Midtown Tenants Fight City Hall to Avoid Demolition

San Francisco’s longest-running current rent strikers struck back at plans to demolish Midtown Park Apartments with a City Hall rally Tuesday.

Joe Kukura, SF Weekly

It’s unusual that San Francisco City Hall wants to tear down affordable housing during a housing crisis. But that’s the current plan for a Western Addition complex called Midtown Park Apartments, where two of the six buildings of 139 units total are slated for demolition.

Residents and housing activists took to City Hall Tuesday to protest the plan, and presented Sup. London Breed with petition signatures they say would fulfill a promise made to them by the Mayor’s Office of Housing to prevent tearing down the buildings. While the buildings would be replaced, residents don’t feel they have any guarantees to return.

The story of Midtown Park Apartments is long and complex, primarily because of a highly unusual transition forced upon the property that turned it from a tenant-managed development to a standard asset in the portfolio of Mercy Housing. That change promoted a 2015 rent strike that still continues today.

“Midtown initially was founded as relocation housing for victims of civic redevelopment with an express intention of returning the premises to the cooperative style model of ownership once the tenant-run nonprofit paid off the HUD mortgage,” Midtown Tenants Association outreach chair Jay Majitov tells SF Weekly. “We actually accomplished [that] back in 2007.”

“That all ended back in 2013 when the city single-handedly terminated the lease agreement between the Midtown nonprofit and the city, and essentially gave away the property to Mercy Housing,” Majitov says.

Not every tenant feels betrayed by this. “Mercy Housing, the new property management company, has been improving our units, replacing appliances, addressing mold problems and poor lighting, replacing carpet, adding fire safety upgrades, and even changing the layout to make it easier for senior residents to get around their homes,” two tenants wrote in a recent SF Bayview op-ed. “Living at Midtown is much better now.”

But other tenants say that Mercy has instituted draconian ‘house rules’ for ticky-tack offenses, like being in the laundry room without shoes or getting too many visits from their grandchildren, specifically designed to evict as many tenants as possible.

“Mercy has no mercy,” said Donald Griggs, a resident since 1983, at the rally. “There is a sweetheart deal between Mercy and the Mayor’s Office of Housing. When [former Mayor’s Office of Housing Director Doug] Shoemaker was there, he gave properties to Mercy, then he took the job as a head of Mercy in the state of California.”

“Mercy has their eye on our property,” Griggs said. “They want what we want. We want either co-op or outright ownership. If we can’t get it, we should be give our equity of the monies that we paid.”

The rally featured numerous chants of “Where’s London Breed?,” referring to the district’s supervisor and current mayoral candidate. “Sup. Breed has completely abandoned the Midtown residents who are fighting for their homes,” Dean Preston, a longtime tenant advocate and former candidate for District 5 supervisor, tells SF Weekly. “Let’s hope the next mayor takes a different approach to Midtown — actually listening to the residents and working together to protect the Midtown community.”

The tenants tried to present their petition signatures to Sup. Breed at the end of the Board of Supervisors meeting, creating an astonishingly awkward and unscheduled moment. The signatures were accepted by City Hall staff, though it’s unclear what happened to them.

But Midtown tenants think it’s clear what happened to them. “This is your classic case of a marginalized, underrepresented community that was lied to in the past and continues to be mistreated,” Majitov tells SF Weekly.

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