100 Year Old Woman Facing Imminent Eviction in San Francisco

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Iris Canada, the 100 year old woman facing eviction. (Photo courtesy of KGO-TV)

Guest Post by David Bogachik, Project Dialogue for Life 

Must you step over an ailing body to protect your property, Mr. Owens? Are you content with the cruel actions of your lawyers?

There is a real and frightening possibility that a 100-year-old African American woman could die as a result of her impending eviction. The optics and public backlash on this would be horrible for San Francisco. Everyone is waiting to see what the city will do.

As many readers already know, this is a long and complex story. I started to investigate the case some time ago, and you can read about it here. However, the case continues to drag on and present new twists and turns. Iris Merriouns, the grand-niece of Iris Canada, claims there is evidence that landlord Peter Owens committed fraud. But first, we must face the reality that a 100-year-old woman who has occupied her apartment for 60+ years could pay with her life for this eviction.

(If you’d like to be on the emergency action call list to show up and protest when they try to evict Iris, call the Tenant’s Union at 415-282-6543 and put your name on the list.)

What the Court Issued

Zacks (Peter Owens’ attorney) proposed, and Judge Robertson granted, the proposal ordering Sheriff Vicki Hennesy to evict Mrs. Canada in the harshest manner: without any sheriff notice. Now Mrs. Canada, who recently suffered a stroke, waits to be pulled out her home, where she spent most of her life, at any moment.

Housing rights activists held down the press conference on this Thursday. It was rainy. But it was reassuring to see Mrs. Canada surrounded by people who care about members of our San Francisco community.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca (Housing Rights Committee) had harsh words at the gathering: “Let’s make it clear. The order from the judge is dangerous for the life of Iris Canada. They issued the order, saying the Sheriff can come at any time, without written notice, to a 100-year-old. It’s apparent that the Judge buckled into the law from Andrew Zacks. We all know Andrew Zacks – he is notorious for evicting folks in the City, including a lot of seniors. So, it’s not surprising that Andrew Zacks would go to court to get a 24-hour order to evict a 100-year-old woman. But for the Judge to agree with that and to issue that order is absolutely immoral, unjust, and incomprehensible. And we’re gonna fight it. It’s now on the Sheriff, and we are asking for calls to the Sheriff’s office to tell them: No eviction on Iris Canada.”

Activists are Gonna Fight

Sinyika Bryant, (Housing rights organization Causa Justa) said: “We are here to say Iris Canada is going to stay at her home. This case is an example of continuing crime against black people, who have been displaced from the City and from the Fillmore. This is a continuing crime against the working class, and against tenants in San Francisco. This is not only against the law, this is a crime against humanity.”

Freddy Martin, (Housing Rights Committee): “Housing is a right. What’s going on here is unfair. It’s not only about Iris, it’s all over the city. We deal with an attack by owners and managers who are trying to sell up buildings dedicated to low-income, seniors, disabled, and veterans. 5 blocks away there is a building where people live in substandard conditions, in mold – that’s horrible. There is no accountability where money, provided by the city and by the state, has gone. They target all poor people for greed. We can stop this eviction. We are going to come out whether it’s rain, cold, or whatever. We’re going to stay together and continue our fight for her.”

Sheriff’s Options

One of the main questions at the moment is what the Sheriff Vicki Hennessy can do in this situation.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca: “I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that the Sheriff can refuse this eviction. If she does, the court can order her to go before them and justify why she is not doing that, and if the court chooses, the court can send her to jail for not doing the eviction. We know Hongisto, who was a Sheriff in the 1970s. He prevented the eviction of residents from a residential hotel in Manila Town and was sent to jail**. We are asking Vicki Henessy to do the right thing – even under the prospect of being sent to a jail – not to carry out this eviction. But I understand that she could appeal this at the court and say that there are extreme circumstances here. This is a danger to Iris’s life, it can kill her. We, citizens of San Francisco, are demanding that our Sheriff take a moral stand.”

I don’t want this prospect to hang over Vicki Henessy. After all, it seems there is no need for it. I contacted Ross Mirkarimi, former San Francisco Sheriff whom Ms. Henessy succeeded, to ask him about possible options. Here is what he said:

While a Sheriff is required to carry out an order, the Sheriff has state discretion to pause the eviction if it exacerbates public safety or the safety of the well-being of the evictee. I often did this with the elderly and people with serious illness that met various circumstances. This is a time-restricted action that a high majority of sheriffs do not exercise in California. My administration was taken to court a number of times by the plaintiff’s attorney, though we won our case each time by demonstrating due diligence.”

While Sheriffs have to remain agnostic on the eviction order itself (tested in court by Sheriff Hongisto’s conviction over the I-Hotel order), that diligence allowed us or a service agency to help that person or family rebound or even correct the possible eviction. Sometimes the notice to evict was in error for one reason or another. Especially as more and more evictions were being ordered by banks and real estate lawyers representing foreign investment interests.

My administration emboldened the only Eviction Assistance Unit of any Sheriff’s Department in California. This was an unfunded unit. I sent Ed Lee multiple letters and met with the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee to request funding for our Eviction Assistance Unit – but they did not act. That has been a major mistake. The eviction trend of vulnerable populations continues unabated, because by the time an eviction order comes to the Sheriff, it’s a bell you cannot unring.”

I put in the title my question to Mr. Owens. If he sends me an answer, we will update the article. We have been proceeding our investigation based on what society, community, and city officials can do to prevent this eviction murder. Stay tuned.

** Note from Tommi Avicolli Mecca: I don’t believe I said Hongisto prevented the eviction of the I-Hotel, I think I said that he refused to do the eviction and went to jail. He later had to do it.

Article done with editing assistance from Ryan MacCarrigan

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