A documentary follows a changing city in the middle of an economic boom. In one scene, long-time residents talk about how hard it is to find a place to live. In another, a young professional standing in a coffee shop talks about the new condos and awesome night life. Sound like DC? It’s actually San Francisco a decade ago during the dot-com boom.
Boom! The Sound of Eviction tells the story of the San Francisco area at a time when new jobs and innovation in the tech industry attracted lots of new people and money to the area. Many of the stories told in this film seem like they could be from DC today; individual families being pushed from downtown the to edge of the city or region, working class communities struggling to stay together, and local resistance to displacement.
What is strikingly different about the two regions are the legal protections tenants have to stay in their homes. This is especially true in Oakland, CA, where renters had even fewer rights than in San Francisco. In Oakland, landlords could remove residents with a 30-day no cause eviction. According to an organizer in the film speaking at the time “a landlord can give a tenant a 30-day notice [for eviction] and its completely legal.”
These evictions without a reason, or cause, allowed landlords to remove low income tenants and raise rents whenever they wanted. This became a key organizing issue, and a group of concerned residents began Just Cause Oakland to push the city of Oakland to adopt stronger tenant protections. They won just cause for eviction legislation in 2002. This wide-ranging legislation won many tenant rights DC has had for decades including: limits on rent increases, requiring cause for eviction, and requiring a judge to rule before an eviction takes place (landlords cannot just evict tenants on their own).
In DC, those tenant protections were won through community organizing that happened before this boom, and have helped to prevent even more displacement than we have had. Beyond the tenant rights that were won in Oakland, DC tenants also have the unique tool of the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). With TOPA, tenants don’t just have protections to stay in their homes, they also have the right to have a say in what happens to their homes, or even become the owners. We Own This, a short documentary on tenants who now own their homes using TOPA will be shown with Boom! The Sound of Eviction this week. Together the movies show the dangers of having an economic boom without protections and planning that keep low-income residents in the city, and the opportunities that good programs can provide.
Learn more about both DC and San Francisco at our screening of Boom! The Sound of Eviction and We Own This on Tuesday, August 20, at 6:00 PM at Martin Luther King Library 901 G St. NW Room A10. RSVP and share on Facebook.