Supervisors' races become the latest flashpoint in conflict between renters and landlords
By Daisy Miao
photo by Daisy Miao
At the corner of Franklin & Grove Streets, a man and a young lady, with dozens of fake $100 bills pinned to their clothing, ask transit passengers: “Can I buy your vote?”
“How much would you pay me?”
“How about 400 bucks?”
The pair, Tommi Avicolli Mecca and Camilla Contreras from the San Francisco Housing Rights Committee, were among the nearly 250 demonstrators who recently were protesting the influence that real estate agents and landlords have on local government, according to San Francisco Tenant Union member Paul Hogarth.
“We are making fun here. But landlords and realtors are buying the election (of Supervisors),” said Avicolli Mecca, Counseling Programs Director for the San Francisco Housing Rights Committee. “We think that it is unfair that people have a lot of money can use their money to affect the election. Democracy means all of the people should have their own sayings in our country.”
The protestors marched around the San Francisco Association of Realtors holding signs saying “Sue Lee loves money more than she loves you,” “Landlords hands off City Hall,” “Landlords play, tenants pay” and “Save rent control.” The demonstration occurred Oct. 23, about 12 days before election day.
The protest was organized because three supervisors who have consistently supported tenant rights will be termed out this November. The protesters want to maintain a tenant-friendly majority on the Board of Supervisors and save the city’s rent control ordinance. Hogarth said that pro-landlord candidates are being backed by wealthy landlords and real estate interests, according to Hogarth.
“They are putting their own people into commercials on cable channels, and flyers,” said Sherry Linker, a resident of Mission District who is working for a public relation company.
Landlords and real estate interests has spent more than $20,000 in District One to fight against the pro-tenant candidate Eric Mar, according to a sign.
Another protestor, Mark Schwartz, who is a member of Services, Employees and International Union, and member of Harvey Milk Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Democratic Club, says: “I support affordable housing. We are organizing people to stand out for their rights, civil and human rights, to protest against infringements.”
“A lot of people rent. Most landlords treat renting as a business that makes money. Now we have a strong ordinance here, so we have rent stabilization,” says Michele Vermeir-Rabrra, a volunteer counselor of San Francisco Housing Rights Committee.
Vermoir-Rabrra is in her 40s. She lives in Russian Hill, and works as a chef in a restaurant at night. She also works two days per week at the Housing Rights Committee as a volunteer.
“I do not have insurance, I pay for the dentist and doctor in cash. I do not have enough money, so I need to save money for emergencies,” she said. “You do not have any real protection. When you do not know your rights, they [landlords] can make your life miserable, really miserable.”
San Francisco Housing Rights Committee is a grassroots organization with 30 years of history which helps tenants to know their rights. They provide services in Chinese, Spanish, English and Russian. They help over 4,000 tenants a year, according to Vermoir-Rabrra.
Vermoir-Rabrra is a supporter of David Chiu, one of the Supervisor candidates of District Three. She says: “He is pro-tenant, and he is famous in Chinatown and Russian Hill. He did a lot for the district. He makes himself available, and he is someone you can talk to. A lot of people feel comfortable around him, and it is very rare that people can feel comfortable around a politician.
“We hope the Supervisors can be representatives of us. We hope them stop putting in more restaurants. We do not want any more restaurants. And we hope them can work with police, to close down the places the kids are hanging out and stop the kids attacking people,” Vermoir-Rabrra added.