Tenants tangle with City over rent hikes

Tenants at a city-owned Western Addition apartment complex who are fighting proposed rent changes they say could displace some residents protested outside the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing Wednesday.

Residents of the Midtown Park Apartments, the only city-owned housing complex in San Francisco, are embroiled in an unusual legal battle with The City following a rent board decision last year that they did not qualify for rent control.

The tenants, who say they are engaged in the longest rent strike in San Francisco history, have appealed that decision in a lawsuit currently working its way through San Francisco Superior Court.

The 139-unit housing complex, located on a prime piece of real estate near Geary Boulevard and Divisadero Street, has been owned by the city since shortly after its completion in the 1960s, when officials stepped in to take over from a developer experiencing financial difficulties.

The mixed-income, mixed-race community includes some residents who moved there after losing their homes to redevelopment in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, according to tenants.

Until recently, the property was leased to a tenants association and managed by various companies, but The City ended that arrangement in 2013 and brought in the nonprofit Mercy Housing to manage it instead.

Tenants say that prior to that time, their rents were raised incrementally according to city rent control laws, with no income verification required. Since new management has come in, however, they have been notified that rent control does not apply, and that all tenants are expected to pay 30 percent of their income as rent, and will need to verify their income to do so.

While some tenants would see their rents drop under the new proposal, tenants say many others, including some who had difficulty verifying their income for various reasons, face steep increases that could cause them to lose their homes.

Resident Jay Majitov said Wednesday:

“That is criminal, to impose rent increase of such magnitude on a working class community. … Look at us, we don’t work in tech, I don’t code, I don’t work for Google. We drive buses. We deliver your mail.”

So contentious is the fight over the complex that the city and Mercy Housing have created a web site at MidtownFacts.com spelling out their position. In particular, it asserts that they are “committed” to carrying out a 2007 Board of Supervisors resolution calling for no tenants to be displaced from Midtown because their income is too high or too low.

The site states that rents and leases previously varied greatly with little rationale, with some low-income residents paying as much as half their income in rent while others with high incomes paid barely 10 percent.

The rent modification program was intended to “equalize the rent burden across the 139 units,” they state.

The “unique status” of the Midtown Park Apartments has created a difficult situation, officials said. The city has paid more than $4.5 million for repairs to the property since 2004, and says more are needed.

The site states:

“It is not a traditional affordable housing complex, because of the wide range of resident incomes. … At the same time, the amount of rent being charged has led to a significant deficit in operating revenue that is sorely needed to help pay for urgent repairs to the property.”