San Francisco agency agrees to legalize mid-Maket units slated for eviction

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Moving can be a huge, stressful, harrowing ordeal. But now, some 300 tenants living at 1049 and 1067 Market Street might be spared from having to relocate thanks to organized resistance from tenants’ rights activists and the intervention of local elected officials to halt an eviction from going forward.

It's the second major grassroots victory this week.

Building code violations made the housing units at those properties technically illegal, and the tenants were served with 60-day eviction notices last month. The property owner, John Gall, had taken out permits to convert some of the units into office space.

In response, tenant activists with the Housing Rights Committee and the Tenderloin Housing Clinic came to the tenants’ assistance and started a drumbeat on the pending mass eviction, which would have amounted to the largest since the I-Hotel in the 1970s. "We've worked really hard to get the city to do something aggressive," housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca told the Guardian.

Before long, District 6 Sup. Jane Kim took up the cause. On Oct. 10, Kim phoned the Guardian to relate a surprising development.

Yesterday, the Department of Building Inspection “called and let us know they have found a pathway to legalization” for the units, Kim said. As long as some safety upgrades are made, DBI has agreed to exercise its discretion and waive code requirements that would necessitate renovations that aren’t feasible.

Once she got word that DBI would legalize the units, Kim phoned the property owner. “I did ask him to withdraw the notices of eviction,” she said. So far, Gall has made no guarantees that he would do so, but Kim said he’d agreed to “work toward a resolution over the next two weeks.” She said her office met with about 60 affected tenants on Oct. 9.

Kim said Mayor Ed Lee’s office also reached out to Gall to ask him to withdraw the notices of eviction.

“The ideal case scenario is to keep as many tenants in place as possible,” Kim said. “It could have really caused a lot of instability.”

The threat of that mass eviction would have impacted primarily students and artists living a stone’s throw from Twitter’s new mid-Market headquarters.

Two years ago, Mayor Ed Lee and other policymakers created a payroll tax break as an incentive to attract flourishing tech companies into the mid-Market area, a neighborhood that for years was marked by blight and some of the highest concentration of poverty citywide. As the Guardian recently reported, the corporate welfare stemming from these policies has soared, while the influx of tech startups and venture capital firms is transforming the neighborhood.

But the rising demand for commercial office space has brought the consequence of evictions, affecting not only residents but nonprofit organizations.

An important hearing was held at the Budget and Finance Committee yesterday about rising rents placing unbearable pressure on nonprofit organizations, many of which are located in mid-Market. Some cannot possibly run their operations anywhere else and continue to serve their clientele. Arts organizations are facing similar challenges affording rent in the increasingly pricey area.

“It’s turning from blighted to the hottest real-estate in town … and the unintended consequences are that people are being evicted from their homes and nonprofits are being evicted,” said Brad Erickson, executive director of Theatre Bay Area, who attended yesterday’s hearing. “It’s more than anybody can keep up with.”

He said Kim had been receptive to community concerns. Other supervisors have sought to address the issue too. At Tuesday’s Board meeting, Sup. David Campos noted, “Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco have reached a crisis level. I want to talk about a couple of things that we are doing to respond to the crisis.” 

He said the Budget and Legislative Analyst would soon be issuing a report at his behest outlining the cumulative impact of Ellis Act evictions. He also noted that he’d been working with tenants’ rights advocates to design a way for the San Francisco Rent Board to better investigate tenant complaints alleging harassment by landlords. Campos also alluded to legislation that was in the works to address widespread real-estate speculation. “Unless we deal with speculation,” Campos said, “this crisis is not going to end.”

But in the case of 1049 and 1067 Market Street, at least, the tenants may soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief.  “We’re hoping that this is a glimmer of good news,” Kim said.