SAN FRANCISCO, California – On Sunday Homes Not Jails took over a building in San Francisco’s Mission District that had been sitting empty for over two years. The house is the former home of 80-something Jose Morales, who had lived there since 1965 and fought off eviction attempts for 14 years. Morales was finally kicked out of his home of 43 years through the Ellis Act, a state law that caused over 3000 families to lose their homes in San Francisco.
Housing activists and occupation minded activists gathered in the rain at noon [Sunday] at 24th and Mission in San Francisco to rally against the crime of residential building left vacant while people are left out on the streets in the cold and rain.
Homes Not Jails, a direct action nonviolent group that regularly opens up such buildings for people to live in, sponsored the rally. Periodically Homes Not Jails organizes a public action to highlight this tragic situation and take action to show how easily the problem could be remedied. Such was today’s street action.
After rallying in the inclement weather, the assembled marched down Mission Street, chanting “Homes Not Jails” as the Liberation Brass Band added vibrant musical riffs to the mix. The march, accompanied by a large SFPD presence, soon arrived at the former home of Jose Morales at 572 San Jose Avenue in the Mission District. There they were greeted by a group of occupiers who had taken over the building, hanging out banners as the crowd cheered them on. Police fanned out around the area, but took no further action.
A number of speakers, including SF poet laureate Jack Hirschman, articulated many of the reasons the action was necessary, specifically the failure of government on all levels to do a damn thing about houses sitting empty while people suffer and die trying to live outside.
The final speaker was former resident Jose Morales himself. At first overcome with emotion, the Latino octogenarian passionately outlined his struggles to keep his home of 4+ decades, and his decade and a half resistance to eviction attempts by various landlords at his San Jose Avenue home. Morales explained that he was finally forced out illegally through the Ellis Act, a state law that allows property owners to empty buildings if they contend they are going out of the landlord business. Jose Morales was one of thousands in San Francisco booted out of their homes through the Ellis Act by unscrupulous speculators.
The landlord said he was going to turn the property into condos, but when the economy tanked that plan went down the tubes too, and consequently Jose Morales’ home has sat empty for over two years, while Morales himself became homeless.
Meanwhile the mood turned festive at the occupation site. Banners waved in the rain and wind, the brass band funkified the street, and East Bay Food Not Bombs served scrumptious free food, as it had at the rally.
The SFPD, for its part, stood idle. In order to legally take action to oust the squatters, the cops need the landlord to declare the occupiers to be trespassers. Evidently the police were having difficulty locating the (in name only) property owner, and as the afternoon went on, the cops withdrew until they had only a token presence.
And so the occupiers prepared to spend a pleasant and peaceful evening at home, as the heavens poured down their approval.
update: At ~1:30pm April 5th, police evicted the occupiers, charged them with trespassing and released them. More here.
Also, Pancho’s speech at the demonstration.