Angered by senior evictions, Filipino American activists decline award

A protest outside the International Hotel from 1977. Image from

The board members of a local Filipino heritage organization, with ties to a high-profile eviction defense battle at San Francisco’s International Hotel in the late 1970s, have declined to an accept an award that San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee had planned to extend to them as part of a Filipino American History celebration because they are angry about a growing trend of senior evictions.

In a written statement sent to media by board member Tony Robles, the Manilatown Heritage Foundation explained that it couldn't accept the award as long as “elders are being preyed upon, evicted and given a de facto death sentence thereof.”

The Manilatown Heritage Foundation board members were informed by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu that Lee had planned to recognize the I-Hotel as part of an annual cultural history celebration at City Hall, the statement noted. “Part of the occasion was to honor the I-Hotel and its many tenants and activists for its contribution to Filipino American history,” board members explained.

In 1976, the I-Hotel was targeted for demolition, prompting an historic eviction defense battle led by housing activists who rallied to the defense of the impacted tenants. A significant fixture in what was once a predominantly Filipino neighborhood known as Manilatown, the I-Hotel housed 196 tenants, predominantly low-income Filipino immigrants. 

“The I-Hotel fight was for dignity and it lived by the premise that housing is a human right,” Manilatown Heritage Foundation members explained in the written statement. “The fight for the I-Hotel galvanized the community around the fight for affordable housing, particularly for seniors—who sacrificed much and on whose shoulders we stand. The fight included tenants, elders, activists, artists and students who recognized that the real estate developers and financial interests were out of control—power unchecked.” 

The fight dragged on, at one point more than two thousand people surrounded the building to blockade the doors in an effort to prevent an eviction from going forward. The battle over the I-Hotel also brought on a famous San Francisco episode in which then-Sheriff Richard Hongisto served five days in his own jail for refusing to carry out the eviction order. In the end, the tenants were finally ousted. But the epic battle ultimately helped to produce a different outcome, many years later: The property became the site of low-cost senior housing, complete with a commemorative display in the interior documenting the dramatic I-Hotel fight.

As a young attorney who worked with the Asian Law Caucus, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was involved in that fight – as an activist defending tenants’ rights to stay. He frequently referred to this chapter of his personal history while running for mayor in 2011, to demonstrate his sensitivity to concerns about affordable housing.

But now that Lee is well into his mayoral term, a surge of evictions of low-income seniors is worsening on his watch. Tenant defense organizations such as Eviction Free San Francisco are showing up outside landlords' homes and offices to protest eviction notices that threaten to push low-income seniors with few options out of the city. Some evictions have caught the attention of mainstream media, such as the ouster of elderly Chinatown couple Gum Gee Lee and Poor Heung Lee and their disabled daughter, Shiuman Lee.

Some advocates have proposed legislative solutions; meanwhile, the situation has evidently become so criticial that even city’s Human Services Agency is seeking outside assistance to provide eviction prevention services for elderly and disabled tenants facing Ellis Act evictions.

And today, the board of the Manilatown Heritage Foundation drew a line in the sand to send Lee a clear message by refusing to accept the honor of recognition in the current housing climate. So far, mayoral spokesperson Christine Falvey has not responded to the Bay Guardian’s request for comment in response to the Manilatown Heritage Foundation's statement.

“Given the current state of San Francisco housing by forces out to make a killing by killing our communities, we as the torch bearers of the I-Hotel struggle and in the memory of its displaced elders and advocates Al Robles, Bill Sorro, Felix Ayson, Wahat Tampao and others, cannot, in good consciousness, accept any honor or award while elders are being preyed upon, evicted and given a de facto death sentence thereof. And it doesn’t matter if the honor is bestowed by Mayor Lee, President Obama or the pope. We have to say no.”

Here’s the full statement from the Manilatown Heritage Foundation. Here's an historical essay about the I-Hotel from Shaping San Francisco's digital archive at


damn Red Sox won again.

Makes about as much sense. It's not Lee's fault that some tenants get evicted. It's the law.

And exactly how long ago was the International Hotel anyway?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

this is simply a barricade against trolls

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into repetitive reactionary hyperbole, and/or petty, mean spirited personal attacks and irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by plkdfjl on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

Yes, I agree. I am not sure how Mayor Lee is responsible for evictions in San Francisco? All the current landlord tenant laws have existed long before his administration, and most of the evictions occur under state law (i.e. the Ellis Act) which has nothing to do with local government. Also, I do not see how refusing to accept an award related to Filipino heritage helps to "draw a line in the sand" about evictions?

I could perhaps understand if the award were being given out by a developer or a landlord known for evicting tenants, but refusing a city award that has nothing to do with landlord-tenant law because you are upset about something occuring among private parties makes little sense to me. If I were mayor, I would just say, "Okay," and give the award to some other Filipino leaders.

Posted by Chris on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

Act eviction there because, since it doesn't have rent control, there is never a reason to Ellis.

Seems like a better choice for these disenchanted filipinos.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

Are you suggesting that Filipinos should just move to their designated reservation/homeland/bantustan on the periphery?

Posted by marcos on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

Russians move to Richmond and Hispanics move to the Mission.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

SF is only diverse up to a point.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

The I-Hotel was 36 years ago, but to the mentally ill it was yesterday.....

Posted by Guest on Nov. 05, 2013 @ 6:44 pm
Posted by Guest on Nov. 05, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

No hyperbole there then?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

If your boss says you need to accept $1/hour to keep your job, you'll walk out and do something else, right? It's not enough to cover your living expenses anyway.

The same thing applies to being a landlord. Many accept pennies on the dollar in rent in SF. Getting $500/month on units that cost them $1000-$2000.

If you want to prevent evictions, what you need is to get rid of rent control.

If you don't, then the math will not work for many landlords. At some point, they'll give up, sell to a speculator, or do an Ellis themselves.

It's a very easy issue. If you remove the incentive of being a landlord (a pesky little thing called cash flow), then he'll get out of business.

Posted by Usual Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

Almost every SF landlord is making a profit on his rental property even rent controlled properties that have long term tenants.

The Ellis Act boosters here complain that rent control provides them with lower returns than alternative investments (for now), not that landlords actually lose money on the units. If that were the case, they'd just walk away and no one does in SF.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

He is still legally responsible for maintaining the building, paying the bills etc.

The only options are sell or Ellis. And the only buyer will be someone intending to Ellis.

The lost opportunity cost is real, and a vital factor especially for small landlords relying on rent for their income.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 7:50 pm

throughout this not-so-great land of ours. Not so much in SF with its high property values.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:00 pm

and CA is in fact a non-recourse State.

But as a landlord, you have responsibilities that you cannot just walk away from.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

No one buys a building unless the rents cover the expenses. If they do, they are stupid and the government doesn't usually bail out stupid investors. The landlord can do what every other investor does who made a bad investment - sell the asset (stock, bond or real estate) to someone else and let it be their problem.

If a landlord's costs rise significantly, the Rent Board has a quick and easy process for documenting the landlord's income and expenses and allowing the landlord to recover the excess costs from the tenants via rent pass-throughs. Since in most landlord situations the annual allowed rent increase is more than adequate to cover the insurance, mortgage, maintenance and repairs, landlords do not qualify for rent pass-throughs.

Landlords by their nature are very greedy, always wanting more and more rent income to fatten their already thick wallets. And landlords tend to be very whiney. Apparently a few landlords like to bitch and moan on the internet, including the sfgate and SFBG websites. If they had any commmon sense they would sell their buildings to one of the hundreds of investors who would like to buy it and be done with it. But no, bitching and moaning suits them much better. It's best to just ignore them.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:20 pm

You obviously have never been a landlord and have never done one. They are a nightmare. You need as many mounds of paperwork as for a court case. In fact, it is effectively a court case, just in front of an administrative law judge.

Both sides can and probably should have lawyers. It can take months.

And then if you have low-income tenants, they do not have to pay the passthru anyway.

But you are right about one thing. If you do not like the current system you can sell. Sadly the only people who want to buy a building that doesn't pay its way is - you guessed it - the Ellis mob.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:28 pm

My landlord is a kindly woman born in Greece. She struggles with English. She prepared three pass-throughs on her own over the past 7 years and the forms weren't even translated into Greek for her: rebuilding the stairs; rehabbing the bathrooms; and installing a new garage door and adding some sheer walls. If she can figure it out then I'd say most landlords can figure it out, especially since the city funds the Rent Board that will hold your hand during the process and show you how to fill out forms. You're a terrible liar, anon, and your whine to signal ratio is way off-the-charts. It's Nov 1st tomorrow. Don't you have some eviction notices or annual rent increase notices to prepare?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:55 pm

No doubt that is what she did. The fact that there are professional specialists who do that shows that it is not "quick and easy".

And, again, low-income tenants get a pass anyway.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 01, 2013 @ 6:13 am

buys a property for cashflow and long-term financial security. With rent increases compelled to be less than inflation, the income gradually falls short until the owner can no longer afford to keep the building and the investment is no longer viable.

At that point all he can do is either Ellis or sell. And if he sells, the only person who will buy it will be someone intending to Ellis, as otherwise the numbers do not work.

The best protection against an Ellis eviction is to pay a fair rent.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 7:48 pm

more than 40 years later. Is it any wonder progressive policies have sustained such mortal damage, year after year after year?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 5:20 pm
Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 6:49 pm
Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

That would be a promotion for Steven.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:09 pm

Died of breast cancer after being recalled. Kinda sad.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 8:36 pm

Ed Lee trying to revive and coast on his Glory Days as an activist lawyer during the I-Hotel days is sad and grotesque, seeing that he's the enabler/destroyer of old worlds in San Francisco right now. Glad the Filipinos told him where to stuff his "award."

Posted by sfmike on Oct. 31, 2013 @ 9:11 pm

pro-growth mandate. It would be insulting to the 60% of voters who gave him victory if he failed to do that because of some obscure bitter ethnic group.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 01, 2013 @ 6:15 am

"Obscure bitter ethnic group" Way to get racist there guest. Filipinos are the second largest asian group in SF and the largest asian american population in California just check the 2010 census. They also have a long history here in the America's even before there was a United States. Don't hurl racial insults just because you are ignorant about Filipinos in America.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 03, 2013 @ 11:11 am

I really wouldn't know anything about them.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 03, 2013 @ 11:29 am

this is simply a barricade against trolls

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into repetitive deceptions, reactionary hyperbole, and/or petty, mean spirited personal attacks and irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by ujhgu on Nov. 03, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

We need to repeal the Ellis Act. Then landlords could go out of business only by selling the property with the tenants in place. Why should the tenants suffer due to a landlord who couldn't hack it?

Posted by Rocket on Nov. 01, 2013 @ 12:23 pm
Posted by Guest on Nov. 01, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

Most property owners in California own the home in which they and their families reside and have no intention of getting into the rental business. Most property owners probably have a relative, probably a child, who is a renter.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 01, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

might want to rent out their home, perhaps because they move away for a while. And they would like to think that they could get their home back when they return. So why would any of them want to repeal Ellis?

And most of them will not have a relative who rents in a rent-controlled jurisdiction.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 01, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

The use of the Ellis act is meant as an escape valve. Since CA cities can control the level of rent charged on older builds, allowing them also to force owners to continue providing a rental service, even if they're losing money, essentially subjects them to arbitrary dispropriation.

Under ordinary circumstances it would rarely be in the owners interest to invoke the Ellis act, as it's costly and puts significant restrictions on the use of a building and rents even under rent control effectively increase at a rate no lower than inflation. However, through long term restriction of housing supply, the city has precipitated a rent crisis in which the new owner of a building with numerous long term tenants has no option but to invoke the Ellis act and wait out the imposed term of vacancy or convert it to a tenancy in common, i.e. the price paid for a building is never fully discounted for presence of long term rent controlled tenants. And of course existing owners if they want to maximize the value of their building are often lead to invoke it as well.

Posted by jimeh on Nov. 02, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

times the annual rent. If this were true for SF, then it would not matter if rents were low because the price would be proportionately lower. The rental yield, expressed as a percentage, would be about the same for all buildings. This is the situation in areas that are not rent controlled.

But in San Francisco, a rent-controlled building with low-rent tenants can cost 20 to 30 times the annual rent. Many reasons for that but the price of the land often comprises half the value of a property and that doesn't get discounted.

So if you buy an old building, with deferred maintenance, with a rental yield of, say, 3%, then you will be under water on the mortgage alone, let alone the other expenses.

There is no choice in such a situation but to Ellis.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 02, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

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