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Richmond is the New San Francisco: City Rejects Moratorium on Evictions

In a dramatic meeting in mid-September, the Richmond City Council rejected an emergency 45-day moratorium that would have stopped the evictions and high rent increases, a major force that is driving out of this Easy Bay city hundreds of medium and low income residents.

The timid resolution proposed by councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin, was defeated with a vote of three against and four in favor. It needed a super majority.

Richmond is the new San Francisco. Tenant advocates and housing lawyers are forecasting an alarming increase of 65% in the eviction cases in Richmond. Only from tenants that pursuit legal aid, “last year we served 730 tenants. Now in September 2016 – we are no even finished with the whole year – we already served 790; if you are doing the calculation, we anticipated that there will be an increase by 65 % of the amount of tenants” facing evictions said Oraneet Orevi a lawyer with the Bay Area Legal Aid.

Particularly, the displacement is affecting Latinos, Black and other minority communities of color that are being served with 30 or 60 days no-cause notices, said Orevi.

For long periods of time council member Nathaniel Bates, who voted against, seemed uninterested, even sleepy, looking at his computer screen like video-gaming, mindless from the more that forty heartrending testimonies of neighbors being evicted. The measure is “interrupting the tranquility of the city … we don’t know how much this is going to cost,” he said in one of his short intervention.

McLaughlin said the moratorium is to “slow down gentrification … It is not about money it is about helping people.”

The moratorium was also to prevent voters from leaving the city missing the November opportunity.  With a poster in hand, the young activist Edith Pastrano said the proposal is “to ensure that there is more time for tenants to vote for rent control and just cause for eviction in the elections. The idea is also to defend democracy because people pushed out of the city would be left without casting their votes,” said Pastrano who works with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).

Maria Escalante, who rents a house with her family on Duboce Ave. in North Richmond, said their four children will be the most affected. “We are paying $1200. Now the owner wants us to pay $500 more. How are we going to get $1700? I have a son who is studying in San Francisco State and the other three are in elementary and middle schools. My husband is the only one who has a job. We were thinking about moving to Vallejos, but it is impossible because my son takes the Bart here in Richmond to go to school across the bay. They want to see us on the street! All they want is to fill up their pockets. It’s crazy!” said Escalante.

To no avail, Mayor Tom Butt tried to annul the vote, alleging that the measure come from an old ordinance. Butt said “rent control is the cause of the housing crisis,” a comment that caused laughter from the audience who packed the city hall.

“They are evicting us, my family, with no motive,” said German Sevilla in Spanish. The same fate for dozens of families living in the apartment building at 24 St. and Garvin Ave. “We don’t have a place to go. It is very difficult to find an affordable place to live. But, while we keep paying the rent they cannot evict us,” asserted Sevilla.

In a poignant moment after the vote, council member Jovanka Beckles stood up and pointing to Butt and Bates said “these are landlords … Shame on you!” The vote, described as a “disgraceful” by the audience send a discourage message to hundreds of Richmond tenant and set the stage for the November elections when voters will face a measure to establish rent control, a rent board and a just cause eviction. Assigned with the letter L the proposition was quickly nicknamed by its proponents as the Proposition Love.

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