Dozens of people rallied Wednesday in support of four multi-generational Filipino families facing eviction from their longtime homes at 657-659 Natoma St. in the heart of SOMA Pilipinas, San Francisco’s Filipino Cultural Heritage District.
Tenant advocates and Filipino community activists led the protest outside of the Hearst Building at Third and Market streets to urge landlord Michael Cheung, founder of the investment company Carues Investment Advisors, LLC and has offices there, to rescind an Ellis Act eviction at the building that was filed earlier this month.
“Right now we have hope, [and] we are here today to express that a lot of these people support these families and want them to stay in their homes, and in their community,” said Raymond Castillo, a tenant organizer with SOMCAN.
Cheung initiated eviction proceedings against the families in the four-unit building in 2016, but city rental law requires that a one year notice be given for properties subject to Ellis Act evictions where seniors or disabled tenants reside. At 657-659 Natoma St., at least one unit is occupied by a family that includes a 92-year old senior, a mentally disabled person and a child.
“I never imagined something like this happening to us. We have always been tight knit families, all together, all of us,” said tenant Diane Yumang, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment with a family of six that spans four generations.
“If this eviction goes through, we are trying to find a place to move to but it’s hard here in San Francisco. The rent is really high, we can’t afford it. There are a lot of other people fighting for the same housing,” she said.
Castillo said that for the past century, the South of Market neighborhood has served as a “gateway for Filipino immigrants.”
“Right now it’s [one of the] cheapest places to rent, if they can get a space,” said Castillo. “These families, they didn’t plan to be in the same house, but they all came from the same province [in the Philippines] and ended up living together for 25 years. They hang out on the patio, they share their food, it’s very loving and friendly and it’s been like that for generations.”
Last year, San Francisco recognized the area bounded by Second Street to the east, 11th Street to the west, Market Street to the north and Brannan Street to the south as the Filipino Cultural Heritage District, or SOMA Pilipinas. That designation, however, hasn’t curbed the displacement of a once-thriving community that has been decimated in recent years.
According to Mario De Mira, a community planner for SOMA Pilipinas, South of Market was once home to about 5,000 Filipinos — a recent census count shows that this population has shrunk by about 50 percent.
“Because we are right on the border of the financial district we are feeling extreme pressure of displacement coming right down our streets, up to our doors and pushing our families out,” said De Mira. “With this family of Natoma street this is just an example of how dire this situation is.”
The advocates said that they are hoping that Cheung will either “act in good faith” and rescind the eviction, or for city intervention.
“There is a small sites program where they can potentially purchase land from landlords if they honestly want to get it off their hands,” said De Mira. “But in so many instances we know that this is really a tactic to flip the house.”
Cheung did not immediately respond to requests for comment by press time.