Homelessness is one of San Francisco’s most pressing social crises, and eviction is one of its primary causes. The shortage of affordable housing further compounds the problem. Despite the market correction after the dot com bubble, San Francisco still has a vacancy rate well below the national average and rents that are dramatically out-of-proportion to wages. These factors combine to make San Francisco one of the most expensive rental markets in the country. The burden of this rental market falls especially hard on the disabled, the elderly, immigrants, ethnic minorities, persons with AIDS, and large families. Many people in these communities are threatened with eviction if their income decreases even a little.
When forced to live without a home, families break down, individuals suffer from deteriorating mental and physical health, children miss out on education, and every family member faces an increased risk of being victimized by crime. These consequences put even more pressure on our already stretched health, education, and social service systems.
A more cost-effective way to address the crisis of homelessness is to prevent individuals and families from losing their homes in the first place.
Though many programs exist to help those already without a home, these programs all face the monumental challenge of re-establishing stability in the lives of people with few or no resources. A more cost-effective way to address the crisis of homelessness is to prevent individuals and families from losing their homes in the first place. This fact illustrates the importance of prevention: limited resources can accomplish more by preventing a problem than by trying to remedy it after the fact.
The EDC puts the principle of prevention to work on the problem of homelessness by providing specialized legal assistance and education about tenants’ rights to families and individuals facing eviction. Our services give low and extremely low-income tenants the specialized assistance they need to navigate the vastly complex legal system in order to have a chance to keep their homes. In the same proactive spirit, our rental assistance program lends a hand to tenants who have fallen behind in rent because of crises such as a family health emergency, an injury at work, or the theft of rent money. Despite drastic cutbacks in services to the poor during the last decade, the EDC remains a solid fiber in the safety net that prevents the poorest of the poor from slipping into homelessness. For tenants facing eviction in San Francisco, the EDC is the last hope to prevent the Sheriff’s knock at the door.
Preserving Affordable Housing
San Francisco’s unique geography is a blessing that makes these seven square miles a unique place in the United States. However, this geography also means that the City suffers from constant housing pressure and is under the ongoing threat of becoming an enclave where only the rich can afford to live. The San Francisco Rent Ordinance is crucial to preventing this trend because it protects long-term residents from the booms of the rental market. In addition, it automatically creates affordable housing each year without the need for costly construction projects funded by the taxpayer.
The EDC gives low-income tenants the knowledge, practical assistance, and financial help that they need to protect their existing affordable homes.
However, because the Rent Ordinance allows unrestricted rent increases if a unit becomes vacant, each eviction of a long-term, low-income tenant means that San Francisco loses another unit of precious affordable housing. Although the Rent Ordinance is supposed to protect tenants from wrongful evictions, it only works if enforced. And enforcement is only possible if tenants have the knowledge and resources necessary to assert their rights. This is where the EDC steps in by giving low-income tenants the knowledge, practical assistance, and financial help that they need to protect their existing affordable homes.
Another goal of our work is to prevent minorities, the working poor, families, and the disabled from being displaced out of San Francisco. Diversity is part of the essence of our city. Diversity means that our community welcomes people of every ethnic and racial distinction. But true diversity also means that we welcome those with fewer economic resources. What would San Francisco become if the people who cook our food, clean our offices, and inspire us with their art were excluded from living in the City? True diversity is only possible when affordable housing is available. By assisting tenants to remain in San Francisco, we help preserve the diversity and character of the neighborhoods that make San Francisco a place for people from all walks of life.
Equal Access to the Law
Eviction cases are heard in civil court, where no public defenders are provided, and it is impossible for people in low-income households to afford a private attorney. Therefore low-income tenants are left to defend themselves at court without legal representation. Landlords on the other hand have experienced attorneys who specialize in eviction cases. To compound matters, landlord-tenant law is vastly complex and the courts have a system of strict and confusing bureaucratic rules. Because of the adversarial nature of our legal system, even tenants with strong defenses are likely to lose their cases unless they have knowledge of the law and the skills to articulate their defenses.
At the EDC we help to balance the playing field in eviction cases by teaching tenants about their rights, how to meet the court’s deadlines, and how to represent themselves.
At the EDC we help to balance the playing field in eviction cases by teaching tenants about their rights, how to meet the court’s deadlines, and how to represent themselves. We also provide assistance to tenants in negotiating with their landlords and refer appropriate cases to our partner agencies for full representation. Through our new Trial Project, we can now represent some tenants whose cases do not settle at settlement conference.