San Francisco mayor intervenes to help Ellis Act-evicted family stay in home temporarily 

click to enlarge Lee family
  • Evan DuCharme/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • From left, married couple Poon Heung Lee and Gum Gee Lee join with Gen Fujioka, policy director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, on Monday to protest their impending eviction from the home they’ve rented for decades.
Only about a dozen people stood outside the Lee family’s Jackson Street apartment Monday — a far cry from the more than 100 who rallied on their scheduled eviction date last week — but the elderly couple still smiled.

Gum Gee Lee, 73, peeled and proudly wore a neon-green sticker that read, “STOP Ellis Act evictions! SAVE our homes!” in three languages. She, her husband and their disabled daughter would not face their court-mandated eviction for the next 10 days, she learned hours earlier, thanks in large part to Mayor Ed Lee.

The Lees’ case is the first that tenant advocacy groups can recall in which the Mayor’s Office contacted a landlord directly to hold off on an eviction under the state Ellis Act, which allows building owners to evict tenants in order to leave the rental market.

“It’s a San Francisco family who are in need of city services,” said mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey. “And the mayor wanted to make sure that there’s time to help them stabilize their housing situation, at least find some transitional housing with the longer-term goal of more permanent housing.”

Jeffery Woo, the attorney representing the Lees’ landlord Matthew Miller, said the Mayor’s Office reached out Friday and his client agreed to the 10-day stay over the weekend. They alerted the Sheriff’s Department of the hold Monday morning.

“I work with many landlords and this has never happened before in my experience,” Woo said.

But Woo did not believe Wednesday’s demonstrations by supporters of the Lee family influenced the decision.

“When the mayor approached me about it, it was a reasonable request that my client found no difficulty agreeing to,” Woo said.

Miller, who bought 1506-1510 Jackson St. in January 2012 for $1.2 million, started offering buyouts to longtime residents four months later. He gave the Lees a year to stay — they are the last remaining tenants in the eight-unit complex — and additional relocation money that elderly and disabled tenants are entitled to.

Half of the relocation funds — up to $15,632.69 and an additional $3,473.93 per elderly or disabled tenant — have already been paid out, Woo said.

The Lees’ stay coincided with the mayor announcing Monday that he is adding $250,000 for free legal advice to families facing illegal Ellis Act eviction threats. The funds come from the Human Services Agency, which already provides nearly $8 million in overall eviction defense and homelessness prevention services in San Francisco, a $1.3 million increase from last year.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing also increased funding for tenant counseling services by 63 percent, to $700,000, bringing the total to more than $2.3 million in eviction prevention services.

For the Lees, though, 10 extra days and more help to find housing comes with no guarantee.

Since receiving their eviction notice, they have filled out more than 30 applications for affordable and low-income housing, including one in Oakland, which sent the most recent rejection.

The search for another three-bedroom that would cost the $778 per month they currently pay seems “impossible,” Poon Heung Lee, 79, who retired 14 years ago as a hotel housekeeper, said in Cantonese.

“The lottery exists so people can sometimes get lucky and win,” Gum Gee Lee said in Cantonese. “So maybe we’ll win the housing lottery.”

Ted Gullickson, longtime director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, said he hopes the rare stay granted to the Lees is only the first of many.

“We are facing an epidemic,” he said outside their apartment. “This is a crisis we’re seeing all over the blocks here, all over The City. We will be doing this at as many sites as we can in San Francisco. We will stop this eviction and the next eviction and the next one after that.”

San Francisco Rent Board data shows an 81 percent increase in Ellis Act evictions since last year. The 116 ordered between mid-2012 and mid-2013 is an increase from 43 evictions ordered in 2010, which follows a decade with at least 144 evictions per year.

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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