A call to arms

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OPINION No one can deny that the San Francisco of the new dot-com boom is a scary place to live. Rents are astronomical: $2,353 is the median rent for a one-bedroom in the Bayview, an area that has never had high rents. Ellis Act evictions are up 68 percent from last year, and buyouts and threats of Ellis (de facto evictions) are skyrocketing. Longterm rent-controlled tenants live in absolute dread that their buildings will be sold to a real-estate speculator who will decide, a month later, to "go out of the business of being a landlord."

Neighborhoods are being transformed, and not for the better. The once immigrant Latino and working-class lesbian area of Valencia Street is now mostly white, straight and solidly upscale. The Castro has more baby strollers per square foot than a suburban mall, not to mention a high rate of evictions of people with AIDS. Along Third Street and in SOMA and other areas, people of color are being pushed out, and the working-class is being replaced by middle-income condo owners. The African American population of the city is down to 6 percent.

Small businesses, too, are being decimated, as landlords demand higher and higher rents and chain stores try and creep into every block. If the demographics of the city continue to change and become more moderate, many longstanding political gains could be lost.

Resistance is not futile.

During the Great Depression, the Communist Party in the Bronx and elsewhere successfully mobilized the working class to block doorways when the marshals arrived to evict tenants. In the 1970s here in San Francisco, the "redevelopment" of the Fillmore and the I-Hotel was met with widespread protests. Then-sheriff Richard Hongisto went to jail rather than evict the working-class Filipino tenants at the I-Hotel. In the late 1990s, organizing to fight the evictions and displacement happening in the wake of the first dot-com boom culminated in a progressive takeover of the Board of Supervisors.

These days, there's no mass movement to fight the evictions and displacement. Occupy Bernal, ACCE and others have successfully stopped the auctions of foreclosed homes, and even twisted the arms of banks to renegotiate some mortgages. Tenant organizations have been holding back efforts to weaken rent control for years.

Where is the building-by-building organizing of renters? Where is the street outreach in every neighborhood? Where are the blocked doorways of those being forced out of their apartments by pure greed? Where are the direct actions against the speculators and investors who are turning our neighborhoods into a monopoly game? Where is the pressure on the Board of Supervisors to pass legislation to curb speculation and gentrification rather than approve tax breaks for dot-com companies? Where is the pressure on state legislators to repeal the Ellis Act and other state laws that prohibit our city from strengthening rent control and eviction protections?

Every moment we wait, more people are displaced from their homes, more neighborhoods become upscale, more small businesses are lost. Progressives wake up.

It's time to take back what's left of our city.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a longtime queer housing activist who works at the Housing Rights Committee. He is editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: the early years of gay liberation (City Lights).