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Alameda landlord evicting 87-year-old Holocaust survivor

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“Aren’t you ashamed?”

Aerial view of Alameda Island during a sunny day, with Oakland to the right.
Alameda Island.
Photo via Shutterstock

On Sunday, the Guardian’s Sam Levin published an interview with Musiy Rishin, an 87-year-old immigrant and Holocaust survivor who has spent more than a year fighting eviction from his Alameda apartment, where the landlords want to oust him in hopes of attracting wealthier tenants.

Rishin fled Nazi massacres in Ukraine in 1941, then later escaped persecution in Uzbekistan, coming to California in the late 1990s.

He lives at the Dunes Apartments on Shoreline Drive, where a Section 8 housing voucher lets the elderly refugee pay $2,520 per month in rent.

In August of 2018, landlord Margaret Tam raised the rent to $3,200, then almost immediately began initiating eviction proceedings. At the time, Rishin was also caring for his terminally ill son, who has subsequently died.

Rishin has lived in the apartment for 17 years, telling the newspaper “I have nothing else” and asking his landlords, “Aren’t you ashamed?”

“I have never seen anything this outrageous,” added lawyer Sarah McCracken, who represents Rishin.

Commenting on the ongoing legal fight—Tam is suing to remove Rishin from the apartment, whereas Rishin is countersuing alleging discrimination—Tam specifically stated that she wants to vacate the unit so that she can charge more for new renters, telling the Guardian, “I’m not a greedy landlord, but I do want to make money when I’m legally able to.”

Homes at the Dunes Apartments start at $2,100 per month for a studio, according to Apartment Guide, and run as much as $3,400 for a two-bedroom unit.

In 2016, Alameda implemented a Rent Stabilization Ordinance to extend additional anti-eviction protections to renters, allowing no-fault evictions only in cases of owner move-in, demolition, capital improvements, or use of the Ellis Act.

However, tenants’ lawyer Joseph Toner writes that “eviction control is not extended to units where rents are regulated by federal law, the housing authority, or other state or local program.”

Although both the city and county of Alameda offer housing relief to low-income renters, there are not many opportunities to qualify.

The Housing Authority site for the city of Alameda warns, that “because the demand is often overwhelming, you may only apply when a waitlist is open,” while a separate section of the site notes that “this waiting list was last open for six days in June 2016. There is no notice of when this waiting list will reopen.”