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KCBS Cover Story Series: Through The Roof – Ellis Act Evicts SF Renters

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A sign advertising an apartment for rent hangs from a fire escape in front of an apartment building July 8, 2009 in San Francisco, California. As the economy continues to falter, vacancy rates for U.S. apartments have spiked to a twenty two year high of 7.5 percent, just short of the record high of 7.8 percent set in 1986. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A sign advertising an apartment for rent hangs from a fire escape in front of an apartment building in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

DougSovern20100908_KCBS_0208r Doug Sovern
Doug began his career as a copy boy at the New York Times, and then...
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Doug Sovern’s KCBS Cover Story Series: Through the Roof airs on KCBS 740AM/106.9FM through Friday at 6:30am, 8:30am, 12:30pm and 4:30pm.

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— Marla Knight has called her two-bedroom apartment in North Beach home for the last 48 years. She raised her kids here, retired and pays a rent-controlled $575 a month.

Now, a Colorado company has bought the building she lives in and is converting it to tenants in common (TIC) units, selling for a million dollars each. Knight is getting evicted.

A wave of evictions of longtime tenants from rent-controlled apartments is sparking angry protests in San Francisco. It’s just one facet of the Bay Area’s housing crisis as cities grapple with a shortage of affordable apartments and homes while the economy recovers and the arrival of thousands of affluent new workers swells the population.

“I’m on a waiting list for senior housing in Petaluma because I had to go an hour out of the area, but you know, it’s a waiting list,” Knight said.

Knight is a fourth-generation San Franciscan living on a modest pension. She begged the new owner, in vain, to let her stay.

“How do you sleep at night,” she asked the new owner. “And he said, ‘It’s just business.’”

A dirty business, according to Tommi Avicolli Mecca with the San Francisco Housing Rights Committee. “How is it possible morally that this situation could exist where people are being pushed out, low-income people, 97-year-old women,” he said.

Often it’s because of the Ellis Act, the state law that allows an owner to take a building off the rental market, according to attorney Steve Collier at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.

“These are people who are buying properties that are for sale, evoking the Ellis Act, evicting all the tenants and then selling the units as TICs.

Avicolli Mecca said even more landlords are getting around that law, by offering tenants under-the-table buyouts or threatening undocumented immigrants.

“People are being pushed into really unpleasant living situations where there’s 20-30 people living in a house,” said Avicolli Mecca.

In the Mid-Market corridor, suddenly buzzing with one tech company after another, landlords are kicking tenants out to convert to more lucrative office space. That’s what’s happening to Chandra Redack, who’s rented at 1049 Market for nine years.

“I used to dream about living here when I was a teenager and I finally moved here. This was my life-long dream and I’m losing it,” she said.

Redack fears she’ll have to give up her job at Rainbow Grocery because she may have to move, too far away.

“Not only is this tech boom hitting San Francisco it’s also hitting Oakland and San Jose,” said Redack. “I’m getting worried if I can find a place in the Bay Area and keep my job.”

Janan New with the San Francisco Apartment Association said landlords are losing money because of artificially-low rents. “If they want to sell their building, they have a right to sell their building,” she said.

But tenants said they’re getting squeezed out rapidly changing neighborhoods. Gentrification is the buzz-word, perhaps thrown out all-too often as we’ll explore in part three of our ‘Through the Roof’ Cover Story special series.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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