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SF Mission District Landlords Exploiting Undocumented Immigrants

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March 29, 2017

San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, where the city began in 1776 with the founding of Mission Dolores, today is a dense mix of people.

Affluent techies, long-time Mission residents, undocumented immigrants and even homeless people in tents can all be found living in a single block.

In that environment undocumented migrants feel especially pressured, and some landlords seem to be taking advantage of them to raise rents or push them out. The migrants fear being reported and deported, so they feel extremely vulnerable to landlord threats, real or perceived, to raise rents or threaten eviction.

The pressure is especially high in the Mission and Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. Both have large populations of immigrants. Many have poor English, low job skills and limited experience with American cultural and economic practices.

At Catholic and other community workshops designed to help immigrants with their residence status, housing pressure is an increasing concern along with the fear of government action.

Owners of rental units are telling tenants “you better get out,” says one caseworker.

Landlord pressure can be direct, increasing rents, or more subtle--failing to repair broken windows or plumbing, challenging the right of extended family members to live in a unit.

Threats to contact federal officials are sometimes implied. The fear among immigrants is palpable, with high uncertainty about how the policy will be carried out. A midnight knock-at-the-door seems to be a real risk to many immigrants.

In San Francisco 125 people from several parishes took training to form rapid response teams, which immigrants could call if federal authorities show up at their door. The team members will try to arrive fast enough to document the situation and provide help to families of people apprehended.

After the workshop you could “see fears subside a little after seeing people walking side-by-side with them,” said Francisco Gonzalez, director of refugee and immigrant services for Catholic Charities in the archdiocese.

Recently Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone celebrated Mass for 700 people crowded into St. Peter’s Church adjacent to the Mission neighborhood. The parish began in 1878 as an Irish immigrant community. Later Italians became a big part of the parish and today it is largely Latino.

In Oakland Catholic leaders and lay people join with community organizations to help educate and provide support for fearful immigrants.

The landlord pressure is not surprising from an economic perspective.

Much of the challenge is due to the rapid rise in Bay Area rents. Average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Mission was $4,650 at the start of 2017. In Oakland and San Jose similar rents run about $2,500. But in Sacramento similar units average $1,200.

In the Mission district new apartments sell for nearly $1,000,000. Luxury buses conveniently pick up prosperous tech workers in front of their units and scoot them to Silicon Valley. The tech boom fuels demand for fashionable new units that replace cheaper apartments or old flats.  Yet million-dollar condos sometimes are across the street from a row of tents where the homeless live.