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Saturday, October 16, 2021

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News + PoliticsHousingRobots in the crash pad: The twisted takeover of...

Robots in the crash pad: The twisted takeover of the Red Victorian Hotel

How Haight Ashbury countercultural ideals were distorted by a tech "co-living" experiment, and a trans performance community was displaced.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Further information has come to light regarding this story. We are updating, and it will be back soon.

Natalia Robyns-Kresich
Natalia Kresich was born and raised in San Francisco. She has been writing about local issues for 48 Hills for several years.
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18 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, I’ve never seen so many comments on a 48Hills article. Put it back up please 🙂 I was able to read the archived version here, as another poster mentioned. https://web.archive.org/web/20210923014528/https://48hills.org/2021/09/robots-in-the-crash-pad-the-twisted-takeover-of-the-red-victorian-hotel/

    The defenders of the cult are out in droves to attack the article, that’s for sure. I actually met some of the people high up in Embassy at Wilbur Hot Springs after they bought it, and while nice enough they are definitely very privileged. Making millions working for an company that sells imaging to the Pentagon? Seriously, how evil can you get? You can cloak Planet Labs glowing terms you want, but we know it’s straight up evil with a veneer of usefulness. Hey look, these images are helping fight climate change! They have nothing to do with slaughtering anyone fighting for democracy and against imperialism in the global south! Did we mention some of our tenants work on self-driving cars? Oh yeah, and we’re diverse so stop these attacks! Please.

    My experience with those surrounding the people that purchased Wilbur was less than pleasant. Loudly on their phones (at a hot spring!), talking about their Instagram photo shoots in Costa Rica, and the other locations all over the world – so tone deaf and privileged I had to read a bit about the organization when I got back.

    But they’re not tech!! Well, they’re still elitist and anything they’re doing with a pretense of altruism has ulterior motives.

  2. Thank you for helping to hold these privileged people accountable by highlighting the harm they’ve caused to marginalized communities. Just because you don’t call yourself a landlord, it doesn’t mean you’re not legally considered one if you buy a building and invite people to live in it – especially when you draw up a “Shared Agreements Document” which is functionally a lease.

    It also really pisses me off that these people were able to leverage their privilege to get this article taken down, so if anyone would like to read the original it’s archived here: https://web.archive.org/web/20210923014528/https://48hills.org/2021/09/robots-in-the-crash-pad-the-twisted-takeover-of-the-red-victorian-hotel/

  3. As a long time reader of 48 Hills who generally aligns with the progressive politics and voice here, I am appalled that you would choose to publish this completely one-sided hit piece full of falsehoods. Did you actually spend any time with Zarinah or interview anyone who lives at the Embassy? Did you talk to the formerly incarcerated community at Template House and Sigil who have been powerfully supported and housed due to the work of District Commons? These are people who care more about this city than almost anyone I know, who have helped generate so much real community here and work for the marginalized in so many ways. Please retract this article, it is an embarrassment and can only do harm.

  4. “They aren’t ‘Tech’. Neitheer of the employees work in tech. Both are queer people.” – this is an insane thing to reply with? You think reading reviews (obviously can be manipulated) is a substitute for critical journalism? Yo you guys are a cult!

  5. Here’s some good other articles that may help those confused by the comments underestand why people are a bit annoyed by this article:

    https://www.kqed.org/news/11867110/for-some-parolees-facing-homelessness-communal-houses-fill-the-gap

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/07/05/in-a-divided-country-communal-living-redefines-togetherness

    Feel welcome to dm me andreamv113 @ gmail to discuss if you have legit questions. A few more tthings to point out:
    1. District commons doesn’t rent or leease or own any properties…
    2. They aren’t ‘Tech’. Neitheer of the employees work in tech. Both are queer people.
    3. In general the Red victorian WAS a communiity houose people lived in it- it doesn’t have ‘landlords’ apart from peaceful world foundation whcih people loved. Why you’re seeing a lot of upsett people is this article is taking something that WASNT tech in the city and making it about tech. The events were free and open to the public and not about tech…

    Don’t want to trust me: Cool go google Red victorian and read the reviews people who stayed there left on Google. Its a more truthful way of knowing what that community was.

  6. So based on most of these comments, District Commons is a cult? You guys got big posters of your leaders on the wall or what is going on here?

  7. I would agree with removing the article. It is a wild misrepresentation of the facts. Anyone who has interacted with Zarinah and Jessy know they are the most kind, giving and wonderful individuals, who have invested their livelihoods to support creating homes and communities for people. Squatting illegally at the start of Covid removed the possibility for the city to use the hotel for the less fortunate. Not paying rent to a non profit? Who does that? Seems like Fishbowl got free rent for all of Covid and now is annoyed they can’t continue with free rent.

  8. These spaces are COMMUNITIES!!! District Commons is not the landlord, it is the designated steward of the community!!! Just because it was designated to be the community’s steward by its Founders does not make them the landlords, even if they didn’t live there!!!

    You don’t disrupt your community by treating the Stewards like that, regardless if they are in your immediate community or not!

    And yes I identify as Gay and Queer. How dare they slander this grassroots movement, I have many identities, so what if we are tech workers? Anyone is free to apply, our rents are affordable (before dues)!

  9. This article is completely wrong. Anyone who knows Zarinah knows that She would never do anything like this!!!! Zarinah is the future leader of our society, you all just do not understand what she does for people!!!!!

  10. This article is rife with falsehoods. District Commons is a non-profit, not a “coliving landlord.”
    Aside, Zarinah Agnew Jessy Schingler and Robbie Schingler are some of the most inspirational and bighearted people I’ve ever had the fortune of coming across. If you get to know them consider yourself lucky.
    [notice how none of them were interviewed for the “article” about them]
    If you ever have the chance to get involved with or support any of their projects – to which they give their time and energy endlessly with no compensation – do take the opportunity. You won’t be sorry and it will open your mind and heart.

  11. This article is a terrific “deep dive” into the perverse ways that tech-culture, and the particular variety of capitalism it embodies, both cannibalizes the counter-cultural spirit of San Francisco as well as leaves a barren desert in its wake.

    Many of the comments here are clearly from partisans of the fake commune, “District Commons.” Most of them are a simple case of “the lady doth protest to much.”

    All Power to the Fishbowl!

  12. Wow that was an a great article, so sad what’s happened to our city. You can tell it hit some soft spots when the tech overlords log in on burners to talk shit. They clearly panicking!

  13. A few more factual inaccuracies:

    – District Commons is a nonprofit that owns Embassy Network, LLC.
    -> is factually false.

    – Embassy network is not an LLC.
    – >It wasn’t an eviction literally because they were not Tenants… Fishbowl had no lease nor did they pay rent.

    – What kind of “commune” tries to kick a group of tenants out of an empty hotel during a pandemic?
    -> Again misleading… its not just an empty hotel its that District commons a tiny nonprofit couldn’t afford to lease a giant hotel and pay rent so they had to return it empty to Peaceful World Foundation- another non-profit- who wants to sell it to help their non-profit. Fishbowl squatted as District commons was cleaning the building to return it to the owners so they could end the lease they couldn’t afford. Fishbowl squatted leaving a 2 person non-profit with thousands of dollars of rent and no income.

    Simultaneously, Schingler and Agnew announced that hotel would be home to a Red Victorian “Soup Kitchen.” This, evidently, was the new intended use of the building for which tenants would need to immediately vacate. Food for the project was dropped off in the kitchen, a room from which tenants were locked out. According to tenants, the food that was left there began to rot and eventually caused a pest infestation. The planned Red Victorian “Soup Kitchen” did not materialize.
    -> Also false.

    Says Ludicrum, “What [Schingler and Agnew] are doing is leveraging housing scarcity to obtain below market labor from marginalized people. And they’re running a tenement. Slumlord doesn’t even cover it.”
    -> Not just false beyond belief but neither of these people… actually NO ONE makes any money from this ‘operation’ it was a coommunity house with conflict not some ‘management run business’.

    The Fishbowl Collective emerged from The Red Victorian’s ground floor in August 2020 in a series of free performances hosted every Saturday evening at 8pm inside the hotel’s oversized storefront windows.
    -> Fishbowl did this all for the money- they had a largee go fund me and collected money via venmo at every paid show.

    I could keep correcting this article but at some point its faster to request you take it down.

  14. Oh please. Fishbowl fraudulently exploited tenant’s protections to extort money from some of the best people in this city. Also, “co-living empire”?? Nobody involved in District Commons or the Embassy Network makes any profits from any of the communes or projects. Zarinah is the most dedicated person to the just, radical transformation of society you’ll ever meet. Ever. Fishbowl completely exploited their kindness, and did it all for money.

  15. This article is so deeply one-sided. Journalists should at least make an effort to fact check their sources and represent multiple sides of the story.

  16. I’m beating a dead horse now but second life also did not ‘meet online’ as a tech solution.
    It went virtual due to COVID. We met by attending court cases for people trying to get off Parole… I personally attended over 25 different court cases for people’s parole and/or immigration status. That is how they got close to ’embassy network’. Also by hosting support groups and DND games at our house. I also personally hosted police interaction trainings for our community at Embassy for undocumented folks in particular.
    I have photo evidence of this. You’ve again taken the work of POC and queer people and made it about ‘tech’ when it is not just to make Embassy network appear a villain.

  17. This article is not only inaccurate it is an insult to those of us in the Queer, POC and immigrant community in SF. Let me outline a lot of the inaccurate ways you misrepresented us to create click bate and cheap scandal. I hope you reconsider your release of this article which highlights your own divisive politics and q your own privelage and lack of nuance in considering identity.

    A meta point: I’m an immigrant, lesbian from Colombia. I work in clean tech- it means I was able to move up from being a more low income person. Stop villifying those of us who work in tech without knowing any context. Many immigrants work in tech to get visas. Queer people work in tech! You may be privelaged enough to not need to work in tech- others are not. Don’t treat us as a monolith of villanize us for choosing to work in the technology sector.

    “District Commons is a nonprofit that owns Embassy Network, LLC—a limited liability corporation that buys up and rents out residential buildings throughout the city to create a network of “co-living” houses—a sort of minor WeWork for tech worker housing.”
    -> This is false. DC has never prioritized tech housing; you will notice the MAJORITY of people living in houses affiliated with Embassy network DON’T work in tech. In fact multiplee houses explicitly were created for formerly incarcerated folks. Also they don’t own or even rent affiliated houses; its simply a network to facilitate people starting new cooperatives.

    The Red Victorian, once an international peace center, hostel, and SRO for everyday travelers and working-class tenants, became an exclusive tech enclave. 

    -> Again false- the majority of people who lived in the cooperative likely did not work in tech.

    One Embassy Network house, “Agape,” is a towering Victorian in the Mission District
    -> They are a coopertive in the SF. Cooperatives become friends…. but No Agape is not a ‘Embassy Network house’. This is just inaccurate.

    Embassy Network, as much as it functions to provide housing, also seems to exist to create a social and professional networking pool for San Francisco’s tech world—part fraternity-sorority, part venture capital investment funder club. 
    -> False again. I have lived in Embassy for 3+ years the events I’ve hosted have been queer women and non binary mixers, support groups for formerlly incarcerated, dancing events, and Spanish dinners to meet other latinx people. You read that 2 founders live in the house and used that to erase the experience of the 10+ other people in the house which includes a lot of POC people NOT in tech, not in VC. You are erasing our work and experience by selectively centering two people.

    There is a glaring and overwhelming whiteness of its permanent residents.  
    – Our current 13 person house includes: 5 white people (Canadian, 3 Americans, 1 UK, 1 German) , 2 mixed race people, 1 latinx person, 1 black person, 1 asian woman, 1 Russian. Again WOW you really erased the MAJORITY of the house of POC people with your inaccurate comment!

    or people with disabilities.
    – Two – Four people in our home identify as having disabilities; some far more debilitating than others. Not that this is any of your business but many actually struggle with chronic health and/or take disability leave.

    – We also have a MAJORITY queer / GNC house.

    YOU as a journalist felt it was OKAY to ‘stand up’ for fishbowl not knowing that in the process of trying to villify who they squatted you were stepping on, erasing and misinforming on the experience of Queer, POC, and disabled people. I recommend you consider removing this article and reflecting on the impact that your work has on people in these communities.

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