"Vultures of Greed" Speech Given During ACT-UP/San Francisco Anniversary Rally:
(Saturday, April 20, 2013)
My name is Jeremy Mykaels. I have AIDS and I am being evicted through the use of the Ellis Act. While I've said this before, I am not a public speaker and I'm still really not comfortable doing this. However, I also strongly believe that if people don't speak out on issues of importance to the community, then change is not possible. So, comfortable or not, here I am.
I want to welcome you to my home for the past 18 years, and to my Castro neighborhood where I've spent the last four decades or 2/3 of my life. I have been part of or have been witnessed to, a lot of gay history in the making, as so many of you have. I was there at some of the earliest Gay Pride Parades and Castro Street Fairs listening to speakers like Harvey Milk and seeing entertainers like Sylvester with Two Tons 'O Fun and Patrick Cowley. And I proudly voted for Harvey to become the city's first openly gay supervisor. I participated in the fight against the Briggs amendment which would have outlawed gay teachers in California schools. I walked in the candlelight march honoring the lives of Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone after their assassinations by Supervisor Dan White. And on the night after Dan White was sentenced to only seven years for his crimes, I was at 18th and Castro right across from the Elephant Walk bar when the police who had been previously brutalizing Castro Street protesters stormed that bar and subsequently attacked patrons as well. And I've been here for many other protests and for many other celebrations.
And like most of you, I've seen how HIV and AIDS have devastated this community over the years and I have lost most of my closest friends and lovers to this disease as I'm sure so many of you have. Until 12 years ago I thought I had somehow miraculously escaped it's clutches, but that was not to be and I have been dealing with that reality as best as I can ever since with mixed results. And now on top of the great losses this disease has cost our gay community, even more losses are occurring in the form of more and more long-term tenants with HIV/AIDS living in rent-controlled apartments being forced to move out of their homes and/or out of the city after being evicted through the use of the Ellis Act, or who have been scared and bullied by just the threat of an Ellis eviction into accepting low buyout offers to vacate, because they don't feel they'd be able to withstand the rigors and stress of an extended legal fight that they probably can't win.
I had always thought that I would spend the rest of my life living in this neighborhood and city that I love. Now I know that, like so many others before me who found themselves in similar situations, I will have no choice but to move out of my neighborhood and my city because I will no longer be able to afford to live here after I am forced to vacate my home. Having been unable to work and living on a fixed income for the past 12 years, it is only because of rent control that I have been able to continue to afford living here for this long. Now with sky high rents, a comparable one bedroom apartment in the Castro is totally out of my reach. And even if I could get some kind of housing assistance, it is doubtful that I would be able to find a subsidized apartment in the Castro which is so central to my needs - near my doctors, pharmacy, stores, and public transportation and where I feel safe.
Today the city is undergoing a new tech boom 2.0 and as a result of the systematic dismantling of our city's rent control protections by state laws like the Ellis Act and Costa-Hawkins put into place by the Real Estate Lobby, landlords can raise rents on vacant apartments with no limits because there is no longer any vacancy controls, or they can just go out of the rental business altogether and evict all the building's tenants including seniors and those with disabilities like HIV and full-blown AIDS most of whom, like me, will have no other option but to leave the city - again, because of the extremely high rents. And what do we get in return - a one year extension to vacate and a little over $8500 for moving expenses which is hardly just compensation for losing our homes of 15, 20, 25 years or longer. And then these owner/speculators will turn around and sell these apartments as T.I.C.s or, as in my case, merge them to sell as a single-family dwelling adding to the loss of even more affordable housing units in the area while making these speculators huge profits.
So this tech boom 2.0 has really brought out what I call the Vultures of Greed, a de facto alliance of banks, the real estate lobby, and, whether unwittingly or not, city officials like the Mayor and several supervisors, including my own supervisor for the Castro district, Scott Wiener. In my opinion, either this man is bought and paid for by the moneyed interests in this town as a list of his campaign contributors might indicate, or he is their unwitting dupe. In either case, he has proven through his actions that he is not on the side of renters in this city and he doesn't seem to care too much about economic diversity in the Castro either. A year ago I sent Mr. Wiener a letter detailing my situation and asking for help. Here is his e-mail reply: "Hi Jeremy. I received your letter. I'm not sure if there's anything we can do, but my office will look into it. I'm very sorry to hear about your situation. That's really awful." signed Scott Weiner. Since then however, I have received absolutely no follow-up from Mr. Wiener or his staff, so I guess he wasn't really all that sorry. Also, I'd like to point out, if I'm not mistaken, I have read about other California city governments that have found ways around the Ellis Act to discourage real estate speculation in their cities and they didn't have near the degree of speculation we have. So I think it is more a matter of being willing to do something about it and this Board of Supervisors and Mayor are just not willing.
Another member of the Vulture alliance worth noting would be the San Francisco Planning Commission, whose members are appointed by the Mayor and the President of the Board of Supervisors, and who seem to align themselves way too often with owners ruling against residents even when such rulings totally contradict the Planning Dept.'s own stated Master Plan Priority Policies. Two of which seem particularly applicable to the Castro today. Policy (2) states, "That existing housing and neighborhood character be conserved and protected in order to preserve the cultural and economic diversity of our neighborhoods"; and Policy (3) states, "That the City's supply of affordable housing be preserved and enhanced." So how well do you think the existing housing and neighborhood character have been conserved and protected in the Castro in order to preserve our gay culture and just what has been done to preserve our economic diversity? And where is all this preserved and enhanced supply of affordable housing in the Castro? I can't find it and believe me, because of my circumstances, it's not like I haven't been looking.
It is obvious to even the casual observer that for the
past several years now these policies have been all but ignored in
our neighborhood planning and in the city in general by the members
of the Planning Commission, all in the name of economic progress -
or in other words, money before people.
But the worst Vultures of Greed have been the real estate speculators - many of whom I have listed on my website www.ellishurtsseniors.org. And here I would like to call out my own personal Vultures as a prime example of how uncaring real estate speculators can be. The new owners of this property are Cuong Mai, William H. Young and John H. Du, and their business entity is 460Noe Group LLC based in Union City. These are truly callous individuals who knew from the very beginning that they had a person with AIDS living in the building and soon after they bought the place they began threatening me with an Ellis eviction if I didn't accept their low-ball buyout offer and vacate. On September 10th, 2012 they subsequently Ellised the building and served me with eviction papers which means that I will only have until September 10th of this year to legally occupy my apartment. All these men want is the highest profit they can get after they remodel and re-sell this building. They could care less what happens to me when I am forced to move out of the city and no longer have access to all my HIV specialists who have kept me alive for this long. A prospect I'll admit that, yes, scares me. But these guys, they won't lose even a seconds sleep over my fate.
Of course I am far from the only one having to deal with an Ellis eviction. I imagine some of you are as well or soon may be, or maybe you have already been evicted under Ellis or you know of someone who has. Yes, the Vultures of Greed are soaring high with sharpened talons ready to feed upon our city's seniors and disabled, and on what's left of our already decimated San Francisco Gay community so ravaged by the many deaths of our brothers and sisters from AIDS. But we don't have to allow it. There is power in speaking out. For in speaking out, people will listen and then hopefully others will speak out and more will listen, and so on. If a cause is just, then with time and perseverance it will prevail. History tells us so. Together with our growing number of allies, we can change minds and we can eventually reclaim this city from the Vultures of Greed. But it will take time and it will take perseverance and it will take a lot of speaking out .
Finally, most of all I just want to thank you all for caring.
Thank you for caring about the survival of a strong, gay community
in the Castro and throughout San Francisco. Thank you for caring
about those of us who are seniors and/or disabled, about those
of us struggling
everyday with HIV/AIDS, and about those of us being evicted,
or in some cases foreclosed on, and thrown out of our homes
and forced out
of our own city. Thank you for caring for people like me by
taking part in actions like this and speaking out in protest against
the Vultures of Greed. And thank you for listening.