Vallie Brown’s ownership model for Midtown should be next step for City

The view from Phyllis Bowie’s balcony overlooks 50-year-old eucalyptus trees. Imagine living life surrounded by this beauty. This is why the people of Midtown have fought so hard and so long. The Midtown PARK Apartments are aptly named! Phyllis took this photo during the springtime glory of May 2020, shadowed by the pandemic. – Photo: Phyllis Bowie

by Majeid Crawford

During Urban Renewal under Justin Herman’s tenure, over 2,500 Black-owned Victorian homes were destroyed and tens of thousands of Black people were displaced out of the Fillmore district. The City gave housing vouchers to people whose homes were demolished with the promise they would own in the new and improved Fillmore. 

In 1967, Midtown Park Apartments townhomes were built to give ownership for those whose homes were destroyed. In 2007 residents paid off the mortgage with expectations of promised ownership. In 2007 former District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi presented a Midtown ownership resolution that was passed by the Board of Supervisors and signed by then Mayor Gavin Newsom. 

In 2014 Mercy Housing took over as developer and property manager of Midtown Park Apartments. Many things were taken from Midtown residents at this time: Cooperative ownership was removed, 24-hour security was cancelled, pest control was cancelled and the most egregious cancellation was rent control. 

Removing rent control after having it for over 50 years resulted in the majority of resident’s rents increasing upwards of 300 percent. The Midtown residents have been on rent strike and fighting to reinstate rent control since 2015. After paying off the mortgage the Midtown residents have been fighting for promised ownership since 2007. 

Ms. Phyllis Bowie is an African American woman, a disabled veteran and has been a resident of Midtown for over two decades. I met up with Ms. Phyllis in the beautiful Midtown Park Apartments’ courtyard, surrounded by huge eucalyptus trees, to discuss the Rent Stabilization legislation that recently passed the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 6, 2020, and what it will mean for ownership.

Majeid Crawford: How has former Supervisor Vallie Brown supported Midtown?

Phyllis Bowie: Great question. A lot of people involved have forgotten that just last year then Supervisor Vallie Brown did three things to help Midtown: 1) removed toxic Mercy Housing, 2) created an ownership model and feasibility study and (3) got the Mayor’s Office of Housing to verbally agree to co-operative ownership. 

Meetings commenced in 2019 with the Mayor’s Office of Housing, Midtown residents and Supervisor Brown to begin writing an RFP/RFQ. Supervisor Brown said she did what she felt was the right thing to do and that all the credit and recognition for small or big victories belong to the tenants who have been fighting for years. When Supervisor Vallie Brown did not win the election, the ownership discussion went dormant. 

Majeid Crawford: How will the passing of the Rent Stabilization legislation impact your life at Midtown?

Phyllis Bowie: First and foremost, I want to give Midtown residents great appreciation and recognition for years of hard work, unity, dedication, resilience, veracity and tenacity at levels unlike this City has ever witnessed before. And for the dedication by Supervisor Dean Preston and his legislative staff to pen the Rent Stabilization legislation, I will be forever grateful.

Midtown resident Phyllis Bowie sits on her balcony sending love and prayers for unity to her Midtown neighbors to keep fighting for the ownership they were promised.

The Rent Stabilization legislation, i.e. rent control, is a celebration of finally getting justice because this simply was the right thing to do. It has taken six years to re-instate what was wrongfully taken away from us. I will sleep better at night knowing that after years of paying increased rents my retired neighbors will now be able to afford to pay for their medical and prescription drugs without going into further debt.

Majeid Crawford: What about the promise of ownership? How will this legislation impact the 13-year-long fight for ownership?

Phyllis Bowie: Unfortunately, I believe the ownership discussion will now take a back seat and force Midtown residents to sign a draconian lease and be permanent renters. Based on past history, I believe the new legislation will be used to block or deflect from the discussion on resident ownership. 

I fear there will be a backlash which will create divisiveness among residents. Possibly some residents will be happy with paying a fair rent and just want to be left alone versus those residents with enough will and energy to strategically continue the ownership fight.

I will continue fighting for my beloved Midtown family to have promised ownership until Black Homes Matter or until I take my last breath.

During the drafting of the current Rent Stabilization legislation by Supervisor Preston, I asked if a line could be added that states a commitment to discuss ownership, because I believe rent stabilization and resident ownership go hand in hand. I was told that it could not be added to this legislation and for me not to expect everything in one piece of legislation.

My fear is that the passing of Rent Stabilization legislation without any mention of resident ownership will make implementing the ownership model extremely difficult and even a bigger fight to just have ownership discussions. I can only speak for myself, but I have been terrorized throughout the years for fighting for promised ownership and I am exhausted. 

However, because I have a dream, I will overcome my fatigue, my fears and my many disappointments. I will dry my eyes and I will continue fighting for my beloved Midtown family to have promised ownership until Black Homes Matter or until I take my last breath.

Majeid Crawford: What are your next steps to make ownership a reality and how can people get involved?

Phyllis Bowie: As I take a deep breath, I will say, “Resident Equity Ownership Now!” First step, and I know this is a biggie, is to have the City put in writing, perhaps through more legislation, the commitment for the Mayor’s Office of Housing to partner with Midtown residents and a Mayor’s Task Force of forward-thinking housing experts to develop a completely new innovative resident ownership model. 

People can help by getting more informed on the issues at Midtown, getting involved and acknowledging and encouraging the officials who are fighting for us. Call or email Mayor Breed and thank her for her department’s pledge last year for cooperative housing at Midtown and ask what you can do to help. 

Call Supervisor Dean Preston and the other Board of Supervisors members and thank them for passing the Rent Stabilization legislation unanimously. Ask Supervisor Preston what is the next step towards ownership and how you can help. 

Reach out to former Supervisor Vallie Brown and thank her for getting an ownership model and feasibility study done for Midtown. Ask her for a copy and see what you can do to help make ownership a reality. 

And lastly, you can help by sending loving positive energy and prayers to the residents of Midtown to have the strength and unity to continue our long fight for promised ownership.

Those who know me know I am a dreamer. My dream for Midtown is that we are released from the shackles of stringent systemic racist housing policies and practices. 

I dream that Midtown becomes the beacon and shining light example of Black fair equity housing reparations and righting the wrongs of Urban Renewal and redlining. A model of resident self-management. 

My dream is that Midtown is renovated into the consummate flagship ownership model of sustainable environment conscience architecture, including elevators, solar energy, roof gardens, open air outdoor spaces, minimum density and access to state-of-the-art technology. Yes, I have a dream!

Majeid Crawford is a Fillmore community leader, writer for the SF Bay View newspaper and executive director of the New Community Leadership Foundation. He can be reached at majeid@nclfinc.org