Just when it seemed San Francisco’s housing crisis couldn’t get any worse, it showed up in the frail frame of a 98-year-old woman. Mary Phillips, who has lived in the same apartment on Dolores Street for 50 years, was threatened with a no-fault eviction. And then, just when it seemed things couldn't get worse—they got better.
On Friday afternoon, the real estate firm that had been threatening Phillips under the state's Ellis Act—which allows landlords to evict tenants when they are removing the building from the rental market—issued a statement saying that Phillips could stay after all. The statement read as follows:
"Urban Green Investments and 55 Dolores Street, LLC have offered Mary Phillips the opportunity to remain in her home for the rest of her life with no cost to Mary. This offer was first communicated to Ms. Phillips’ lawyer in March 2014, and has been the topic of negotiation ever since then. Contrary to recent reports, we have always planned to provide for Mary in this way. We have made no comment about Ms. Phillips’ situation to this date as we have been negotiating with her attorney in good faith, but the recent media reports have made today’s comment necessary in order to clarify the facts."
However anti-eviction activists have raised concerns about that offer, with Phillip's attorney, Steve Collier of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, issuing his own response:
"Urban Green Investments (UGI) has filed a lawsuit to evict Mary Phillips, although they have not served it yet. Instead, they are proceeding with litigation against her close friend and caregiver Sarah Brant, who also lives in the building, understanding that if they evict Sarah, then Mary cannot remain as the sole occupant of a building that is being turned into a construction zone. The reality is that offering the 98 year old Mary Phillips the opportunity to live alone in a construction zone without her close friend and caregiver being able to stay in the building is an illusory offer, and UGI knows that. If they were truly concerned about Mary’s welfare, they never would have served eviction notices in March of 2013, or would at the very least have told her then that she would not have to move at any time. UGI always intended to evict Mary, but the media attention to Mary’s plight has changed UGI’s attitude, not any concern for her wellbeing [...] UGI’s efforts in publicizing settlement discussions is an attempt to deflect media attention away from their speculative evictions of seniors and disabled long-term tenants at this and other properties that they have purchased."
According to the Examiner, Phillips was served with an eviction notice in April of last year by her landlord, Urban Green Investments. A large real estate company with several properties in San Francisco, Urban Green brought the property in 2012 for $2.5 million. Using the Ellis Act, a state law that allows owners of rental properties to exit the market, they are evicting numerous San Francisco residents by buying buildings and then selling the buildings.
But Phillips says she refuses to go down without a fight. She has attorneys working on her behalf and has quickly become a media figure, appearing in local and national news reports detailing her plight. Numerous protestors surrounded the downtown offices of Urban Green Investments this past Wednesday in a show of support for Phillips.
A bill by state Senator Mark Leno, which would have restricted the use of the Ellis Act, enjoyed wide support from the city's political and business commmunities but was recently defeated in Sacramento, putting at least a temporary halt of statewide efforts to amend the law. The most-widely watched Ellis Act eviction last year was that of the Lee family, who were evicted from their Nob Hill apartment in October. Hundreds rallied in support of Poon Heung Lee, age 80, his 74-year-old wife Gum Gee, and their 48-year-old developmentally challenged daughter Shiu Man. In that case, with the help of the Chinatown Community Development Center, the Lees managed to move into a new apartment in Chinatown.