A group of tenants fighting orders to leave their affordable artist live/work lofts in San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood say the landlord has not withdrawn the eviction notices, despite pressure from Mayor Ed Lee and other city officials.
The tenants held a noon protest Tuesday outside the 83-unit building at 1049 Market St., calling on owners John Gall and Amy Bogart to stop the evictions by Thanksgiving. The tenants are mostly artists, and include seniors and people with disabilities. Their 60-day eviction notices would take effect just before the holidays.
“What kind of human being evicts people during the holidays?” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.
The seven-story building, built in 1907 as a furniture store, is zoned for commercial use. The owners had been trying to bring the units up to code for residential use.
“It has long been our belief that this was achievable and we would be able to keep this unique and affordable community,” stated a Sept. 13 memo to tenants from the landlord. But it went on to inform them that “we were not able to overcome the city of San Francisco’s overly restrictive building code requirements.”
“Per these city orders, the building must currently be vacated,” the memo said.
The owners obtained permits to convert the building into offices and began issuing eviction orders in late September. Tenants quickly organized, and got housing activists involved. They persuaded Mayor Lee, Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the neighborhood, and the Department of Building Inspection to intervene. The city subsequently withdrew the permits and offered to work with Gall and his partners to grandfather in residential code violations, namely units that don’t have windows.
“Contrary to owner Gall’s claims, the Department of Building Inspection has never pushed him or any prior owner to evict the tenants of 1049 Market,” Randy Shaw, the director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, wrote on Beyond Chron. “In fact, since DBI and its public commission was created through a 1994 ballot initiative that I authored (Proposition G), it has not pushed for the eviction of any tenants (a sharp break from its predecessor Bureau of Building Inspection, which prioritized closing down in-law apartments).”
Housing activists lauded the intervention as a model that could be used to prevent evictions in other commercial buildings.
“The city has provided the landlord with everything he needs to legalize these units and there’s nothing stopping him from doing that, nothing,” said Avicolli Mecca.
Tenants say they’ve had no direct line of communication with Gall and no indication he’s backing down. The Bay Guardian reports Gall has appealed the city’s permit suspensions.
“We’re dying to hear from him and what he has to say,” said tenant Jonathan Stoker. “We want to keep our homes. It shouldn’t be up to the highest bidder, because if that happens it’ll change the face of this whole city, and where are we going to go?”
Gall, a Stanford grad and former major league baseball player, did not return KQED’s phone calls but recently told the San Francisco Examiner’s Chris Roberts that he was “still trying to figure out the situation.”
Kim, the city supervisor, has asked Gall to rescind the eviction notices. Last week, she said “he is committed to exploring a no-eviction pathway with his investors to preserve the affordable units at 1049 Market Street.”
As the Examiner first reported, the eviction would be one of the largest in the city’s history. Housing activists say it’s part of a wave of evictions hitting San Francisco, brought on by the hot housing market and tech boom. The Mid-Market building is just a few blocks from Twitter headquarters in an area Mayor Lee has prioritized for revitalization.
“We’re all really on edge,” said Naomi Cooper, a 65-year-old public school teacher who’s lived in the building for 13 years and will be forced to leave just before Christmas if the eviction notices stand. “I feel like there should be a place for me here. I’ve given a lot to this city.”
The live/work lofts, which vary in size from 200 to 500 square feet, rent for between $900 and $1,000 a month, and include kitchens and shared bathrooms.
“It’s been a great blessing,” said Melissa Bracero, a part-time accountant and clothing designer, who invited reporters into her loft overlooking Market Street. “We hope to be here in a year and not saying, ‘Oh, we’ve left this city for good.'”