Homes Not Jails urges unused building takeovers in San Francisco

Tom Boland (
Tue, 20 Jul 1999 10:13:09 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  San Francisco Examiner  Saturday, July 17, 1999


     Group urges unused S.F. buildings
     be taken over by those who need them

     By Kathleen Sullivan
     of The Examiner Staff

At first glance, the announcement looks like a real estate advertisement:
"2126 Steiner. 6 large units -- all vacant since October of 1998 when
landlord "Ellised' the building. Steiner at California. Great neighborhood;
near stores, MUNI."

But the notice on the Web site of the San Francisco Tenants Union isn't
aimed at potential renters or home buyers.

"Squatters!" it says. "Ellis Buildings Available Now!"

The month-old campaign is a project of Homes Not Jails, a San Francisco
group -- affiliated with the tenants union -- that helps homeless people
move into vacant buildings.

The Web site lists the addresses of five buildings vacated under the Ellis
Act, a state law that allows landlords to take their property off the
rental market, evict tenants and move into the vacant units, sell them as
condominiums or demolish them.

The buildings listed on the Web site have been empty for nine months to two

Even though it's legal to get rid of tenants under the Ellis Act, Ted
Gullicksen, office manager of the tenants union and a founder of Homes Not
Jails, finds it loathsome.

"It is particularly nefarious to evict people under the Ellis Act when
there are already so many homeless people living on the street," Gullicksen
said.  "Where there are vacant and abandoned buildings, people should be
allowed to live in them. Squatting is a form of civil disobedience. It can
be a matter of life and death for someone who is homeless."

He said most of the homes listed on the Web site were located in marginal
neighborhoods that were on the verge of being gentrified.

The property owners, Gullicksen said, may be evicting tenants to get around
The City's rent control law, which limits rent increases that can be
imposed on existing tenants.

He also alleged that owners had left the buildings vacant because they
planned to re-rent them later at a higher rent -- a violation of the Ellis
Act -- or sell them in the future when their values rose.

Under the Ellis Act, owners must charge the old rents if they put the
buildings back on the rental market.

Homes Not Jails has helped some homeless people squat in some of the
buildings listed on the Web site, said Gullicksen, but no one is in them

Those who do respond to the call by Homes Not Jails to squat in the vacant
buildings may find themselves a new home of sorts -- behind bars.

"Folks who squat would be subject to arrest on misdemeanor charges of
trespassing or loitering on private property," said Clarence Johnson, a
spokesman in the San Francisco district attorney's office. "They could get
a maximum of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine."

Edward Conner, owner of the Steiner Street building, could not be reached
for comment on the squatting campaign.

Another one of the targeted buildings is a single-family home known as
Black House, at 6114 California St.

The dilapidated house once served as the worldwide headquarters of Anton
LaVey and his Church of Satan.

"What a charming service they're providing," laughed Todd Werby, a
spokesman for owner Cass-Bagley Corp., when he learned of the Homes Not
Jails campaign. Werby said the company was considering the property as a
development site for condominiums.

Aaron Peskin, president of the Telegraph Hill neighborhood association,
also got a laugh out of the campaign, because one of the targeted buildings
is owned by Charlie Crocker, a descendant of railroad and banking baron
Charles Crock er.

The neighborhood group was recently foiled in its attempt to block
Crocker's plan to build a "mega-mansion" on Telegraph Hill. Crocker plans
to merge the four-unit apartment building at 1403 Montgomery St., from
which he evicted tenants, and the house he bought next door.

"As president of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Neighborhood Association, I'm
not encouraging people to squat anywhere on Telegraph Hill or in the
building that will become Charlie Crocker's mansion," Peskin said. "But
that's an entertaining thought."

Homes Not Jails is also encouraging people to squat in a two-unit building
located at 144-146 Shot well St.

Owner Ken Burge said the building was sitting in the middle of an equipment
rental yard. He had hoped to demolish the house and expand the commercial
space on his property, but he was denied a permit because it is a
historical building.

"We would like to turn it into a commercial space because everything around
it is commercial," he said.

He'd be happy if someone wanted to move the building, but he discouraged
people from squatting.

"There are drugs going through there every night, right in front of it," he
said. "It's a bad area."


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