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VOLUME 2, NUMBER 16    <>  MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2001

The colors of money

At 9:07 in the morning on February 28 of this year, two deputies from the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department arrived at my front door to evict me from the apartment that I had lived in for 20 years and 11 months, the apartment in which I largely raised my now-29-year-old son, the apartment which was my residence for more than twice as long as any other place that I have lived in my 53 years.

As a result of my eviction, which concluded a 16-month legal fight to prevent it, I am now residing in southern California, ending my nearly 23-year residency in the city.

Despite my losing the apartment, my battle is not entirely over as I have an appeal before the Appellate Division of the Superior Court. My attorney has noted that while my cause is just, the odds of winning are not in my favor. I have explained to him, if they can do this to me, a white, educated, English-speaking, literate, healthy, native-born male who is not particularly intimidated by the law or authorities, they can do it do anyone and therefore if I don’t fight this, who will?

But let me back up for a moment. The building that I was evicted from was a three-flat Victorian. It was purchased by my landlord in 1969 for $26,000. His annual tax bill is currently $600. I resided in one of the units for just over 20 of the 30 years of his ownership. My cumulative rent over those 20+ years was approximately $150,000. He received additional money from all who occupied my flat for the ten years prior to my arrival and from all who occupied the other two flats for that 30-year period.

For at least the last seventeen years, as a result of rent control and the length of my tenancy, my rent was the lowest of any of the three flats, and therefore the other two units brought in even more rental income than mine did. From the above figures it can be seen that my rent alone paid for the building 6 times over, and I would estimate — although we could figure it out — that all tenants collectively paid the full price of the building perhaps 25 times. On top of that, it only took one month’s rent from one of the units to pay the annual taxes. So much for the absurd line of landlords subsidizing tenants. In my case, and I suppose most cases, in San Francisco, it is exactly the opposite.

Until 2 and 1/2 years ago, when the landlord began to consider selling the building in the face of a hot real estate market, the work he had done on maintenance and repair was at best negligible.

In 1998 the landlord repaired and painted the ceiling of one of the rooms in my flat. Meanwhile, all other painting done in my apartment — the walls and ceilings in every room and the 70+ foot hallway and 55-stair stairway — during my entire 21-year tenancy was done by me at my expense. I should mention that the repair job done by my landlord involved putting sheetrock over the one-half of the ceiling that had fallen — so that it was down to the lath — over the past dozen or so years as a result of three years of roof leaks that finally ended in 1985!!! That’s right, it took him thirteen years to repair the ceiling and he never did the other ceilings that had major cracks from the same leaks more than a decade-and-a-half ago. Two of the ceilings were repaired by me. I go into these details so that there is no mistaken thought that my landlord used the rent money, beyond the minimal amount used to pay for the building and the small sum paid annually for taxes, for maintenance and upkeep of the building.

My landlord sought to and succeeded in evicting me and my neighbors, who had bought his building for him many times over, to turn it into a “tenancy-in-common” and become an instant millionaire, planning to offer each unit for $400,000 in a market that was seeing homes sell for 20 percent above the asking price.

This is the kind of practice that is destroying all the things that made San Francisco a truly interesting and exciting place to live. When I moved to the city it was characterized by its diversity — ethnic, sociological, and economic diversity. It was a beautiful spot in California where working-class people who were trying to raise their families could actually afford to live. It was the home of the beat generation, the place the hippies came to, where countless numbers of struggling musicians could afford to live while they worked to develop their talents and creativity. Culturally it flourished, in part because of the large influx of working-class immigrants.

There were wealthy families and neighborhoods, but they were just a part of the city, not in the majority.

This is the city that Mayor Brown and his ilk are in the midst of destroying, for at least one of the reasons that my landlord wanted me out, MONEY! (My landlord actually had additional reasons that I believe were even paramount to this — i.e., his disagreement with my political views and activities — but money was definitely a part of his consideration.)

Now I find it most bizarre that Mayor Brown should suggest that Supervisor Chris Daly has any resemblance (not physical) to Dan White. If anything, it is Mayor Brown who should be cast in the role of Dan White. With some obvious differences mostly related to hue — i.e., the mayor’s collaboration with the enemies of the poor and working class has created a situation where Brown has more Green than White.

It is Mayor Brown who is in league with the developers — recall Dan White having been pulled into association with the developers of Pier 39 by then-supervisor Dianne Feinstein. All White got was a little potato-skin business while Brown has added to his personal fortune through his participation in 8 IPOs (Initial Public Offerings).

It is Mayor Brown who is wreaking havoc on the residents of the city, just as Dan White did. While Mayor Brown’s bullets do not necessarily come out of the barrel of a gun that he is holding the trigger of, his collaboration with those who are destroying the lives of working people is no less deadly to the hopes and dreams of so many who did so much to make San Francisco what it was.

And if it wasn’t bad enough that the mayor should hurl the Dan White remark at Supervisor Daly with no material justification whatsoever, for the Police Chief Lau to then conduct an investigation against the supervisor clearly shows that not only are the poor (including the vast majority who are working but simply unable to afford the criminally high prices of everything from housing to utilities to gasoline to parking) no longer welcome in San Francisco, but neither are those, including lawfully elected officials, who will take a stand on their behalf.

In 1934 San Francisco was the site of the nation’s only successful general strike: the event stands as the apex of labor unity in the history of the United States. Today, less than seven decades later, it has become a place where all but the wealthy, or those who will do their bidding, are unwelcome.

To quote the chorus on a variation of the Woody Guthrie song “This Land Is Your Land,”This land ain’t your land, this land ain’t my land, until we take a stand and take back our land. This land is longing to be free.”

Mark H. Levine, Ph.D.