Since 1989, when Alice Jones died, her pale yellow two-flat building on Page
Street has had no owner. Although homeless people floated in and out of the
Lower Haight property, not one of Jones' relatives came forward to deal with
the building's paperwork, upkeep and taxes for nearly nine years.
That, however, is changing. Now, it seems that everyone from the city's public
administrator to a sister in Houston to a local homeless group is trying to
take care of Alice Jones' old building.
On New Year's Day, the group Homes Not Jails held a party at the property at
715-717 Page St., proclaiming that it belonged to homeless people who have been
squatting there for five years straight. To back up its claim, the group
recently paid more than $5,000 in property taxes -- and got a receipt from the
tax collector's office.
Group co-founder Ted Gullicksen says that under an obscure California statute
commonly known as the adverse possession law, the squatters have been there
long enough to officially call it home.
Homes Not Jails has never been able to take ownership of a house in San
Francisco by squatting, although not for lack of trying. Members have squatted
at hundreds of homes for as long as two years, but they have always been
evicted. This is the first time they have sought to say ownership by paying a
``This would have been the historic moment,'' Gullicksen said.
The city, however, is having none of it. Even if Homes Not Jails paid the
property taxes, that does not entitle the group to the building, said city
Public Administrator Ricardo Hernandez. And although the city attorney's office
does acknowledge the state's adverse possession law, it questions whether
whether Homes not Jails has fulfilled it.
What's more, the city says, the squatters have not exactly been model
neighbors. Hernandez said the city attorney's office got numerous calls about
noisy parties, drug activity, and building and health code violations.
Police discovered in November that Victor Willis, who dressed up as a cop in
the Village People disco music group, was squatting there and allegedly
starting fires in the living room to keep warm.
Gullicksen conceded that ``there have been complaints to police from neighbors,
but we've asked squatters to leave when they became too unruly.''
On New Year's Day, police evicted the squatters during their party to announce
their ``ownership.'' Eight people, including Gullicksen, were arrested and
jailed briefly on trespassing charges.
The city had long waited for someone from Jones' family to deal with the
problems at the building, with no luck. In October, Hernandez won permission
from Probate Court Judge Lawrence Kay to take over Jones' estate and possibly
sell the building, which in today's hot market could fetch well above the
$400,000 assesed value. Proceeds would go to Jones' surviving relatives.
``Normally, we don't get involved when there are relatives,'' Hernandez said.
``In this case, no one knew there were relatives for a long time.''
Then a few months ago, Ruby Shepard of Houston, one of Jones' sisters, came
forward. Shepard has filed a motion in court attempting to take control of
Jones' estate. Shepard, who is expected to make her case at a court hearing
this month, declined to comment.
``If they want to step in, they go with my blessing,'' Hernandez said.
Meanwhile, Jones' old home sits empty among a row of nicely kept homes on Page
Street. Mismatched curtains and lumpy pieces of furniture litter the garage and
rooms. The wrought-iron gate is padlocked. There are two bright yellow ``no
Many neighbors say they are relieved that the interlopers are gone from the
neighborhood, which has been transformed over the past decade from a seedy drug
haven to a working-class hub.
``There was constant movement of people during the night,'' said Andy
Wojciechowski, a physical therapist who moved to San Francisco 12 years ago
from Poland. ``There were lots of drugs, pets, snakes, dogs and cats. They were
breaking in and out. Constant cars. Screaming through the windows. We don't
need any more of that.''
Several residents questioned the homeless group's assertions of people
squatting there for five years.
``I've seen three individuals, including Willis, for the last two years,'' said
Scott Burke, who owns the building next door. ``I didn't see anyone else before
In fact, Burke said he did not recognize any of the people at the New Year's
``This whole media thing came about with this homeless group using a guerrilla
tactic to try and occupy the house,'' Burke said. But ``they have no standing.