On a cold Tuesday evening of September 15th Midtown residents along with their allies from labor unions, UC Berkeley, Boalt School of Law, The Plaza 16 Coalition, Calle 24 and tenants right advocates gathered outside of the San Francisco Rent Board eagerly awaiting the appeal hearing. The decision was to be made on the rent control status of 65 long-term Western Addition families who face immediate rent increase ranging from 30% to 300%.
Earlier this year Administrative Law Judge rejected the second largest rent control petition in the City’s history, allowing the struggling tenants to file an appeal with the commissioners of the Rent Board.
This is not the first time tenants had to do that, in 2014 the residents went through the process of rent control determination but the commissioners told them to come back once the rent increase has actually taken place.
The rent increase happened and the resilient community is about to be torn apart in the largest flight of Western Addition residents since the times of civic redevelopment. Not willing to roll over, Midtown residents along with their advocates launched a massive campaign that consisted of letter writing, public rallies, picketing, City Hall actions, Board of Supervisors call-in, and even went as far as launching the largest rent strike in San Francisco history since 1978; when a young Ed Lee organized residents of Ping Yuen public housing in his fight against the city.
"We shall not, we shall not be moved!" is the rallying cry of resilient group who is facing imminent displacement
Students from historically political UC Berkeley and Boalt School of Law heeded the Save Midtown call
For now tenants are raising money for legal representation, as they have 60 days to file an appeal. The tenants are prepared for a long-haul fight, ordeal that began in 2013 when MOH Director Olson Lee terminated a four-decade long lease between the City and the resident operated non-profit board doesn’t seem to come to an end anytime soon. “Our only option is to stay organized and fight, or organize our stuff in the back of the moving truck. We’re not backing down” said Midtown Board Vice President Donald Grieggs.
In a bad twist of irony, the seniors who came out to fight the cold and make their voices heard at the rally should have been enjoying their golden years at Midtown as rightful property owners. It was the intention of Midtown creators that the property would go co-op once the mortgage is satisfied, but the decades long work towards that objective has been halted in 2013 by Mayor’s Office of Housing. The Board of Supervisors supported empowerment for this working class community in a number of legislations, most recently BoS Resolution 325-07 but has been unresponsive as of late.
Unfortunately for the lively group many of whom made emotional pleas during public comment at the board hearing, the determination did not go their way. The rent board rejected resident’s appeal, claiming that Midtown falls out of their jurisdiction. Some commissioners expressed their sympathy towards the tenants, wishing that they could help if only the Board of Supervisors changed existing law – others were less receptive.
More than 40% of Midtown residents are seniors, many lost their houses during civic redevelopment to eminent domain and face gentrification for the third time
During Tuesday’s rally the picketers were able to share the story of Midtown with the engaged crowd on the busy intersection of Van Ness and Market. Cars and busses passing by emitted an endless stream of honks showing their support for rent control protection of San Francisco working class citizens.
Longtime resident Mary Watkins scoffed back at the claims made in the press that Midtown receives rent subsidies “We have never been subsidized. We’re working class people.” Indeed they are, this hard-working community satisfied the mortgage on the property in 2007. Pat Smith who raised two biological and six adopted children during her time at Midtown also declined the label “subsidized housing” and recounted the time when Grammy award winners and prominent attorneys resided at the thriving apartment complex. It was the home of journalism legend Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett during a time when he published the Sun-Reporter. Community leader and labor activist Orville Luster served as a Midtown board president for more than 10 years.
Midtown tenants and their allies, including Boalt Hall law students and Mission tenants’ rights advocates gather for a public demonstration outside the Rent Board Office
Midtown residents have never received rent subsidies - working class tenants paid off their property mortgage