THC Attorney Raquel Fox represents three long-time residents who choose to have compassion for the new owners evicting them from their long-time home.
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Leaving without shame
Three tenants opt to move, rather than fight new owners they like.
By Katherine Seligman
Of the Examiner Staff
They were two Latino families who rented apartments in the same neighborhood and struggled to make a living. After 32 years of saving, one family was able to buy a duplex. That meant the other family lost its home.
In mid-October Teresa Olea and her longtime friends Anita De Leon, 70, and De Leon’s mother Carmen Maldonado, 94, had to leave their home of 20 years. It was a wrenching move. “It’s the American Dream to purchase a house,” said Olea, sitting in the living room of the Florida Street home she left behind earlier this month.
“I don’t think (the new owners) are evil because they want to own a house.”
Olea, De Leon, and Maldonado received their first eviction notice a year ago, but got a reprieve when The City placed a moratorium on evictions that oust elderly long-time tenants. After that moratorium was overturned by the courts (another one has since been enacted), another notice arrived last summer. They decided to fight it.
But that was before they met the new owners in person. Manuel Partida is a maintenance worker for Muni. He and his wife, Esther, saved money over three decades to buy a building where they could live with their children in adjacent units, according to their daughter.
“They feel horrible,” said Lucy Contreras, an executive assistant at an architectural firm. Shortly after her parents bought the building in 1997, she moved into one of the flats. Her sister moved into the cottage out back. “We didn’t buy the building to rent it,” said Contreras. “It’s a home.”
The Partidas served an eviction notice on Olea and her friends, expecting to move in next to their children.
But the attorney representing Olea and her adopted family felt they had a strong case. There was no disputing the facts: The two elderly women, Anita De Leon and her 94-year-old mother, had lived in the apartment more than 10 years. They were clearly protected by The City’s moratorium on owner move-in evictions.
No one, especially not Attorney Raquel Fox with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, expected what happened when Olea met Manuel Partida at the legal deposition.
“I realized these were working people too,” said Olea, a housekeeper. “I cried and then I stood up and told them how I felt. I said, ‘We’re not trying to hurt you. It’s just that we can’t find a place to live.’”
Olea said De Leon and Maldonado agreed with her. Their “Bible-trained consciousness” as Jehovah’s Witnesses convinced them they were doing the right thing, she said. They decided not to fight the eviction.
‘We decided that if we won, the consequences would be severe,” said Olea. “We felt compassion for them. We took the loss, which for us was severe too. It’s caused us a lot of grief.”
The three women anguished over finding a place. Olea said she felt ashamed to tell people she was evicted. At one apartment house, the manager shouted at her, “Just pay your rent,” assuming her eviction was based on nonpayment of rent. They scoured newspaper ads and dropped off applications. Finally, a week before the deadline to move, they found an apartment in the neighborhood. It is small – with only two bedrooms – but will have to do.
Contreras said she’s waiting for her mother, who helps her with child care, and father to move in. If her family had known about the moratorium and the elderly tenants in the building, she said, they probably wouldn’t have bought it. “We never heard about it until the paperwork was done,” she said.
Olea hasn’t recovered from the disruption of moving and said Maldonado’s health has suffered, but feels she did the right thing. “We wanted to carry a good conscience.” she said. “We left with our heads held high.”