by Tasha Rodriguez
San Francisco, a city almost synonymous with progressive, liberal values, has seen its fair share of civic injustice. San Francisco United Against Trump acknowledges that the issues faced by minority groups, particularly immigrants and people of color, under our current administration, are not only an integral part of our city’s history, but of nearly EVERY major American city’s history.
Our organization aims to combat President Trump’s regressive and destructive policies, as well as fight injustice at local levels of government. As affordable housing continues to be a major issue for residents in our city, we’ve seen City Hall loosen the reigns on developers, forcing residents, new and old, to pay the price. As developer money pours into San Francisco, many of our most vulnerable residents find themselves being pushed out of their homes.
In the heart of Western Addition stand The Midtown Park Apartments, a housing development in danger of being demolished in 2018.
Construction for Midtown began in the early ‘60s. The original developers of Midtown, Barton-Western, intended to create a mixed-income, homeownership housing development. The slogan was “Own your own.” This was a reaction to the complete destruction of the Fillmore district, a predominantly Black community established in the ‘50s and ‘60s. This era of “redevelopment” is one of the most shameful and little known parts of San Francisco’s history.
Barton-Western later defaulted on their initial promise as well as their loans, leaving the deed to the property in the hands of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
When the city took control of Midtown, they introduced the idea of having the apartments be temporary housing for victims of displacement, as a result of eminent domain. For residents desiring stable, long term housing, as they were promised, this measure was unacceptable.
They petitioned and were able to get the Board of Supervisors, under Dianne Feinstein, to approve two very important things: 1. Abandon the proposal to turn Midtown into temporary housing. 2. Allow the tenants of Midtown to elect a tenant management board to maintain the property.
The deed was then turned over to the tenants’ corporation, with a privately financed $2.1 million mortgage in tow. The tenants’ corporation then turned the deed over to the city and entered a long-term lease, leaving the tenants responsible for paying back the mortgage.
For decades, tenants were under the assumption that, not only were they paying down the mortgage on Midtown’s lease, but that they were protected under the city’s rent control laws. Many have documentation, signed by city officials, to support these claims. City Hall, of course, is saying something completely different.
To add insult to injury, the city has allowed Midtown to fall into complete disrepair, claiming that maintenance is too expensive and that the rents residents pay don’t generate enough revenue to make those regular repairs a possibility.
On Dec. 23, 2012, two days before Christmas, the Mayor’s Office of Housing announced that due to a need for a property management change, their contract with the Midtown Park Corp. would be terminated. A month later Mercy Housing took over the lease, with Doug Shoemaker, the president of Mercy Housing California, leading the charge.
This after Gavin Newsom signed an unanimously approved resolution, in 2007, to turn Midtown into a cooperative, where some tenants would own their homes and the other apartments being rented closer to market value would generate revenue to pay for property maintenance.
Mercy House operates its properties under the low-income housing model, where renters pay 30 percent of their monthly income. Midtown’s new management mandated that residents would have to sign new lease agreements or face eviction. There were also stipulations on the new lease that imposed oppressive rules on how tenants were able to use their property.
Tenants who were unable to verify their income saw their rent raised to market value rates, a 300 percent increase in some cases. A rent strike ensued soon after. Residents have been on strike since Aug. 1, 2015.
Long time resident Phyllis Bowie says residents like herself want three main things: 1. Ownership of their property like they’ve been promised over and over. 2. Better management and maintenance at Midtown with continued improvement and development of the property, as well as a tenant-elected group to represent them in city politics. 3. Public knowledge and participation in their plight hopefully resulting in the presence of an attorney to represent them pro bono.
San Francisco United Against Trump will fight tooth and nail for communities like Midtown. We will fight long after Trump leaves office. We are determined to show our fellow citizens and activists that they do have power, that they can be the leaders of their own movements and revolutions. We, and the organizations we collude with, will not let the voices of communities like Midtown be silenced.
Tasha Rodriguez, principal organizer of SF United Against Trump, can be reached at Tashacrodriguez@gmail.com.