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Eviction Threat Drives Man to Suicide, His Mother to Despair

Sing Tao Daily, News Report, Ken Hu, Translated by Vivian Po Posted: Dec 03, 2009

Wen, 82, has not left her house for almost a year, even though her home is just a block away from the prosperous and busy Columbus Avenue of San Franciscos North Beach neighborhood. Her heart sinks deeper as each day passes because her eviction notice was due several weeks ago, while images of her passed away son often reappears. Having to leave this home? Wen says, I will not leave this place, I will live here until I die.

Wen has been living in North Beach since 1962. Her husband, Mr. Chu, was a Chinese-American veteran who fought in World War II and several wars in the Philippines. Her son, Daniel, was born in the United States in 1966. After living at her current apartment building for nearly half a century, Wen received an eviction notice from her new landlord last year in November, requiring her and her son to move within 120 days.

Son commits suicide, Wen loses 40 lbs.

Daniel, 42, had just lost his job when he received two eviction phone calls and the second eviction notice, and he decided to end his life by hanging himself after learning that one of his neighbors living downstairs had already moved out. When Wen opened the door and witnessed the tragic scene, she cried out for help from the neighbors but it was too late. Since then, Wen has suffered badly from heart pains. She visited the emergency room multiple times, lost 40 pounds and began taking a dozen types of medications. Only recently has she become more emotionally stable with the support from neighbors.

My son was very well behaved, he listened to others, he was born and raised right here. He just lost his job back then, and after receiving the eviction notice, he kept walking back and fourth in the hallway and often lost sleep at night. Sometimes, he would ask me, Mom, where can we move to? I could only comfort him by saying, I dont know, but dont be afraid. Later, he found out that the neighbors downstairs moved away and he wouldnt stop saying, We are going to be next. Then, he decided to hang himself right there that night, described Wen, who was pointing at the room where her son committed suicide, tears running down her face.

New Landlord Places For Sale Sign on Building

Wens case is not unique. The apartment building where she lives has six units and they used to belong to one landlord. However, a new landlord purchased the building in November 2007, and turned it into Tenancy in Common (TIC), where each unit would be sold for $300,000. At the same time, the new landlord is also evicting the tenants using the Ellis Act, a state law that permits landlords to convert entire buildings from rental uses to condos or TIC units. In Wens building, only one family moved out earlier on, and the remaining ones are all low-income Chinese seniors, with the newest tenant living there for 14 years and the oldest tenant, a 90-year-old World War II veteran, living there for more than 60 years.

Driven by the huge profits, the model of purchasing a building-turning it to TIC- evicting tenants using the Ellis Act is increasingly common in the North Beach neighborhood. A long-time local tenants rights advocacy group, Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), said they have received reports of five similar cases in the past two years, with 32 living units and 103 tenants affected. Of the affected tenants, 32 of them are 62 or older, 12 of them are disabled, and 13 of them are minors. CCDC believes the number of affected tenants may actually be higher because there may be cases where landlords or developers came to agreement with the tenants, or some evicted tenants did not seek help through them.

Tammy Hung, senior community advocate with CCDC, is offering assistance to the affected tenants. She said these tenants have lived in the district for many years, paying around $400 to $700 rent and it is impossible for them to afford a new place of similar size at their current rent anywhere in North Beach. Moreover, many landlords are unwilling to rent to seniors in the first place. So, low-income seniors may end up with no place to stay and become homeless.

Among the five remaining families in Wens building, a majority rely on government subsidies, receiving an income about $700 per month. One of the tenants pointed out he could barely make ends meet after paying rent, utilities, food and medicine every month. If he needs to rent a new place costing at least $1,000 per month, his income could not even cover the rent. He said, There is no way for us to find housing outside. If we need to move, we cannot continue to live.

Although the Ellis Act is state legislation, it doesnt mean the city government has no means to fight it. David Chiu, president of the Board of Supervisors, representing District 3 (North Beach/ Chinatown), expressed his sympathy to the tenants. Aware that similar evictions are on the rise, Chiu recently proposed legislation to prohibit landlords who evict seniors using the Ellis Act from applying for garage construction permit for10 years.

Supervisor David Chiu Expressed Sympathy

Chiu explained that many apartment landlords want to build garages in order to enhance the value and attractiveness of the property. Actually, the current legislation already prohibits landlords who use the Ellis Act from leasing the unit at a higher rental price for five years. Therefore, many landlords choose to leave their units empty for five years while applying for the garage construction permit. CCDC complied statistics regarding Ellis Act cases between October and December of 2008. They found that almost half of the cases are related to the garage construction permits.

The main point is are we are willing to see low-income seniors and new immigrants evicted from the North Beach district in order to make way for the wealthy? said Chiu.

With the help of CCDC, the Asian Law Caucus and the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, tenants located on Jasper Alley have decided to stand in unity. However, they are uncertain about tomorrow. All they know is the worst case scenario is they will be evicted before Christmas. When asked what their wishes are for this coming Christmas and New Years, they all said, We hope that we dont need to move.

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