Another painful eviction as artists leave longtime home

Bernal Heights building where people have lived for years suddenly becomes a hazard that has to be demolished for condos

San Francisco lost another little piece of its soul today when the sheriffs came and forced a group of working-class artists out of a warehouse where people have been living at the foot of Bernal Hill for at least 20 years.

The deputies arrived in the morning, along with a representative of the landlord and a locksmith. The tenants were given time to take out their belongings, the locks were changed, and a corner of the city where there was still affordable housing turned into a site for demolition and the construction of high-end condos.

This was a cool place where rents were cheap. No more
This was a cool place where rents were cheap. No more

The property owner has filed an application to demolish the warehouse, and one next door that holds artist studios, and build 47 condos.

I have visited the place several times. It’s a part of what SF used to be – the city once had big open industrial spaces where artists could live and work, without paying a fortune in rent. Then “live-work” became a thing for developers, and new studios commanded high rents. But the city mostly left the old places alone.

That was before the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, which gave SF property owners a new incentive to find ways to get rid of long-term tenants who were living in spaces that weren’t built for housing.

I get the Ghost Ship problem – there should never have been a big party in a place without adequate exits, and some spaces are hazardous for occupation (and for events). That fire was a horrible tragedy that could have been prevented with better code enforcement.

But in a city under such immense housing pressure, low-income people have been forced to choose between safety and the streets. And the city ought to be able to work to promote safety without evictions.

In this case, the warehouse wasn’t the Ghost Ship. There were no big parties on site. It wasn’t a venue for events. As far as I can tell, only a small number of people were ever in the building. It was a quiet place. With a little help from the landlord and the city, the tenants could have brought the place up to code.

In fact, that process was underway.

But the land is more valuable as high-end condos, so the landlord went to court and said that the place wasn’t habitable and that people were living there, so they all had to go.

I talked to Natham Cottam, who was carrying his belongings to his car. He said he would stay with friends for a few days, but had no idea what would happen after that.

Another tenant was moving his things into a white van. “I have no idea where I’m going to go,” he said. “I guess I’m sleeping in my van.”

There has to be a better way.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, who works with the Housing Rights Committee, was standing outside in the rain as the locksmith worked and the tenants collected their stuff.

“What is it going to take?” he asked. “Iris Canada is dead. We have other seniors who have died after evictions. What has to happen before City Hall decides that this has to stop?”

Good question.

19 COMMENTS

  1. OK, even the residents were doing repairs to fully bring it up to code. I’m just saying it wasn’t anything like the Ghost Ship.

  2. I do, but if they’re the master tenant, the leaseholder and [maybe] the longest domiciled tenant there, I’m not sure how else to describe them. it’s a lot of responsibility as well. Often they’re on the hook for the deposits, utilities, etc.,

  3. Yes, and you literally have more rights as a MT than would a prop owner or LL in the same unit. Go figure.

  4. Did you look at the video? This warehouse in BH looked like it was a mess inside & extremely unsafe with no fire safety features!

  5. Some warehouses are very safe, and from what I read these were pretty good and being improved. The Ghost Ship was pathologically unsafe in every way: bad electrical, no sprinklers, no escape routes.

  6. He didn’t. That was how he got them evicted, AFAIK. Funny enough, the same zoning lets him put 50 condos on that property.

  7. key phrase is rent control. Makes all the difference if one is lucky enough to find a place with a longtime master tenant with an available room.

  8. You say it’s not possible, but as the master tenant of a rent controlled flat, I say it is. I’ve rented to many artists and SF newcomers over the years. I know literally dozens of people in the Western Addition making well under $50k and living in rent controlled units.

    Even in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire, Oakland is evicting only a small percentage of it’s live/work warehouse spaces. Safety is paramount, but where exactly Oakland and SF draw the line regarding people living in commercially zoned warehouses needs to be carefully considered.

  9. Also, the warehouse in this story is zoned for commercial use:
    https://ww2.kqed.org/arts/2017/04/26/artists-evicted-from-commercially-zoned-bernal-heights-warehouse/

    It’s surprising that Tim completely omitted that. Because I remember when there was a tech office in a building in the Mission that they probably weren’t zoned for. Tim was emphatic that we need to enforce legal zoning requirements.

    It was probably just an oversight that he entirely overlooked the matter of zoning this time

  10. But then your taxes would go down to 15% if you’re a freelancer, which is going to work out the same.

  11. Not to worry….Trump is removing local property taxes as a federal deduction. All will be well soon. Bigly.

  12. IDK what the answer is. The warehouses are unsafe & that means that if there’s another fire like the one at Ghost Ship, the LL is responsible for renting inhabitable properties to the tenants who will sue (like right now in Oak).

    If you’re an artist, you’re literally better off moving to the lower priced areas like DET & BALT, not to SFBA. The prices here are skyrocketing. Unless you’re making $150k+ per year you really can’t move to the SFBA unless you have real family/conn. It’s not possible. And SFG just said that an engineer making $160k a year can’t afford to live here nor doctors.

    And development isn’t going to ease the rental prices of the area.

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