This Is My Home: Hundreds of tenants organize and resist unjust Trinity Plaza eviction and demolition
tiny and Dee/PoorNewsNetwork
Thursday, March 25, 2004
Light red acryllic carpet fibers rose like steam in the sun strokes that filled the empty lobby of the Trinity Plaza Apartments
It was the summer of 1989, the week after the Bay Area rose up and broke itself in half. My mother and I were barely surviving in Oakland at the time. I had just turned 18 and we were selling art on the street to eat, smarting from a recent eviction and living in a cheap motel at 32.00 a day trying desperately to save money for an apartment. The earthquake took away what little "market" there was in Berkeley for our goofy sold out-no longer art-product and the only way we had a chance to survive at all was if we were able to "set-up" an unlicensed vending booth in the City. So every day delicately wedged between the shattered ruins of consumerism dee and tiny stood forelornly, like charlie brown in the rain, hoping someone would buy even one of our silly t-shirts, so we could eat lunch and put away a couple of bucks toward our homefulness .
One day as I emerged from the civic center bart station i needed to use a bathroom so i snuck into the vast red carpeted lobby of Trinity plaza apartments, with its huge plate glass windows untouched by any earthquake damage - as i did i noticed the sign - Apartments - fully furnished - reasonable prices - available daily, weekly, monthly. I ran back to my mom to tell her the good news, we would move in - this would be cheaper cause we could avoid bart and then we could even work on the union square streets more.
"this place wasn't even damaged by the earthquake", Elizabeth Glover, retired schoolteacher and 15 year resident of the Trinity Plaza Apartments told us in her beautiful teacherly diction. It was almost fifteen years later, and as PoorNewsNEtwork reporters and activist "sup-porters" my mother and I were sitting with the tenants of the Trinity in a tenants meeting discussing the terms of an offer they had just recived from their landlord Angelo SanGiancomo.
On April 7th of 2003 400 residents of the Trinity Plaza Apartments received a letter from Sangiacomo stating that he was seeking a demolition permit and would be evicting all of the tenants so he could demolish their units and build five new condo towers at that site.
From that point on the tenants who were primarily working class elders, youth, immigrants, families and disabled folks began to organize to fight this landlord who was notorious for his horrendous treatment of tenants in other buildings . As well, because there are several trinity plaza tenants who are elders of color –this eviction effort is reminiscent of the I-hotel demolitions that displaced over 5000 asian/pacific islanders from their homes in the 70's
"Once they tell you to leave it puts you under an enormous amount of stress", Ms Glover, a very dignified African-American elder was relating the situation that the tenants have been facing since last year. The Trinity is very convenient for disabled people like myself, there is a store downstairs, a restaurant and elevators that work"
Dee asked Ms Glover what the community at the Trinity was like. "it is a wonderful community of folks ranging in age from babies to seniors with disabilities and a truly multi-cultural group of people" Her statements were proven even in the little meeting - which quickly filled up with African-AMericans, asian and filipinos, latino, white and Native Americans.
"I don't want to move, this is my home", Sally Ramone, 11 year trinity resident, Native American elder, war veteran and San Francisco City employee spoke to us about the difficulty of living in a buidling that would be undergoing massive construction. As of this meeting the landlord had made an offer to the tenants which the tenant advocates who were present at the meeting characterized as "somewhat of a victory" against this very powerful well-connected landlord. Sangiancomo had offered to only let the tenants live in the building while the construction was in progress and then give them apartments in the new building. Although this sounded good on paper there was no clear discussion of comparability -ie the specifics about what kind of units the tenants would be getting in the new building, as well, the new units would not be subject to rent control because they would be so new. They recieved this offer, the advocates said, because of their effective resistance
Throughout the struggle of the last year, the tenants and their advocates lobbyied the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to change the loophole in the law that allow landlords like San Giancomo permits to demolish. From that effort an anti-demolition ordinance was born. This legislation would protect sound housing in buildings with 20 or more units from demolition and preserve existing rent controlled housing for all San Franciscans, including those at the Trinity Plaza. This legislation would have passed except that our new landlord-friendly mayor Gavin Newsom vetoed it, perhaps because Newsom recieved over 15,000 in campaign contributions from Sangiancomo's family. District 8 supervisor Bevan Dufty has waffled on the issue and is now the deciding vote needed to override the veto.
"San Giancomo attempted the same eviction in the 80's and only because of the strong organizing by tenants it was halted, In a follow-up call to Sam Dodge, from the SRO Collaborative, one of many tenant advocacy groups involved in this effort , including SF tenants union, Housing Rights Committee and many more. He continued, "That's why we need to get this legislation on the books" If people want to help, they should contact Bevan Dufty's office and ask him to support the Anti-Demolition ordinance"
One month after the earthquake, my mother and I moved in to apartment 215 at the Trinity Plaza Apartments- replete with a faded gold couch, chipping end tables, a few pieces of silverware, dishes, linens and the lobby with its glitterring Las vegas chandliers, big plate glass windows and bright red carpets perpetually floating in the morning sun
Contact Bevan Dufty to urge him to support the anti-demolition ordinance at 415 554-6968. For more journalism on issues of poverty and racism by people who experience it first-hand go on-line to www.poormagazine.org