Free Eviction Defense on SF June Ballot

Grassroots mobilizations for Prop F
Dyan Ruiz, Joseph Smooke | 05/18/2018

Transcripts

Dyan Ruiz, [people. power. media]

A Proposition is on the June ballot that, if passed would provide free legal representation for tenants facing threat of eviction. The measure, designated as Proposition F is also called "Defend San Francisco Against Evictions." It was put on the ballot through a grassroots effort to gather signatures. That effort resulted in thousands more signatures than needed.

Deepa Varma, San Francisco Tenants Union

I think the feeling in the air has been that folks are terrified all over the City that they're going to be next and having a champion beside them if they ever wind up in that situation made all the difference.

Dyan Ruiz, [people. power. media]

Coming off that momentum, there are mobilizations every weekend leading up to the elections with hundreds of volunteers. Most are coming from the San Francisco Tenants Union and the City's chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. 

Mia, Democratic Socialists of America

I've been to at least five of these and there's been a lot more and every time we come out, we actually run out of maps for people to walk.

Dyan Ruiz, [people. power. media]

Mia says that the measure will even the playing field when it comes to eviction cases in the City.

Mia, Democratic Socialists of America

San Francisco is a city where tenants have a lot of legal rights, but in 90% of eviction cases, landlords have a lawyer. Tenants don't.

Dyan Ruiz, [people. power. media]

Staff of tenant counseling and advocacy organizations see the gap in services that tenants need to exercise their rights under the law.

Joy Lee, Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco

A lot of times, when tenants come in, the landlord has already hired an attorney to start the eviction process which is actually a legal process. So, we will have to refer the tenant to an attorney, but most of the time, tenants can not afford to hire an attorney. So, with Prop F, tenants will get the opportunity to hire an attorney and defend themselves so they won't get displaced and they can stay in the home that they have.

Dyan Ruiz, [people. power. media]

Some have raised concerns that Proposition F will help tenants get out of paying their rent or other lease violations. But there is no legal defense for these type of violations. Having a lawyer doesn't get around this. Deepa from the San Francisco Tenants Union knows first hand that without Proposition F, only a lucky few are able to get the legal defense they need.

Deepa Varma, San Francisco Tenants Union

I worked for five years at the Eviction Defense Collaborative representing folks in just that capacity, and every week, we would have to turn people away who had real defenses and who had sympathetic facts. Pregnant women who were about to be evicted. People with terminal cancer. We would have to choose between three or four people to pick one. Or five or six people and pick two at the very end of the road about who was going to have a lawyer and who wasn't which meant who was going to be able to stay and who was going to get evicted.

Dyan Ruiz, [people. power. media]

The only paid opposition to Prop F comes from the San Francisco Apartment Association. They say evictions are rare and are most commonly for violations of lease terms such as non-payment of rent. They advocate that programs such as this that are low cost and no cost should only be for low income or other qualified residents rather than having legal help available for everyone. They also point out that the cost of the program will come out of the City's General Fund. Darby is one of the volunteers. She doesn't think that there should be any restrictions on free legal help.

Darby Thomas, tenant and volunteer

One criticism of the measure is that shouldn't only people who deserve it; only the very poor or the very desperate; shouldn't they get free lawyers and then everyone else should have to pay their fair share? And what a lot of people I don't think realize is that that would be something like $30,000 and I don't have what is the equivalent of my rent for a year just lying around. I'm lucky I have a really good job in tech and that's still an expense I could never afford.

Dyan Ruiz, [people. power. media]

Election Day is June 5th and polls are already open with San Francisco also choosing a new Mayor. These volunteers are hoping to turn out as many tenants as possible which is why they're coming out strong in neighborhoods like Parkmerced. Prop F needs over 50% to pass. This is Dyan Ruiz for [people. power. media]

Community Engagement

We don’t just report on people power efforts, we believe in people power.

Our work includes participating in the community-based, grassroots efforts that we report on. Joseph Smooke is currently the Program Assistant and was previously the Program Director since October 2015 at Housing Right Committee of San Francisco.

Learn More