who has been living in the same place for almost 10 years now, said that he is experiencing a lot of stress due to the eviction notices they have been receiving. He is currently being treated at San Francisco General, and missed his dialysis treatment scheduled on May 14 due to a court hearing.
Another resident, Susan Anicete, said that they had tried to find another place in San Francisco, but were unsuccessful. “Mahirap maghanap ng bagong tirahan dito sa San Francisco [It is hard to find a new place here in San Francisco],” she told protesters, adding that their stress levels are really high since receiving a 3-day eviction notice in April.
Anicete told the Asian Journal that the new landlord should have sought other avenues before filing a case against them. “Nu’ng umpisa pa lang, sana kinausap kami ng personal bago mag-demanda. Eh kaso, nagbigay sila kaagad ng 3-day notice to get out [At the start, they should have talked to us personally before filing a case against us. But they decided to immediately give a 3-day notice to get out],” Susan said.
Estrelita Sunga, who held her granddaughter while talking to protesters, echoed the same sentiments as Bustos and Anicete, stating that the stress has been too much for her to bear, especially since she is the only one currently working in their household. “Don’t evict us, as this kind of situation is very hard for us,” she appealed to the new landlord.
Lawyers Maria Segarra and Jason Truong of APILO, who are currently helping the tenants, told the Asian Journal that what is happening to the residents of 521-523 Natoma Street is taking place everywhere.
“Landlords, real estate speculators, people with a lot of money are using a lot of tactics… scaring people, harassing people, not responding to requests for repairs, not doing anything they are supposed to do as landlords… and all for money, all for profit,” Atty. Segarra said.
Atty. Segarra said that while there tenants rights in San Francisco, these do not go far enough. “When all you can do is sue in court or go to the rent board for wrongful eviction, and if you’re already homeless because you are evicted, where would you go? Can you even go to court when you’re already homeless? It does not go far enough,” she explained.
In this case, Atty. Truong said that the new landlord is very aggressive and are “throwing as much paper as they can so the tenants get stressed out.” He said that he has seen some tenants in this kind of situation give up even before they make it to court due to the stress they experience.
While tenants may get scared when they receive a three-day eviction notice and contemplate leaving their place of residence, Atty. Segarra said this should not be the case.
“We see people, largely immigrants, as soon as they get that three-day notice to leave they get so scared because they don’t know what their rights are. So they leave, not knowing that they can stay and fight the eviction. When you don’t know your rights, you’re afraid and you’ll think of the worst, then you’ll leave, you’ll go. But maybe you can stay and fight like what we’re doing today… enough is enough,” she declared.
Angelica Cabande of SOMCAN, who learned of the tenants’ plights through neighborhood organizations, said that they are partnering with other organizations in order to help the tenants stay in their homes.
Cabande also shared information about a new piece of legislation which will be introduced in early June before the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco called the Eviction Protections Act which seeks to strengthen the Rent Ordinance and close glaring landlord loopholes with the goal of keeping tenants in their homes.
“We’re hoping that [the Eviction Protections Act] gets passed within a few months because we really need to fast-track this kind of legislation to continue protecting tenants, not just in Natoma Street but all over the city. And we want to see the Mayor and the other members of the Board of Supervisors support this legislation,” Cabande told the Asian Journal.
According to Cabande, Supervisors Jane Kim, Eric Mar, David Campos and John Avalos are currently in support of the legislation. She said there is no official word yet from the Mayor’s office, although she said Mayor Ed Lee has talked about making sure that tenants are protected and that there’s housing for them in San Francisco.
Aside from pushing for the Eviction Protections Act, Cabande said that SOMCAN and other advocacy groups are planning more protest actions in support of tenants around the Bay Area, as well as phone, email and fax barrages to real estate speculators and companies like Big Tree Properties Incorporated.
For her part, Vivian Zalvidea Araullo of West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center said that the Filipino community should be alarmed about the evictions happening in San Francisco, particularly in the South of Market area.
“The Filipino community is part of the larger community of color that is being evicted from and forced out of neighborhoods,” she noted, citing that in the case of the Latino population, some 8,000 residents have been forced to leave the Mission due to skyrocketing rent and landlord harassment.
The Asian Journal contacted Big Tree Properties Inc. and a representative denied the company’s involvement in the eviction case against the tenants of 521-523 Natoma Street. The representative claimed that Big Tree Properties was only the broker involved in the transaction.
(San Francisco May 15-21, 2015 Sec. A pg.1)