Housing Activists Rally Behind SF Elderly Couple on Brink of Eviction

By Jean Elle and Christie Smith
|  Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013  |  Updated 11:54 AM PDT
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An elderly couple is on the brink of being forced out of a place they have called home for 34 years under an obscure state law called the Ellis Act, and tenant advocate groups rallied on Wednesday to show their disappointment.

An elderly couple is on the brink of being forced out of a place they have called home for 34 years under an obscure state law called the Ellis Act, and tenant advocate groups rallied on Wednesday to show their disappointment. "Even though this place is old, I have a lot of memories here," Gum Gee Lee told NBC Bay Area through a translator. "It's my last day in this house and I don't know where to go." Christie Smith reports.

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Elderly Couple Out of Housing Options if Evicted Out of SF Apartment

An elderly couple is on the brink of being forced out of a place they have called home for 34 years. Jean Elle reports.
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An elderly couple is on the brink of being forced out of a place they have called home for 34 years under an obscure state law called the Ellis Act, and tenant advocate groups rallied on Wednesday to show their disappointment. 

"Even though this place is old, I have a lot of memories here," Gum Gee Lee told NBC Bay Area through a translator. "It's my last day in this house and I don't know where to go."

On Wednesday, Lee and her husband, Poon Hueng Lee, were surrounded by supporters, beating drums and locking arms, hoping to keep the couple in their home, though realizing that the eviction was pretty much inevitable.

PHOTOS: Supporters Rally Behind Couple on Brink of Eviction

But no sheriff's deputies came at 6 a.m. - the time they were supposed to leave - and the rally was going strong five hours later. Two San Francisco supervisors, including David Campos, were there, saying they wished the city would do more with the overall affordable housing problem.

The 74-year-old Lee and her 79-year-old husband raised seven children in the two-bedroom apartment on the corner of Jackson and Larkin streets in San Francisco. They are now left taking care of their 48-year-old developmentally disabled daughter.

"My feeling is that I am very worried because I don't know what's going to happen," Poon Hueng Lee said through a translator. "I'm elderly, who will rent to me?"

The Lees are alone in the eight-unit building -- their neighbors left, settling with the buildings new owner when he used the Ellis Act to evict them.

Lawmakers said the property owner is not breaking the law. But housing advocates said they are not following the intent of the law.

Omar Calimbas at Asian American's Advancing Justice said Ellis Act evictions rise with housing prices. The act is a state law that says landlords have the unconditional right to evict tenants to "go out of business" once the landlord removed all of the units in the building from the rental market. The act is typically used to "change the use" of the building. Most Ellis act evictions are used to convert rental units to condos, using loopholes in the condo law.

MORE: Details on Ellis Act Evictions

"You target under valued rent controlled properties, get a lender to finance it, you clear the property of tenants to renovate it and resell it as a luxury tenancy in common," Calimbas said. The Lee's are being forced out of their $778-a-month rent controlled apartment.

One-bedroom apartments in the neighborhood start at $2,000 a month.

Lee is shocked by the prices and said the family has nowhere to go. But she is hoping her story will motivate law makers to do something to protect people like her.

"I hope it helps me, but I hope it helps others people too," she said.

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