San Francisco's tech boom has triggered a flurry of new residents and sent home prices soaring, but it's also fueled an exponential increase in evictions of older renters, many of whom have lived in their homes for decades and pay below-market rent.
The Ellis Act, enacted by the California State Legislature in 1986, allows landlords to legally oust tenants to take their buildings off the rental market. According to city data, in just one year (Feb. 2013 - Feb. 2014) Ellis evictions shot up 86% in San Francisco.
Jian Zhong Li, 92, and his wife Lew Ching Gee Li, 89, have lived in San Francisco since they came to the U.S. from Guangzhou, China in 1980. Along with their fellow tenants, they refused buyout offers from their landlord and fought off eviction earlier this year.
Above, Jian Zhong Li and Lew Ching Gee Li are photographed on their block in the North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco, Calif., on June 5, 2014.
In a city where over a third of the population is Asian American, experts say that elderly residents -- many of whom occupy rent-controlled spaces and are on fixed incomes -- are disproportionately affected by Ellis evictions. Though they fought off one attempt, Mrs. Li says she's worried the landlord could try again to evict them.
"My husband and I are aging. We're not getting any younger," said Mrs. Li. "He is nearing 100 years old and I am not young either. If the two of us live to see another eviction, I would be extremely worried."
Above, Jian Zhong Li and his wife Lew Ching Gee Li in their apartment in San Francisco, Calif. on June 5.
The Li's children either live outside of San Francisco -- far from the Chinatown-based services and doctors Mr. and Mrs. Li rely on, or lack the space to take in their parents. When Mrs. Li first received the eviction notice, she asked her children to look into alternatives around the city.
"One landlord negotiated a 'below-market' rate of $2950 per month," said Mrs. Li. "My husband and I cannot afford rents like that. I soon realized that no one would want to rent to us."
Above, Mrs. Li waters plants in the apartment where she and her husband live in North Beach in San Francisco.
Back in China, Mrs. Li worked as a literature and math teacher. Mr. Li worked as a manager for a development company. In America, Mrs. Li found work as a seamstress for a Chinatown garment factory and Mr. Li worked at a cleaner's ironing clothes. Their rent when they first moved into this building was $325/month.
A five-year study, between 2005 and 2011, by the Chinatown Community Development Center showed a 20% decline in the number of renter households with at least one person over the age of 60.
Above, Mr. and Mrs. Li leave their apartment in San Francisco.
"What we're seeing in this city, with historic communities, people who've lived here all their lives, we're seeing almost this generational change," said Gen Fujioka, Policy Director at the Center. "Younger affluent people, investors and speculators are facilitating this, but basically we're seeing the older generation being kicked out of San Francisco."
"I lived in the neighborhood for over 20 years. I love my neighbors and community," said Mrs. Li. "We fought because we had nowhere to go."
Above, Mr. and Mrs. Li greet a row of women as they walk in Washington Square Park in North Beach for their daily exercise routine in San Francisco.
Between 2010 and 2012, San Francisco grew by 20,000 residents. Median home values now hover around $900,000 and the city's median rent price is $3,675.
"When I first came to America, one dollar got me 30 oranges in Chinatown," said Mrs. Li. "Then it became 10 oranges. Now it is probably a few oranges at most."
Above, Mr. and Mrs. Li walk to Washington Square Park in North Beach.