NARRATION: The Trump administration has put off a looming housing crisis.
ARCHIVAL (PBS, NEWSHOUR, 9-2-20):NEWS REPORT: In a surprise move the Trump administration bans evictions until the end of the year.
NARRATION: Renters who are behind now have till the end of the year to pay, and that puts a new strain on landlords.
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS, 9-2-20):NEWS REPORT: There are concerns with this policy, especially from landlords. Many have their own bills and financial problems.
NARRATION: There is legislation before Congress now that proposes an unorthodox solution: helping tenants buy their buildings, essentially transforming them into owners. Several cities nationwide have already proposed similar plans.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 9-21-20):NEWS REPORT: The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act or Topa would give tenants the right to make the first offer and right of first refusal if a landlord puts the building up for sale.
NARRATION: Its an idea that was hatched decades ago, as a possible solution for a group of renters in San Francisco who had fought for years to keep their homes.
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: The whole struggle came down to just one thing.
ARCHIVAL (THE FALL OF THE I-HOTEL):SHERIFF RICHARD HONGISTO: Im the sheriff of San Francisco; were here for the eviction.
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: It became peoples rights over property rights. This was really not the way it should have ended.
NARRATION: In the 1960s, developers in San Francisco were re-making the citys financial district.
A group of elderly tenants who had lived for decades in a downtown residential hotel suddenly found themselves facing eviction so the landlord could build a parking lot.
ARCHIVAL (THE FALL OF THE I-HOTEL):RESIDENT: Thats my room right here.
NARRATION: More than 150 people lived at the International Hotel, which was more like an apartment building, with affordable rooms that could be rented by the month.
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: The International Hotel was a home for many of these Filipinos since the 1920s, when they first came to America. What you had was bachelors, elderly men. They had no family, so they cared for each other.
ARCHIVAL (THE FALL OF THE I-HOTEL):RESIDENT: This is the best place for the Filipinos. I like to stay here, I dont want to move.
NARRATION: They put up a fight, and over the next few years neighbors, activists and community groups turned out to help them. Emil De Guzman was one of the organizers.
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: We would have marches of thousands of people marching around the I-Hotel and marching around Kearny Street.
ARCHIVAL (THE FALL OF THE I-HOTEL):RESIDENTS: N_o evictions, we wont go!_
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: Labor leaders, churches, civil rights organizations. We were ready to pounce on anybody who was going to mess with us.
ARCHIVAL (THE FALL OF THE I-HOTEL):EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: The sheriffs are just simply going to have to drag us out.
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: The tenants began to feel that they, as an organization, could stand together and defeat this. We were up against the wall and fighting this was really the only option.
NARRATION: The battle dragged on, and in 1976 a judge ruled that the eviction could proceed. But Sheriff Richard Hongisto, who had a special badge made to highlight his approach to policing, sided with the tenants. At first, he refused to carry out the eviction order.
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: He didnt do it. He missed the deadline. And when that happened, Judge Brown ordered him to jail. And he had to spend five days in San Mateo County jail. And that was a big deal. You know? Cause he was taking a stand.
NARRATION: But by the summer of 1977, the sheriffs public opposition to eviction had weakened.
ARCHIVAL (THE FALL OF THE I-HOTEL):SHERIFF RICHARD HONGISTO: Well, I think its certainly the most distasteful thing Ive had to do since Ive been in office. Some of the elderly
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: There was an incredible amount of pressure for him to do his job. And thats exactly what he decided to do.
ARCHIVAL (THE FALL OF THE I-HOTEL):ACTIVIST: we want everybody to tighten up now. Security people go to your positions.
NARRATION: Emil got tipped off that the showdown that had been brewing for nearly ten years was coming to a head one night in early August. It was an era before social media, so organizers used pay phones and landlines to get the word out to protestors.
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: Once it became clear that the sheriffs were going to come, the phone tree was activated and all these thousands of people would show up and create a human barricade surrounding the hotel. The intensity of it was building up.
ARCHIVAL (THE FALL OF THE I-HOTEL):ACTIVIST: Police are on their way now, the police are on their way.
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: So we just waited and waited, knowing that they were coming for us.
ARCHIVAL (KPFA, PACIFICA RADIO ARCHIVES, 3-1-79):NEWS REPORT: P_olice units are now moving into the crowd. A large portion of the crowd in front of the front door of the International Hotel is being squeezed between officers with clubs on one side and officers on horseback on the other side. Theres quite a bit of violence._
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: Id never been in a war zone before, but this is exactly what it was. I was being manhandled and choked.
ARCHIVAL (THE FALL OF THE I-HOTEL):ACTIVIST: A_nd Emil is holding on with all of his might and theyre hurting him, and theyre hurting him, the fact theyre hurting people._
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: I was able to grapple with them and fight it off and many of the sheriffs tried to just hold me down and then I get dragged down the stairs, down through the hall lobby and dragged down Kearny Street. Just in terrible pain. I cant tell you the anguish, the sense of loss, to be left homeless, thrown out in the street. They lost the sense of community that had protected them. This was really not the way it should have ended.
NARRATION: It might have ended differently if city lawmakers and tenants had embraced a novel plan that San Francisco mayor George Moscone had put forward a year earlier for the tenants to get a government loan and force the owner to sell to them.
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: But there was, sort of, a caveat in this that, that the tenants would have to pay back the loan. That any loan that the city would put up, to go through with the purchase, would have to be paid back.
NARRATION: Many tenants worried they wouldnt be able to afford it, and the plan was abandoned. It turns out Mayor Moscones proposal to transform tenants into owners may have just come before its time. Programs that help tenants purchase their homes are gaining traction now, as a way to help the millions of Americans who have lost jobs because of the pandemic and cant pay rent.
CHRIS HERBERT (MANAGING DIRECTOR, HARVARD JOINT CENTER FOR HOUSING STUDIES): We had this enormous affordability crisis to begin with, and the pandemic really has just put a bright light on the importance of home.
NARRATION: Chris Herbert runs Harvards Joint Center for Housing Studies. He says the pandemic has made a bad situation worse for renters and for landlords.
CHRIS HERBERT: Renters have been at much greater risk of losing their housing as a result of the pandemic because we dont have as many protections for people to skip rent payments. Once those moratoriums are lifted, landlords are going to expect that those back rent payments are made up. But the question is, how will they make those up? Its not clear why we would think the landlord is the entity that ought to be responsible for the fact that the pandemic has led to the loss of jobs and the loss of income.
NARRATION: Theres a concern that if landlords miss many months of rent, it could have a cascading effect. Not only could it lead to evictions, but cash-strapped landlords could sell to developers who would turn distressed properties into luxury condos and further diminish the supply of affordable housing.
CHLOE JACKSON (MINNEAPOLIS RESIDENT): I moved here in November of 2012. We came here because I got a job at the Mall of America, and this was the first place that I looked at. And there was problems from day one.
NARRATION: The problems with Chloe Jacksons apartment in Minneapolis seemed to only get worse. She told a local community group, IX, or United Renters for Justice, about her situation, and they put her in touch with neighbors who had similar complaints.
CHLOE JACKSON: We talked about all the repair problems, the water leaks, the drafty windows, the mice, the pest control problems. And then it was like, ok, so, yeah, you guys have this. What are you gonna do? What do you want to do about it?
NARRATION: The landlord, meanwhile, was pushing for an eviction in order to sell the buildings. He took the tenants to court.
CHLOE JACKSON: I was worried that I was going to lose. And then whatever happens to my case happens to everybody else. And I did not want to lose. I just couldnt lose.
NARRATION: Chloe and her neighbors took a radical approach to solving their housing problem. With support from IX and city leaders, they formed a collective to try to buy the buildings.
CHLOE JACKSON: I was like, no guys, we could do this. We could totally do this.
NARRATION: And they did. With money borrowed from a community development organization and the city, the building was sold for $7.1 million to a non-profit that will hold the property on the tenants behalf and manage it for three years while Chloe and her neighbors pay back the loan.
CHLOE JACKSON: We do have to pay back this money, this loan that we got back. But we are thinking as owners. Our mindset is as owners, and were ready to do it. So it feels different.
NARRATION: Unlike the I-Hotel tenants, Chloe and her neighbors are confident that, with community support, they can repay the loan. Chloe now works for United Renters for Justice, and her situation is an example for other states and cities considering legislation to help tenants keep their homes. San Francisco now has a law that does just that. And while its too late for the I-Hotel tenants, housing advocates there have lived to see a Filipino community center and apartments re-built on the site of the international hotel.
EMIL A. DE GUZMAN JR.: A hundred and four units of affordable housing, federally subsidized for low-income people. And then we got the innerManilatown Center, which has really been sort of a way of enshrining the struggle. Its a way to keep the legacy of the hotel alive, so in that sense its been rather a great thing for all of us who are still around today. You know, 43 years after the eviction.