SAVING A CHINATOWN SRO FROM OUTSIDE INVESTORS


By Rev. Norman Fong

July 24, 2018

norman fong

My son when he was very young, used to hang out with his grandma at this building in Chinatown. I remember seeing so many seniors living there and they were happy. The rents were low and you could see other kids in the hallways playing. Sometimes the seniors set up a mah jong table to play together but it felt like a safe environment with happy seniors and supported families… I love to see happy grandmas and families – don’t you?

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However, five years ago the building was bought by outside investors who wanted to make major changes. Rents were going up across the city and the investors saw the opportunity to re-market Chinatown residential hotels to a richer clientele. After buying the building the new owners started to remodel without any regard for the existing tenants. Showers and toilets were demolished leaving tenants without sufficient facilities. The tenants sometimes had to stand in line for hours to take a shower. Some tenants had to go to the bathroom in buckets. The owners apparently expected tenants to move out. But after more than two years of delayed construction only a few tenants had moved. Then investors sold off the building to a second new investor. When the new owner did not improve the living conditions for existing residents, the tenants joined together to complain to the city and filed a lawsuit. Only then did conditions begin to improve.

But the improvements were clearly not designed to benefit the existing residents. Remodeled units were advertised with amenities appealing to students and tech workers. For example owners installed high speed internet in upgraded higher rent units but did not replace the aging stoves in the communal kitchens. And new rules on the use of common areas made existing residents feel unwelcome.

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chinatown sro

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At Chinatown CDC, we love Chinatown and we want to save our precious housing for working families and seniors who want to stay in. Chinatown is where they can be happy and see friends, and get their health services and food in the culture they are familiar with.

The tenants needed longer term protections and the community needed housing for the seniors and working families. So when the owners of the building put it on the market for sale, Chinatown Community Development Center made the bold move to bold move to buy it. This past week, we were able to complete that purchase.

Chinatown CDC made the bold move to purchase the building for Chinatown folks and help the existing residents that currently live there. We are trying to find ways to keep the SROs as affordable as we can and improve the living conditions there.

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chinatown sro

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Chinatown CDC sometimes has the opportunity to build new buildings. But vacant buildable land is scarce in the city and competition with for profit developers makes land extremely expensive. At Chinatown CDC, we also work hard to preserve and protect existing housing. It can be hard to do because many old SRO buildings need upgrades and work.

I am so proud of Chinatown CDC because we are trying to keep the oldest Chinatown in the country alive and thriving, and we need to pay attention to keep rents from going too high. As long as I have been working in Chinatown, for 40 years, I have seen so many people who just want to make a profit.

I am so proud to be a part of a housing agency that also cares so much for the people of the community so that our grandmas, seniors, and even families who are low income can continue to afford to live in Chinatown. We will continue to build affordable housing wherever we can, but it is almost priceless to save the existing affordable housing we already have. We are also renovating the Ping Yuen to keep it for the community and I wish we were rich so that we can save more SRO buildings .

Half of our community lives in SRO buildings. Most seniors and grandmoms that live in Chinatown, like my son’s grandmom, need our help and the services of many non-profits in the community. I’m glad that the family associations own a lot of the SROs too and hope they can continue to take care of our community. San Francisco rents have been sky-rocketing and it’s unaffordable for our seniors and working class people. I hope that San Francisco will consider housing preservation as just as important as building expensive new buildings. Since 1990, most of the housing built has been market rate with some affordable housing. We need to build and save affordable housing like this SRO building. There isn’t much money available for this kind of housing, but we’re doing the best we can. For now, let’s celebrate the preservation of this one building for our residents.

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Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on July 22, 2018
 
 
 
 

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