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Musiy Rishin is running out of options.
The elderly Alameda resident’s pending eviction from his home of 17 years was brought to the nation’s attention earlier this week when the Guardian reported that his landlords, Margaret and Spencer Tam, wanted to replace him with tenants who can afford higher rent.
On Aug. 14, 2018, Tam notified Rishin and his now-deceased son that their rent at the Dunes Apartments on Shoreline Drive would be increased by nearly $700. Prior to that, their Section 8 vouchers – which subsidize rent for low-income tenants – were allowing them to pay $2,520. But before they had a chance to respond, the Guardian reports, another letter was sent by the Tams two weeks later: Rishin and his son were being evicted, and had 90 days to find a new place.
“The fact that Margaret Tam should be able to eke out more profit … It’s horrifying and outrageous,” said Sarah McCracken, a tenants’ rights lawyer at Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland. She is representing Rishin as the case moves through the courts. “I mean, he’s an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor. It’s an example of the larger housing crisis at hand.”
Rishin told the Guardian he “narrowly escaped” the Nazi genocide of Ukrainian Jews in 1941. Later, his family fled Uzbekistan and consequently immigrated to California in 1998.
“It is everything to me. I have nothing else,” he said of his quaint two-bedroom apartment, where he now lives alone. In the midst of the Tams’ eviction notices, he tried to tend to the deteriorating health of his 57-year-old son, Yaroslav, who was dying of colon cancer. His sister, Svetlana, said that fear of being thrown to the curb “consumed his last days.”
After Yaroslav’s death, the eviction was escalated to a formal complaint to have Musiy removed. Tam defended her actions to the Guardian, telling them that she isn’t “a monster” or “greedy” – she wants to renovate and make significantly more money when she is legally able.
“Because somebody’s sick, do you get free rent? We have to do what we have to do,” she said, adding that she simply wanted to change the market rate for the apartment, and Rishin was the only Section 8 tenant left.
But Catherine Pauling, an activist with the senior and disabled committee of the Alameda Renter’s Coalition, says that’s not the case. Pauling claims two other Section 8 renters at the complex are being threatened with eviction as well – one of whom is expected to leave by the end of the month.
Tenant Barbara Johnson is in her 70s and requires a scooter to get around. Pauling says Johnson did not receive a mail notice for a court hearing regarding her Section 8 voucher. It was taken away, according to Pauling, and Johnson was immediately charged full market rent for her apartment, which cost over $1,300 without utilities and was more than her $975 monthly disability benefits could cover.
“She’s going to be put on the street. This is absolutely a death sentence,” Pauling said.
She added that the court suggested two temporary housing options for Johnson. One was a shared room in Hayward for $700 a month, but it was not accessible for her scooter and she couldn’t bring her 14-year-old dog. Another possible new rental was in Oakland, but it was located on a precarious hill that Johnson was afraid she couldn’t safely move on.
“Why isn’t she being given housing in Alameda?” Pauling said. “Even with her mobility issues, she has shown up for every court hearing since then. There has to be a backup.”
Tenants with Section 8 vouchers are expected to pay 30 percent of their income toward housing. Pauling says another voucher-holding renter at the Dunes, a 71-year-old woman, learned she was being charged extra for utilities that she did not owe.
“She’s blind, so it’s even harder for her to try to reclaim the money,” Pauling said. The landlords are “pressuring her to move out,” she added.
Pauling says homelessness has increased by 43 percent in Alameda in just two years, primarily affecting women, seniors and disabled individuals. Rebecca Ducker, a representative for the Dunes in Alameda, denied that the other tenants were currently section 8 voucher holders.
“We’re looking at wholesale displacement of our elders, families and single parents with young children. People that have decent jobs and are somehow living in their cars,” Pauling said.
In 2016, the city of Alameda established a Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which would protect renters from eviction without “just cause” – such as causing a nuisance or damage to the unit, or not paying rent on time or at all. But McCracken says a loophole in the ordinance means that people with section 8 vouchers do not qualify for this protection.
Alameda is the only city with such an exception.
“Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Monica … I could go on and on, but in all of those cities Section 8 voucher holders have just cause to protect them from eviction. No other major cities in California have this kind of loophole,” McCracken said.
Rishin recently filed an affirmative complaint alleging discrimination. He told the Guardian it was because he felt targeted as a “low-income disabled immigrant” after being told he did “not belong in a fancy place and can go live somewhere else.” But McCracken said that with protection under just cause for eviction, Rishin would not face these difficulties.
“Discriminatory evictions like this one are illegal,” she said. “If he were protected, he wouldn’t even have to defend himself to begin with.”
However, those claims are challenging to prove.
An amendment to the city ordinance will be up for consideration on Sept. 3, and would allow Section 8 voucher holders to be protected under just cause. McCracken added that the ordinance could be made retroactive or established on an emergency basis so it could go into effect before Rishin is evicted.
“The city council needs to take action and they need to do so immediately,” McCracken added. “This is unnecessary and unavoidable and it’s at no cost to them to fix the situation and provide protection.”
The Alameda Renters Coalition will also hold a rally on Saturday afternoon to defend the Section 8 tenants and advocate for the amendment.
“We want to show that this is a pattern – it’s not just one sad story. Mr. Rishin doesn’t want a settlement for himself, he wants a global solution and justice for everyone,” Pauling said.
SFGate reached out to the Alameda Housing Authority for verification on the section 8 status of all three tenants and did not hear back by the time this story was published.
Amanda Bartlett is an SFGate editorial assistant. Email: email@example.com
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Lawyer-Holocaust-survivor-pending-eviction-Alameda-14371224.php.