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Family faces eviction from Excelsior home

August 14, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

A family in San Francisco’s Excelsior District got a reprieve July 30, when a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that a tenant was not properly served with a complaint for alleged non-payment of rent for the yellow house on London Street.

The case will now be continued and tenant Francisco Morales will fight the eviction in a jury trial, attorneys said.

The family of Vilma Morales and Morales is living on the edge financially, said St. James pastor Father Jose Corral, who said a prayer during a rally and vigil in front of the home July 27.

Francesco suffered a stroke three years ago and cannot work and Vilma makes very little, Father Corral said.

“They are extremely poor and they do not have a place to go,” said Father Corral, who witnessed the St. Anthony of Padua parishioners’ marriage 15 years ago. Vilma is involved in the Hispanic Charismatic movement and is part of a weekly intercessory prayer group at St. James, he said.

The rally was the latest in a series of rallies at the home which have attracted television and radio coverage. The rallies are part of a campaign by San Francisco Organizing Project, the Bay Area arm of the PICO National Network, to raise awareness of the rising number of evictions of low income residents.

“Starting this week SFOP/PIA will be holding a prayer vigil every Thursday with a family who is facing eviction. Join us as we will pray with our most vulnerable community members and call for a more just society that cares for all of its people,” an email from SFOP sent before the July 27 rally noted.

The landlord, Jamie Lee, contends that the family did not pay all of its monthly rent of $3,200 rent and therefore can be evicted under state law, said Joseph Bravo, Lee’s attorney. That is disputed by the attorney for tenant Francesco Morales, Thomas Drohan of Legal Assistance to the Elderly.

The case is just one in a Bay Area-wide trend of tenants being evicted for various reasons – and having nowhere else to go because of the skyrocketing cost of housing driven by the tech boom and real estate speculation in the Bay Area.

By connecting the family with Drohan, Lorena Melgarejo, community organizer for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said that she feels she has empowered them to defend themselves.

“The good thing is they are going to have their opportunity to go to court,” said Melgarejo.

While San Francisco has tenant protection laws, many of those facing eviction in San Francisco do not realize their rights, she said. “What we are trying to do is to lift up this moral crisis we are seeing around us. Those who are poor, those who are less connected to resources – the marginalized are getting pushed out of our cities. There is a problem with that.”

Many are moving to Stockton and Merced where a home might cost $150,000 but there is little work, she said.

The July 27 rally at 606 London St. attracted community organizers from around the country who were attending a PICO National Network leadership training at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos that week. PICO is a national community organizing group, founded by Jesuit Father John Baumann in 1972, that works closely with religious congregations of many denominations to effect economic and social change.

“They wanted to be able to support the family and a lot of the training is about how do we put our faith into action and it was a great opportunity to do that,” said Jennifer Martinez, executive director of San Francisco Organizing Project, the local arm of PICO.

“This family, they really didn’t know what their rights were,” said Martinez.

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