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Midtown tenants picket Mercy Housing offices and announce rent control suit against City

January 15, 2016

by Natalia Kresich

Archbishop King of St. John Coltrane Church implores Mercy California to not stand in the way of tenants: “If you’re going to call yourself Mercy, then there should be some favor and grace for the people who are on the right path. We are just asking you to do the right thing.”

Archbishop King of St. John Coltrane Church implores Mercy California to not stand in the way of tenants: “If you’re going to call yourself Mercy, then there should be some favor and grace for the people who are on the right path. We are just asking you to do the right thing.”

On Dec. 14, 30 residents of the Midtown Park Apartments in the Fillmore-Western Addition, along with dozens of community supporters, picketed the San Francisco offices of Mercy Housing to demand Mercy’s removal as its property manager. Midtown tenants also formally announced the filing of a legal writ challenging a recent ruling by the San Francisco Rent Board that Midtown does not qualify for rent control.

Mercy currently holds the lease, awarded to them by the Mayor’s Office of Housing, to manage the City-owned Midtown. It is the first time that the national affordable housing non-profit has been picketed by its own tenants in San Francisco. Many tenants question the circumstances under which Mercy was awarded the contract and point to alleged harassment and mismanagement under its tenure.

Holding signs that read “#BlackHomesMatter” and “#WeAreTheLast3Percent” (referring to San Francisco’s dwindling Black population), residents protested what they consider Mercy’s harassment and discriminatory treatment of tenants. In attendance were representatives from housing groups and labor coalitions as well as neighborhood faith leaders.

On Dec. 14, 30 residents of the Midtown Park Apartments in the Fillmore-Western Addition, along with dozens of community supporters, picketed the San Francisco offices of Mercy Housing to demand Mercy’s removal as its property manager.

Tenants allege that the City awarded the lease to Mercy Housing just as decades-long talks about tenant ownership had been advancing in good faith, in what one tenant at the rally referred to as a “sweetheart deal.” Doug Shoemaker, the president of Mercy Housing California, was formerly the director of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing; he was granted an exception by the San Francisco Ethics Commission to take the position at Mercy. Tenants want Mercy Housing to recuse itself from its position as manager and operator at Midtown, to withdraw its proposal for plans to demolish buildings on the Midtown property, and for the City to restore direct oversight and control to Midtown’s tenants.

It is the first time that the national affordable housing non-profit has been picketed by its own tenants in San Francisco. Many tenants question the circumstances under which Mercy was awarded the contract and point to alleged harassment and mismanagement under its tenure.

Midtown tenant Donald Grieggs took the loudspeaker to say, “We are here to let Mercy know that we aren’t going to stand for it. We are going to be owners of our homes. We are here to say that if the Midtown property isn’t being given to us, it’s being stolen from us. This is outright thievery.”

Midtown Park Apartments was originally created as relocation housing for African-American tenants and homeowners who had lost their homes during San Francisco’s Civic Redevelopment in the 1960s. At that time, over 10,000 Fillmore-Western residents were displaced from the neighborhood when more than 100 city blocks were demolished and relocation housing ultimately proved to be insufficient.

“We are here to say that if the Midtown property isn’t being given to us, it’s being stolen from us. This is outright thievery.”

Allen Benjamin from the San Francisco Labor Council spoke about labor’s failure to act against mass displacement in the 1960s and 1970s, a mistake that he says will not be repeated today. “The Labor Movement fell asleep at the wheel, but finally we have a challenge …

Midtown families were joined in a picket line outside of Mercy California by supporters from Plaza 16 Coalition, Save YBI, Eviction Free San Francisco, United Educators of San Francisco, ACCE and representatives of the San Francisco Labor Council.

Midtown families were joined in a picket line outside of Mercy California by supporters from Plaza 16 Coalition, Save YBI, Eviction Free San Francisco, United Educators of San Francisco, ACCE and representatives of the San Francisco Labor Council.

“We want to see labor stand with Black Lives Matter, because Black homes matter.” Action followed swiftly in the evening when San Francisco Labor Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Midtown tenants calling for an immediate action of contacting the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

Tenants at Midtown complain that Mercy Housing has done everything in its power to drive out long-time residents. They claim that Mercy is attempting to do this through the implementation of a series of invasive financial background checks, as well a restrictive new lease and discriminatory codes of conduct.

Tenants present at the rally say that they are united in their path towards pursuing ownership of the property. They believe that ownership of their units is the only way that their predominantly African-American community will be able to remain in San Francisco. Midtown residents consider the removal of Mercy to be the first step in restoring control over the future of their homes.

Natalia Kresich and Midtown can be reached at info@savemidtown.org.

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