Housing Project: Advocating for Vulnerable Tenants and Homeowners

I am elderly and have no family here in the Bay Area. I have only a limited fixed income, not even $1,000 per month. I was robbed on his way home from the bank. My rent was stolen and I was not able to pay rent. When my landlord sued to evict my, he did not care about my situation because he wanted get me out so he could raise the rent. With the help of my lawyer at API Legal, I negotiated with the landlord and moved to a better place with lower rent and additional services for seniors.” – Client of API Legal Outreach

Ana was in her early 20s with three young children. She fled from an abusive relationship a couple of years ago and was between jobs. She responded to an advertisement for rental house, signed the lease agreement with the “landlord,” and paid about $7,000 to secure the rental. A few weeks after she moved in, she received an eviction notice. It turned out that the “landlord” who posted the ad was not the real owner. The true owner was a bank that allowed the property to remain unoccupied and neglected. The bank considered her a trespasser and sought to force her and her young children out of their home. Through API Legal Outreach’s legal advocacy, the eviction action was dismissed, Ana received some relocation assistance, and the court record was sealed.

API Legal Outreach’s Housing Project works on behalf of vulnerable tenants and homeowners to prevent homelessness and preserve affordable housing. Many API individuals and families find it difficult to access legal assistance in obtaining and preserving housing, given the language barriers they face and unequal access to housing-related information. API Legal Outreach seeks to bridge this gap by providing legal services to low and moderate-income API tenants in San Francisco, many of whom are at risk of losing their homes and rental units as a result of redevelopment efforts, as well as elderly tenants in San Francisco who face significant barriers to services given their limited proficiency in English.

While we celebrate the success stories these individuals, the stark reality persists: for every tenant who is represented in an eviction action, nine others do not receive the legal advocacy they need. As more and more landlords seek to evict tenants for any small violation, having an attorney means the difference between maintaining stable housing and becoming homeless. API Legal Outreach’s housing project ensures that San Francisco’s rental housing does not become a luxury available only to its wealthy patrons.

San Francisco, with its impressive architecture, hip local bars, and world-famous tourist attractions, is a coveted residence for many. This, coupled with the recent wave of foreclosures and the bustling technology industry in the Bay Area, has resulted in the increased demand for rental housing—and consequently, rising rents—in San Francisco.

Decades ago, the local government enacted the Rent Ordinance to ensure that long term tenants with limited incomes are not forced out of their rental homes as a result of rising rents. However, the reality is that many tenants remain at risk for eviction. In too many instances, the current rental market rates are double, triple, or even four times the rent paid by existing tenants. Once an occupied rental unit becomes vacant, the owner can charge market rental rate for the new tenants. The prospect of increased profits is simply too appealing for landlords. And tenants with limited income and those who speak limited English are usually among the first to be evicted.

Defending Against Evictions of Vulnerable Tenants

The project has worked to enhance and increase access to culturally and linguistically competent services and resources for eviction prevention, rental subsidies, down-payment assistance, relocation assistance, and other services that assist low-income residents. The changing economy of the Bay Area has also led to massive gentrification in historically diverse areas, particular in the city of San Francisco. Much of the rampant displacement is financially motivated, as landlords and real estate speculators continue to push long-term tenants out of their homes in order to either rent these newly vacant units for more money or to “flip” the buildings for massive profit. Landlords have become increasingly aggressive in evicting tenants, as recent studies have shown that in San Francisco, over 90% of landlords in unlawful detainer actions (eviction lawsuits) are represented by attorneys. Contrast this number with tenants, who are represented less than 18% of the time. Needless to say, this number is even lower among low-income tenants.

Low-income tenants in API communities are particularly vulnerable, as landlords have resorted to using informal, and often illegal, means of eviction to take advantage of tenants whose cultural backgrounds create a disproportionate fear of these landlords. This number is clearly reflected in the statistics, which show that while 33% of the San Francisco population identifies as either Asian or Pacific Islander, these communities only comprise 10% of the reported evictions throughout the entire city. This means that many API tenants being threatened with eviction simply leave without resistance and will never get their day in court, much less be given a fair chance to keep their homes. Due to the skyrocketing rent prices in San Francisco, this means that most of these tenants will be forced to leave San Francisco completely.

In additional to the litigation aspects of the project, API Legal Outreach also conducts “know your rights” workshops for tenants in low-income neighborhoods and participates in a number of tenants’ advocacy movements to inspire change in policies affecting tenants. By doing so, we hope to have a broader impact on the community beyond defending individual households against evictions. It must be noted that there are many times when the legal system fails to adequately protect the most vulnerable tenants and different means, such as organizing and lobbying, become necessary to protect these tenants from displacement. API Legal Outreach’s housing project is committed to using all of the resources at its disposal to protect low-income immigrant communities in the Bay Area from encroachments on their ability to provide housing for themselves and their families.

South of Market

API Legal Outreach’s Housing Project was launched with the support of the SOMA Revitalization Fund of the Mayor’s Office of Housing. Unfortunately, that Fund has discontinued its support of legal services for SOMA despite the fact that about 90 percent of SOMA residents are tenants, one-fourth of these tenants are Asian or Pacific Islander, and one of every two residents speaks another language in their home. The prevention of unlawful evictions is required to stop the displacement of SOMA’s API community.

Seniors in San Francisco

San Francisco has a greater proportion of seniors compared to other metropolitan cities, but the percentage of elderly residents in San Francisco is gradually dwindling. Unequal access to information relating to housing persists today, especially among elderly residents. The project’s services are crucial in providing such information through brochures, presentations, and other outreach and education.

Consumer Finance & Mortgage Fraud – Expansion to the Central Valley

API Legal Outreach’s newest project provided outreach, consumer education and legal assistance and representation to distressed homeowners in the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Clinical services in Stockton and Modesto reached the API community especially the underserved Southeast Asian and Filipino communities of the Central Valley. By partnering up with local agencies in the Central Valley such as The Bridge, Lao Family Community Empowerment Inc., El Concillio, and Community Partnership for Families of San Joaquin, API Legal Outreach conducted regular clinics and workshops to empower the communities severely impacted by the housing crisis. Support for this exciting new project has been provided by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris’s office from California’s National Mortgage Settlement funds in order to assist Californians affected by the state’s foreclosure crisis and enforce the California Homeowner Bill of Rights.

The Continued Foreclosure Crisis

Since 2008, millions of people have gone through a foreclosure process or been put in risk
of losing their homes. Despite reduced media attention, predatory lending practices are still prevalent and continue to place many low-income communities of color in particular at risk of losing their homes. In order to respond to the recent wave of foreclosures in the API Community, API Legal Outreach provided free direct legal services to homeowners and tenants at risk of losing their homes or being evicted from a foreclosed property.

Raheel Hayat, who heads our Housing Foreclosure Program, conducts monthly clinics in Oakland, Modesto, and Stockton to assist distressed homeowners and tenets. Services include loss mitigation options such as assisting people with loan modifications, getting their Notice of Default rescinded, preventing foreclosure sales by filing for temporary injunctions, and defending homeowners and tenants in unlawful detainer proceedings. API Legal Outreach works closely with the California Attorney General’s Office to report any widespread scams in the API community related to real estate issues. The program also provides financial literacy training and workshops all over Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus Counties.

Our services in the Central Valley was featured on recordnet.com/ Sunday Record: view the story here.