Activists Deserve Credit for Zephyr Turnaround

by Tommi Avicolli Mecca on August 29, 2006

It’s simply a matter of giving credit where it’s due.

When Zephyr Realty made its announcement a couple weeks ago that it wasn’t going to deal with owners who use the state’s Ellis Act to evict protected (senior, disabled and terminally ill) tenants so that they can sell their units as tenancies in common (TICs), the firm received a lot of positive coverage. District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty introduced a resolution before the Board of Supervisors commending the realtor. It passed with no problem.

What was lacking in the coverage was the fact that the real estate outfit probably wouldn’t have made that decision in the first place, if it weren’t for almost a decade of tenant activism: Years of picketing TIC showings and real estate companies, including Zephyr. Years of pushing legislation and ballot measures to try and curtail the use of Ellis. Years of tenant activists working hard to bring media attention to the evictions that were taking place.

Credit is seldom given to the activists who raise public awareness. Has any mainstream paper or TV news report ever given credit to the anti-war movement for having predicted that no weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq or that the war would drag on the way it has? Do they ever mention that the years of mobilizing mass marches against the war has helped turn the public against Vietnam the sequel?

It’s not surprising to me that no one is asking why it took Zephyr so many years to realize how evil the Ellis Act is. How many evictions of protected tenants have taken place in that time? How many seniors and disabled folks (including those with AIDS) are gone from the city and will probably never come back?

Zephyr’s decision comes at a time when TICs may be on the way out due to new regulations that make it extremely difficult for them to condo convert. Under Board President Aaron Peskin’s recent legislation, if TICs are created by evicting tenants, they cannot condo convert for ten years. If the displaced tenants are seniors, disabled or terminally ill, then they can never convert.

Even if Zephyr made the announcement simply because it was the right thing to do, and it was, acknowledgment still needs to be made to all of those who worked hard to bring Zephyr and others to that realization: specifically, tenant organizations and activists.

Zephyr’s decision did not happen in a vacuum. These sorts of things never do.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical working-class southern Italian performer, activist and writer.

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