Class War of The Rich on The Poor

root - Posted on 15 September 2002

Lack of affordable housing has defined the Income Gap between rich and poor in the city.

by Carol Harvey

An outsider's objective first glance might reveal a class war by wealthy Landlords on low-income tenants,  waged on the battleground of San Francisco's tight rental market.  A June 21, 2000 SFBG article states, "In most cities, falling a week or two behind in your rent is a minor problem; in San Francisco, it's a major catastrophe.  With real estate agents shamelessly enticing landlords to empty their buildings and sell for profit, late rent may be enough to land you and your loved ones out on the street."

Lack of affordable housing has defined the Income Gap between rich and poor in the city.

The following series of skirmishes have been conducted between landlords and tenants, and tenant advocates between 2000 and 2002.

Hordes of rich young people have been moving into the city joining the already ensconced super rich with the money to pay high rent and speculate in the real estate market.

A new Economic Elite wants to drive those with lower incomes out of the city.  Willie Brown is quoted on a Geary sidewalk, "People making less than $50,000 a year have no business living in San Francisco."

Starting before 1994, artistic and creative types have left San Francisco in unprecedented droves because they don't make enough to pay the high rents, a major loss for a City historically unsurpassed for cultural creativity and innovation.

Because of real estate speculation, inflated rents in San Francisco do not match the real incomes people earn.  The old rule was that your rent should never be more than a third of your income, but in San Francisco some people's rent takes up all of their paycheck.

In 1994 I took a Grey Line trip to get to know my new City.  The bus driver/tour guide said most San Franciscans live below the poverty line, and the way the survive is to double and triple up in apartments. 

Middle Income earners, as well, are affected by lower wages and higher rents.  People come to RADCO who make more money than RADCO staff.  Fellow nonprofit workers have come for help with rent during shortfalls.

The new "War on Poverty" is a campaign to harass and banish poor people from the city.  Quality of Life crimes are a form of "economic cleansing," driving the homeless to jail, death, or just "somewhere else," like lemmings into The Pacific, or "Fresno."

Ironically, the system doesn't work without poor people.  Capitalism requires a layer of Poor be "crushed" at the bottom of the pile. They can never be eliminated.  Everybody but the Superrich sink down through the pile, including the middle class.  The Rich can't be rich without the Poor being Poor.  The SuperRich and/or Politicians control the Poverty Monster by constantly threatening it with extinction.  The neverending economic cleansing goes on and on. 

On the Rental Battleground where opportunistic landlords speculate in real estate, the middle class become lower class, a paycheck away from homelessness, and the lower class join the burgeoning ranks of families forced out on the street.

Here are a series of Landlord skirmishes to optimize the financial windfalls from rental properties:

1.The People's Budget set up the Eviction Defense Collaborative to provide free legal help to Poor under eviction threat to help them keep their homes.  In a June 21, 2000 SF Bay Guardian article titled, "Mayor, landlords try to kill eviction-defense funding," Cassi Feldman quotes a barrage of landlord e-mails suggesting The Eviction Defense Collaborative be defunded because free legal advice holds tenants in their apartments longer, slows the eviction process, and costs these opportunistic landlords money. 

2.  Landlords struck again through Ellis Act evictions. Ellis Act is a state law that landlords have an unconditional right to "go out of business."  Landlords reclaim properties by threatening to utilize mass tenant Ellis Act evictions to rid themselves of long-term residents paying affordable rents, or convert rental units into condominiums at a much higher re-sale value using loopholes in the condo law.

3.  The struggle to own a home in a tight rental market has created a situation where groups of people buy a home and create (TICs) or Tenancies in Common. Group landlords then attempt to evict those already in residence by Owner Move-Ins (OMI's) displacing tenants paying affordable rents.

4.  Landlords have created a new way to gouge renters and undermine rent control through Capital Improvement passthroughs.  Prop H was passed in 2001, diverting capital improvement costs from landlord to tenants.  Grandfathered capital improvements have jumped rents astronomically at Lombard Place forcing tenants to their knees financially.  Retired residents in their 60s and 70s are forced back to work for the rest of their lives.

Housing Activists have met Profiteering Landlords with a number of alternative blocking mechanisms or possible solutions to the housing problem.

In 1998, Riva Enteen of the Lawyer's Guild and Rebecca Vilkomerson of Homeless Prenatal noted a surplus in the City Budget. They said,  'Let's use the surplus for unmet needs of poor and working people in the City'.  Stated Enteen, 'They were saying we have to save that money for a rainy day, and we were saying 'For our constituents, it's already raining'."  Enteen and Vilkomerson proposed The People's Budget .

In the year 2000 to 2001, The People's Budget proposed:

Housing $42,242,030

1. Preservation and Creation of Affordable Housing (partially funded 1999-2000)  $36,000,000

Allocate funds to the San Francisco Housing Trust Fund for the new construction, acquisition and rehabilitation, or preservation of affordable housing.

2. Move-in Costs  $2,000,000

Assist homeless and near homeless families and individuals with security deposits and initial rent.

3. Funding for Eviction Representation   $338,000

Provide no-cost legal representation to extremely low-income tenants, and low- or no-cost legal representation to other low-income tenants facing eviction in San Francisco.

4. Back Rent Assistance (partially funded 1999-2000)  $2,000,000

Provide financial assistance to tenants who face short-term financial difficulties that jeopardize their ability to stay in their homes.

5. Emergency Funds for Homeless Seniors and Disabled Persons  $960,000

Assist a minimum of 100 homeless seniors and persons with disabilities to live independently within the community, not "housed" at Laguna Honda or SF General.

6. Affordable Housing Advocacy at the State Level  $15,000

Retain two Sacramento tenant lobbyists to advocate for affordable housing and to push for state measures to address our Cityís housing and homelessness crisis.

7. Low-Income Housing Preservation Fund  $750,000

Replace lost federal subsidy dollars for undocumented families living in affordable housing who face eviction.

8. Supplemental Funding for the Eviction Defense Collaborative for Cantonese Language Services     $25,000

Provide tenant counseling to Cantonese households facing eviction as a first step toward removing the language barrier that impairs their ability to understand and exercise their rights.

9. Move-in Costs for Homeless Families   $100,000

Assist homeless and near homeless individuals and families with security deposits and initial rent.

10. Housing Advocate for Latino Families   $54,030

Hire a Housing Advocate/Social Worker to work with Latino families that have been evicted or are at risk of eviction.

Activists promoting the People's Budget also started the Eviction Defense Collaborative to give legal help to low income renters facing possible illegal evictions.

In 2000, individuals promoting The People's Budget proposed RADCO as a vehicle to help tenants stay in their affordable housing by providing an interest-free loan of one month's back rent.  RADCO'S purpose is to preserve affordable housing by keeping people in their apartments providing back rent during one emergency.  

Originally, RADCO was started as a way to preserve rent control by preventing a unit from flying up to market value if the tenant is forced to leave. 

Now, RADCO has had to expand its program to extend funds to impoverished SRO tenants.  Though RADCo receives requests for rental assistance from every section of the city, the bulk of RADCo recipients are low-income dwellers of The Tenderloin and Bayview Hunter's Point.

Yvonne Cudny of RADCO stated she thinks the housing situation is improving.  A lot of people, especially among nonprofits are excited about Community Land Trusts, a low cost method of affording a house, or a group of people owning a dwelling in common, not the land underneath it which is purchased by a Trust and held in perpetuity.  People in the housing community, nonprofits and artists are purchasing housing on land that will never ever become private property.  Yvone states they can buy affordable dwellings with yards; get mortgages, make repairs, or live collectively with a group.  CLT's may be an fair alternative to Tenancies in Common.

James Tracy of the Coalition on Homelessness' Right To A Roof and others in the housing community have led a promotional campaign for the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, garnering strong local support. for the Fund which proposes the use of surplus interest from Federal Taxes.

In the wake of 9/11/2001, the People are suffering more severe financial hardship than ever before.  However, the Superrich continue to "Capitalize."  According to Riva Enteen, "The budget is not in as good shape as it was the previous four years, but "in this year's People's Budget we included San Francisco's top ten billionaires living in our midst including The Fischers of the Gap, The Gettys and Levi-Strauss, who are worth $21.5 billion.  There are certainly people in San Francisco for whom the economy is doing quite well.  We advocate for progressive tax reform  to improve the budget situation."  Mayor Brown and the Supervisors are responsible to go after the wealthy for their corporate taxes, but they are not motivated to do so "because the Wealthy pay for their campaigns."


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