Market Street tenants still facing uncertainty

Victor Arreola has lived at 1049 Market Street for 14 years and says he can't stay in San Francisco if he's forced out.

Anxiety continues to run high at 1049 Market Street in San Francisco, where 60 tenants who received eviction notices last month still lack clarity on whether they will ultimately be ousted or allowed to stay.

“I really feel like I’m being forced out,” said Chandra Redack, a tenant who has lived in the building for more than nine years and in San Francisco since 1982. “And that puts a lump in my throat.” 

A meeting between city officials and John Gall, who owns the building along with a group of investors, is scheduled for Tue/14.

Gall told the Guardian it was too early to say whether he would withdraw the notices of eviction, as Sup. Jane Kim and Mayor Ed Lee have both personally urged him to do. “I need to figure out what’s going on after I have the meeting with DBI,” he said. “This is a very complex issue.”

The property owner said it was his understanding that neither Lee nor Kim would attend the meeting – they’re bound for China as part of a trip organized by the San Francisco-Shanghai Sister City Committee – but representatives from their offices as well as officials from the Department of Building Inspections would be present.

As the Guardian recently reported, DBI announced last week that it had found a pathway toward legalization of the illegal housing units, which are arranged in a dormitory-style setting with kitchenettes and shared bathrooms on each floor. They provide all-too-rare affordable housing near Sixth and Market streets, occupied by many students, artists and disabled tenants. With Twitter's relatively new headquarters just down the street, rising demand for commercial office space has transformed the area and the building had been slated for conversion to offices.

Gall and his group of investors own several properties in the area, and up to 300 people might have been affected by eviction if the city hadn’t intervened. As things stand, the tenants’ fate remains far from certain. In a memo issued last month, property managers indicated that 1049 Market would have to be vacated entirely, because of “the City of San Francisco’s overly restrictive local building code requirements.” But even though a solution to the code restrictions has been identified, Gall hasn’t committed to reversing the evictions.

Gall emphasized that in response to pressure from city officials, he’d held off on issuing any new eviction notices either to tenants living at 1067 Market Street, a nearby property also under his investment group’s ownership, or to those in 1049 who hadn’t yet received formal notices.

“Could somebody have the right to be hopeful that it could be preserved as residential? I’d love to be able to give you more answers,” he commented, but ultimately would not say more.

With things hanging in the balance, tenants who received eviction notices now face the thorny dilemma of deciding whether to stick around and hope the ouster is reversed, or pack up and begin a new housing search. For many, opting for the latter means leaving San Francisco for good, since apartments in their price range simply aren’t available. 

Tory Antoni with one of the items for sale on his Etsy site, called "the twit."

On Sun/13, Tory Antoni welcomed a number of his neighbors into his small and tidy windowless studio, where he’d amassed a pile of artwork created by tenants residing at 1049. To aid those facing possible eviction, Antoni plans to post their artwork on his Etsy site, Antoni’s Collectibles, where he peddles antique objects to supplement his income.

“The actual artists that live here don’t get support from the city,” Antoni said, taking aim at public officials’ statements of support for arts in the rapidly changing mid-Market neighborhood. (Earlier this year, Mayor Ed Lee told the Guardian he was “very sensitive” to the concerns of mid-Market artists.)

“When we met with Jane Kim, she asked us, what can we do to help you? The answer is, just leave us alone! We just want to be allowed to do our artwork here in the city,” Antoni said.

Some of Antoni’s guests were consumed with worry over the looming possibility of eviction.

“This is really stressing me out,” said Victor Arreola, who has lived in the building for 14 years. “I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life right now. I never thought this bombshell would be dropped on me.”

Arreola works at the Chanel makeup counter at Macy’s in Union Square, just a short walk from his home. He’s on temporary medical leave after sustaining a physical injury, and said that if he loses his affordable housing, he envisions being to stay in the city or take advantage of the medical assistance provided through Healthy San Francisco. He’s considered returning to Seattle, where he relocated from more than a decade ago, but that would require quitting his job, leaving him without unemployment benefits. “I can’t sleep at night,” he said. “Because I just lay awake in bed, and think, what am I going to do?”

Ben Cady, a photographer who said he mostly relies on disability benefits to get by with the occasional freelance gig, said his affordable Market Street studio was by far the most comfortable housing he’d lived in after years of dwelling in converted garages or in-law units, flying under the radar in pricey San Francisco. “This has been the cleanest place, and there are no pest problems,” he said. That’s in contrast with past living situations, where “we had mice with names,” he added with a laugh.

A relative newcomer to 1049, Bianca Valez, said she’d lived there for six months and paid a little more than $1,000 a month for her studio. “Once I got the eviction notice, I started looking around,” she said, and soon realized how difficult it was going to be to remain in San Francisco despite her desire to be a part of the city. A server at The Franciscan Crab Restaurant near Fisherman’s Wharf, Valez foresees having to work a second job in order to pay rent. But that would also mean postponing her plans to enroll in school, something she’d long wanted to do as a means of launching a new career.

Up one floor, Redack reflected on her longstanding connection with the city, which she’d first visited during the 1960s when Haight-Ashbury was a burgeoning countercultural magnet. She said her favorite part of living in mid-Market was the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity that the neighborhood has supported.

Chandra Redack says having an affordable place of her own has made it possible to focus on making music.

Now, faced with a possible eviction, Redack says she’s been inspired to try and work with the building’s other tenants to try and hold their ground. When others started stepping up to the plate to help organize, she said, “things got exciting, but also exhausting.”

An artist and musician, Redack said it was only after finding the unit at 1049, where she lives alone for roughly $830 a month, that she was able to truly focus on her creative pursuits. “I wrote 100 good songs in this room in 2006,” she said before handing this reporter a copy of her album recorded onto a CD.

Redack works in the customer service department at Rainbow Grocery – “I can walk to work in under 24 minutes,” she noted – and has recently met a number of customers who’ve faced similar housing challenges in San Francisco.

“I chose the route to fight for what I can – at least a little more time,” Redack said.

“If we win, I don’t want it to be just OK, we won – now let’s forget about the other people who are being evicted. I don’t want the city to say, okay, we did this little thing.” An activist with a strong commitment to social justice causes, she believes the moment is ripe for a new tenants’ rights movement.

The tenants have received some assistance from organizers with the Housing Rights Committee. “The landlord has no excuse now to evict the tenants,” HRC organizer Tommi Avicolli Mecca told the Guardian. “What's happened so far is a testament to the strength that tenants have in organizing and refusing to accept that they have to leave.”