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End of an era?

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Mykaels

Jeremy Mykaels has been living in the Castro since the mid 1970s, just shy of 40 years, and in the same apartment on Noe Street for 17 of them. Now he’s being evicted, but not without fighting back.

Disabled Senior with AIDS Ellis Act Evicted

By Ted Andersen

For people like Jeremy Mykaels, the neighborhood isn’t what it used to be.

Leaving his native Ohio behind, he pursued a dream out West, finding himself in Colorado. It was Denver where he came out as gay.

He continued his journey and arrived in the Castro in the mid 1970s in time to experience some of the area’s most iconic moments such as voting for Supervisor Harvey Milk and witnessing the scene surrounding his and Mayor George Moscone’s assassinations and the White Night riots that later ensued.

A graphic designer by trade, he is a musician and artist at heart, and always a member of the Castro neighborhood, his home and community. He saw the scourge of AIDS through the 80s and 90s and in 2001, was tragically diagnosed with the disease himself.

Since his diagnosis, he went on disability and soon after became housebound. He found his apartment, 460 Noe St. #2, in 1995 and has lived there ever since.

Then the three-story building was sold in early 2012 to an LLC formed by three men, Cuong Mai, William H. Young and John H. Du, for $860,000. The outfit, 460Noe Group LLC, informed Mykaels and the occupants of the other two units in the building that they wanted them to vacate. The other two went. Then, after refusing a buyout package offered by the landlords, they served Mykaels with an Ellis Act eviction. Under California law, owners can use the Ellis Act to leave the rental business, and by consequence, legally evict the tenants.

When he went online and started looking at rents, it then hit him: this isn’t 1995 anymore.

Only when this all started did I realize what was going on. I started checking Craigslist and other places about what the rents were in the area. And then I was blown away, like, these can’t be the rents … I can’t afford to live here anymore.”

Jeremy Mykael’s case is an example of a growing trend in the Castro and San Francisco at large: Ellis Act evictions, namely seniors. In fact, Ellis Act evictions have spiked by more than 80 percent from 2012-2013, according to the Rent Board’s Annual Eviction Reports.

They wanted me to move out right away and I already knew I had a year, so why should I do that? It makes absolutely no sense. If I was to try and stay in the city, it would cost me $2,000 more a month on top of what I’ve been paying.”

As a disabled senior, Mykaels had one year to vacate the premises. That one-year period expired on September 10. Now he remains in limbo, expecting an “Unlawful Detainer” notice to come to his door.

If I can’t stay in this apartment with my rent control that I have, there’s no way I can afford anywhere in the city. I’ll end up moving out of the city totally. This has been my home for most of my life now.”

He is fighting the eviction with the help of his pro bono attorney Steve Collier, who works at Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which represents tenants in Ellis Act evictions and receives some funding from the city. Collier said that Mykaels is entitled to $8,500 as a disabled senior.

It’s the same amount whether you’ve lived in the building one year or 50 years if you are a senior and one tenant,” Collier said.

Moreover, according to Collier, Mykaels’ circumstances are not unique.

It’s unfortunately becoming a common occurrence that real estate speculators are buying properties in order to flip them and get rid of low-rent paying tenants or tenants who have been there a long time under rent control. And the values of the buildings tend to be lower because the income is lower because they have rent-controlled tenants in them. So, it is basically trying to profit off the displacement of tenants,” he said. “The city and the state need to do something about this rampant real estate speculation.”

District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener called the Ellis Act “draconian” and “sweeping.” He said that he and like-minded politicians have continually passed legislation to abate the impacts of the Ellis Act but that fundamentally, the law needs to be reformed in the Sacramento legislature.

According to Wiener, State Senator Mark Leno brought an Ellis-Act-amending bill to the state legislature to require a new owner to possess the building for five years before selling it, thus preventing the type of eviction Mykaels has been faced with. The bill did not gain support.

God bless Mark for trying,” Wiener said.

Wiener said the city has a real supply-demand imbalance that has developed over many years where it had a growing population and did not produce very much housing, contributing to an explosion in rent.

We’re going to have a lot of housing in the coming years and I do believe that will take some pressure off. But regardless, we need to keep advocating for a reform in Sacramento, we need to keep building affording housing locally, especially for seniors,” he said. “It’s absolutely awful what’s happening and we all have a responsibility to fight it.”

One organization that took up Mykaels’ battle was Eviction Free Summer, which later became known as Eviction Free San Francisco. The group concerns itself with evictions caused by speculation that ultimately lead to properties being sold instead of rented, thereby reducing the available rent-controlled housing stock of the city.

The organization has done three action on his behalf: a demonstration at the residence of William H. Young, a follow-up phone action, both in August, and then a protest in front of 460Noe Group LLC’s address in Union City, a dentist’s office building on September 14.

Our hope is that they will withdraw this eviction. They can still do that,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a co-founder of Eviction Free San Francisco. “Saving Jeremy is trying to save the neighborhood. That’s part of what we are doing. We’re trying to keep the neighborhood from being further gentrified.”

Eviction Free San Francisco has also advocated for the Lee family in Chinatown, a high-profile Ellis Act eviction of a husband, wife and their adult disabled child who have lived in a 2-bedroom unit for 34 years. On September 25, a crowd of more than 200 housing-rights activists and community leaders spent the morning and early afternoon chanting and waving signs. After the effort, Mayor Ed Lee stepped in and extended the family’s eviction date by another 10 days. The owner, Matthew Miller, allegedly planned to turn the building into high-end tenancy-in-common (TIC) units.

According to Jennifer Rosdail, a local real estate agent, tenants’ rights advocates attempts to restrict condo conversion through Ellis evictions have backfired by creating more permanent TIC housing as opposed to more rental units. She said that the larger pool of TICs has given the banks more confidence in them, which has increased their value.

The TICs have then become more valuable, which, in turn, has led to more evictions, not fewer, and to an increase in profits to developers despite the penalties that have been legislated for properties with Ellis Act evictions,” she said.

Jeremy Mykaels’ situation may drag on for several more months, maybe even over a year, during which time he is entitled to stay put. In the meantime, he has created a website, www.ellishurtsseniors.org, where he has a link on his homepage to a petition through change.org by Eviction Free San Francisco to John H. Du to rescind the eviction of Jeremy Mykaels. He is hoping to gain more support and continue living in his home for good.

460Noe Group LLC Managing Partner Cuong Mai failed to return numerous calls for comment.