New Visions for Small Sites

March 13, 2019

9th avenue small sites
During a December 2018 press conference announcing Chinatown CDC's ownership of 9th Avenue Terrace, Mayor London Breed visited with long-time resident, Ms. Yu (age 99).

Low-income renters have to contend with a lot of things, such as pests, poor maintenance, and safety and security concerns. By far the scariest thing for most is the possibility of receiving a notice from their landlord that they are being forced out through unaffordable rent increases or evictions. Displaced tenants often have to uproot their whole lives and move to a different city or community, losing the connections that they’ve built over time. Often when tenants are forced out, it is due to a change in ownership and a new owner takes over that building.

Tenants of smaller buildings are more susceptible to Ellis Act evictions, to landlord pressure and threats, and to buyouts. Tenants of larger buildings are not faced as often with the worst landlord threats – they are generally at low risk of an Ellis Act eviction and can appeal most bad landlord behavior to the Rent Board. There’s also protection in numbers; lots of tenants coming together can yield much power.

In many cases, smaller buildings have tenants who’ve resided there for many years and are paying very low rents – these are exactly the type of tenant the profit-motivated landlords want to push out. Families that have grown much larger during their time in the unit also leaves them susceptible to landlords who claim their unit is over-crowded. Many of these buildings have had little investment, or need major improvements, which allow new owners to push tenants out or make their lives miserable as they live through repairs – and then passing on the cost of these capital improvements as a rent increase.

This is where the City’s Small Sites program offers hope. The Small Sites program enables nonprofits like Chinatown CDC to buy smaller buildings (25 units or less), keep rents low and tenants in place, and fix up the buildings. Chinatown CDC has been able to acquire two buildings through the Small Sites program – 462 Green and 289 - 9th Avenue (9th Avenue Terrace). At 462 Green there are six 2-bedroom units needing serious repair and a soft-story retrofit. We’re fixing it up and keeping the long-term families in place. Six 2-bedroom units in North Beach have been saved from the usual story of a profit-motivated buyer pushing everyone out, fixing up the units, and putting them on the market at a huge mark-up.

At 9th Avenue Terrace, the majority of the 16 units are still occupied by the original tenants when the building was completed 40 years ago! The building was constructed as replacement housing for these residents when the SRO building where they once resided was demolished in 1980. For these elderly low-income residents, 9th Avenue Terrace provides a permanent secure home under Chinatown CDC’s ownership.

This is just the beginning! Chinatown CDC has another two small sites in the works and in some cases, it may even be possible to add units to these buildings thereby creating more housing at affordable rents.

The Small Sites program isn’t only a benefit to low-income renters. It can be an opportunity for long-term owners, who want to do right by their tenants, to earn the benefit of their investment and work without having to doom their tenants to displacement. So, if you are an owner of a small building looking to sell, or a tenant of a small building that is for sale, please contact us - we may be able to help through the City’s Small Sites program.


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