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I-Hotel 40th anniversary commemorates battle for affordable housing in SF

SAN FRANCISCO — The date was August 4, 1977.

In the early hours of that morning, 300 riot-equipped law enforcement personnel physically dispersed the thousands who formed a human barricade that was protecting elderly Filipino and Chinese residents inside the International Hotel, or I-hotel.

The police eventually made their way inside and got all the tenants to leave.

This was student activist-turned president of the I-hotel Tenants Association, Emil de Guzman, forcefully being dragged out by the police.

“It was a war zone. It was just terrifying,” de Guzman said.

40 years later, eviction fighters of the past and present gathered to commemorate the nine year battle between the building’s corporate owner and a large, diverse community committed to defending the elderly residents.

“We weren’t going to move. That unless there was an alternative place for us to go, we had no other place to go,” de Guzman shared. “We would just have to go through an eviction process, and we didn’t know what that would mean.”

“The I-Hotel is physical evidence that this was a revolution of housing rights, of self-determination,” said Tony Robles, said housing rights activist.

Housing rights activists say that a similar fight like the I-Hotel continues today — due to San Francisco’s increasing cost of living and gentrifying neighborhoods.

“It’s the same struggle. The struggle for people’s rights. The struggle of poor people being able to defend their homes… the housing policy should not be determined on who has the most money. We have to look out for people that are vulnerable. We have to look out for seniors.”

Nearly 30 years after the forced eviction, the I-hotel was rebuilt in 2005 to provide affordable housing for seniors.

From the forceful eviction of Filipino tenants, to its destruction, and its eventual resurrection — the I-Hotel stands as a monument of Filipinos securing their place in San Francisco.

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