When she was 97, Mary Phillips answered the door of the San Francisco apartment where she’s lived for 50 years only to be served with eviction papers. Now Phillips is 98 and still fighting Urban Green Investments’ attempt to kick her out of her home, and she’s getting some help from her community.
A group of “several dozen” protestors rallied outside Urban Green Investments’ headquarters on Wednesday, according to KRON-4 in San Francisco, to protest the company’s evictions of Phillips and other longstanding tenants. “I’ve been very happy here and I’ve always paid my rent,” Phillips told the station. “They’re going to have to take me out of here feet first.”
The company is using a 1986 state law called the Ellis Act to boot Phillips from her apartment in a building at 55 Dolores Street. That property was bought in late 2012 for about $2.5 million, according to Trulia.com, marking a nearly $1.2 million profit for the previous owners who had bought it in early 2011. In April, 2013, the new owners served Phillips with an eviction notice.
Urban Green Investments (UGI) ranks 19th on the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s “Dirty Thirty” list of property developers. The group says UGI and other developers are abusing the Ellis Act to push disadvantaged people out of their homes in order to flip the properties and cash in on the city’s hot real estate market. The man behind the company has used the Ellis Act 43 times in the past 10 years, according to the group. Ellis Act evictions fell in the wake of the financial crisis, but have been on the rise again as the economy has recovered and San Francisco property values have spiked over the past two years.
The law was intended to protect landlords who wanted to get out of the business from being forced to continue renting properties they would prefer to sell. But the majority of Ellis Act evictions in recent years have been initiated by speculators rather than landlords, according to Steve Collier of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. “What we’ve seen is groups of investors are banding together to buy property, usually it’s when a landlord dies and it’s sold as an estate sale, or when someone just wants to sell to retire and then the speculator buys the property [and] evicts the tenants by using the Ellis Act,” he told the local NBC News affiliate in October.
A state legislator tried to modify the law this year to require that the person initiating an Ellis Act eviction had owned the property for at least five years, in order to ensure that actual landlords rather than profit-seeking property flippers were using the law. But the effort stalled and State Sen. Mark Leno said he will drop it until next year.
San Francisco is rapidly becoming one of the least affordable cities in the country, which is quite a distinction considering that half of all renters in America now face unaffordable rent, and quarter of all renters pay more than 50 percent of their gross income in rent. In at least 90 separate cities, the median rent before utilities comes to more than 30 percent of the median pre-tax income. As of the end of last year, San Francisco was the sixth least affordable city for renters, according to a Zillow study commissioned by the New York Times.