The odd evictions at Parkmerced

Suddenly, low-income tenants could lose homes over water, garbage fees

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Live large at Parkmerced -- unless you're poor
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MIRISSA NEFF

rebeccab@sfbg.com

The San Francisco City Attorney's Office has started investigating conditions at Parkmerced in the wake of housing advocates' concerns that tenants have been issued a high volume of notices warning that they could face eviction due to unpaid utility fees.

The questions surrounding back payments and pending evictions, many of which impact low-income renters, have emerged only a few months after the Board of Supervisors narrowly approved a controversial redevelopment project at the neighborhood-scale housing complex. When it was under consideration, project opponents voiced concerns that housing for low-income residents could be jeopardized under the plan if tenant protections guaranteed by the developers did not stand up in court.

"The timing of it is a little suspicious," said Tyler McMillan, executive director of the San Francisco-based Eviction Defense Collaborative. "A lot of folks suddenly are moving toward the eviction process ... right after they got approved for this big development. It all just smells really bad."

Parkmerced spokesperson PJ Johnston told the Guardian the notices had nothing to do with the development approval, and were simply a consequence of unpaid bills. "I don't think the city attorney is going to find anything of particular interest," he said. "This is an issue of a property owner telling people who owe bills that they have to pay their bills."

Stellar Management, Parkmerced's property management company, issued 196 notices this past summer and in September warning tenants that they could face eviction if they did not take steps to bring their accounts current within three days.

In some cases, back payments had piled up for more than a year, and the bills ranged from around $400 to $1,200 — a burdensome dilemma for very low income residents getting by on fixed incomes.

The issue wasn't payment of rent; most of the charges stemmed from water, sewer, and trash pick-up fees administered by a third-party billing company called American Utility Management (AUM). Parkmerced cited breach of the lease agreement as grounds for eviction.

Some tenants dispute the charges, and have told the San Francisco Rent Board and other agencies that they were surprised to receive the bills and didn't know they had past-due amounts until they were presented with the high bills.

In any case, it's an unusual situation — San Francisco tenants rarely face eviction over water or garbage bills.

 

A HUGE GROUNDSWELL

Many tenants have since been given a chance to set up payment plans and were granted a 45-day timeline to work out a payback system, noted San Francisco Rent Board director Delene Wolf. But not everyone was lucky enough to dodge the bullet. Since the notices went out, the Eviction Defense Collaborative has taken on cases for 14 separate eviction proceedings at Parkmerced, McMillan said.

"They are evicting a lot more people in the last couple months than they were at this time last year," McMillan noted. Wolf confirmed this, saying, "We saw a huge groundswell."

The city attorney has been responsive to advocates' concerns. "We met with the City Attorney's office, and they're collecting cases," explained Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee. "A key question is, why are these low-income renters behind?"

So far, the answer remains unclear. Tenant advocates remain skeptical that the charges are legitimate, in part because they have questions about how fees were assessed. There have also reports of monthly parking fees charged to tenants who don't own vehicles. "They're really questionable amounts ... that are years and years old," McMillan noted. "There's so much doubt about whether they owe this money."

Comments

Another good job of reporting by Ms. Bowe. City officials were warned many times by residents that the track record of Stellar Management and Fortress Investment Group hedge fund, who now own Parkmerced and are pushing the demolition plan, shows that their intent on buying up the largest collection of rent-controlled housing west of the Mississippi River is to profit by getting rid of rent control and affordable housing. This is only the beginning. Stop this nonsensical destruction of homes for profit before it is too late!

Posted by Guest Michael Russom on Nov. 09, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

what are those landlords supposed to do? I'd stop paying my bills tomorrow if there weren't serious consequences to defaulting.

Not everything is a vast right-wing conspiracy, you know?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 09, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

San Francisco residents are among the most entitlement oriented people I have ever seen. It is as if the world owes everything to them. They do not play fair and if asked to merely honor their agreements, they act put off and want to cry to some governing agency that the Big Bad Wolf is making them do what they said they would do and how horrible it is that they now have to honor their agreements. It sickens me! I am so glad that I no longer live in this pathetic environment. It is a beautiful city with so much to offer, but I had to leave because the entitlement oriented population was out of control and nobody seems to care. The city of San Francisco has been needing to bring in more housing and help reduce costs for those needing to rent. Rent Control has been proven to be a poor means to do that as it does not incentivise anyone to keep up the property. Costs to operate businesses and proeprties are soaring, yet property owners and business owners are expected to subsidize everyone. That is why more people are not at work today because business cannot afford to hire them. Many have gone out of business because of this type of poor city management. Add the unbelivably inflated union wages and old world pressure to keep hiring union employees adds more fuel to the losses. When are you all going to wake up, stop cying and help the economy rather going on wild goose chases and driving out business! Get Real, San Francisco! Get Real!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 09, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

to not pay your bills, rent or mortgage without any downside.

Since when?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 09, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

As mentioned above in the article, water and sewer are supposed to be included in the amount that Stellar Management charges each month. If whoever is administering the Section 8 program for these tenants does not see those charges in the billed amount, how were they supposed to pay them? I pay a online based on the amount due. If Stellar left the water and sewer charges off the bill and expects tenants to come up with the money in one lump sum now, how does that make the tenants crybabies?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 09, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

the issue is whether infill, and preservation based alternatives are preferential "profit" wise to a developer who sees this site as a landgrab. The partitioning off of cambon, brotherhood way, and SFSU's UPS shows how they approach the profit motive. Predatory Equity is what Stellar is known for on the east coast, the west coast is no different. The concern is that they want to flip and have high-turnover rates, the towers 10-11-12th floors were termed "pent-house" suites, to increase rents. Profit for Met-Life was 3% when they built parkmerced for stellar/fortress its 17%+ with all the 800k housing units being built is it not time to consider building for the essential need and not just the greed? The section 8 tenants have no other place to go, and those that state bill collection is the important issue forget that some of those same residents fought for integration of parkmerced's units, fought for the USA in wars, are your teachers your working class, your students, and seniors. They do not get 10,000k bonuses each year, they are on fixed incomes which is why parkmerced was built as ESSENTIAL RENTAL HOUSING STOCK, which has not been built by ANY mayor in the past Brown/Newsom/Lee era's. The need is to start building essential infrastructure and rental housing for the flexibility required in the housing market, for the OPTION of renting or buying, and allowing workers to save for home-ownership. To act as if only the 1% matter or that real estate speculation is the only market is acting like there is no humanity in housing. I would think as an architect or planner there are those out there that comprehend that the current plans do not promote sustainability or essential infill and address of the existing towers, inadequate light-rail connectivity to daly city bart, or impact on a national eligible landscape site which is PARKMECED. (www.tclf.org marvels of modernism landscapes @ risk 2008) Its about a plan that allows for profitibaility, but creates a better sense of how to achieve it through infill and sustainable rennovation of the existing units. Such a plan was submitted but ignored. The developer can change a plan, to demolish housing that is functional for the working class in SF is equivalent to escalating the conflict of the have's and have nots... think prior to criticizing bill collections, if your house/home was at risk, and you were bumped to the street there would be plenty of critique over how many porsche's you have in your 4 car-garage when most people ride muni...

Posted by goodmaab50 on Nov. 09, 2011 @ 11:34 pm

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.....shut up and pay your damn bills. Life is tough...suck it up!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 10, 2011 @ 12:03 am

I was 'googling' AUM and found your problem.

I won't go into a great deal of detail here, but just steer you to a site I set up about this group of bandits who are running American Utility Management.

Those people who found themselves with unexpected and large bills are not all a bunch of cheats who are gaming the system. We had this AUM as our utility billing firm for several years before we tossed them out for phanton billings.

I found in my own bills 7 months where I had been billed extra for water usage, those months I was NOT even at my condo. So don't be so quick to jump on those with past due bills, AUM is working a scam with bogus billings.

Take a look at: http://aumsucks.blogspot.com/

Posted by Guest Bill Harris on Sep. 21, 2012 @ 9:41 pm