She’s talked tough on protecting tenants in The City’s rental crisis, but now Supervisor Vallie Brown is taking heat for evicting tenants herself.
Brown is running in this November’s election to keep her appointed job representing Japantown, the Haight, Inner Sunset, and Western Addition, among other District 5 neighborhoods.
But those supporting her chief opponent, tenants advocate Dean Preston, alleged Thursday that no one in those neighborhoods, which are filled with vulnerable renters, should vote for someone who themselves evicted tenants — and they brought the documentation to show Brown once kicked folks to the curb.
Those court documents, first reported by our sister paper SF Weekly, show Brown conducted an owner-move-in eviction when she purchased a Fillmore Street building for $275,000 in 1994.
Brown moved in, and apparently after fraught negotiations over how much rent the tenants could pay to help renovate the building with needed repairs, she and her co-owners gave ‘em the boot.
One of those tenants, Thomas L. Cotton, was 56 and paid $206 per month for his apartment there for 20 years. While San Francisco’s rental market in 1994 was far from the boiling, bubbling cauldron of awful it is today, he likely experienced a sticker shock after that.
Brown maintains, however, that Cotton neverlived there — he only ever used the space for storage, her campaign spokesperson said.
Still, three of the evicted tenants petitioned the rent board for wrongful eviction against Brown and lost, records show.
After living at the Fillmore Street property for 20 years herself, Brown sold the property for $2.3 million following the death of her partner.
San Francisco tenants advocates, who are noted Preston supporters, held a press conference outside the building on 152 Fillmore to scorch the supervisor for her eviction history.
Gloria Berry, a San Francisco native and former supervisor candidate, said that three times in her life she has been evicted.
“Fillmore was a historically black neighborhood, which was beautiful and thriving when I grew up. It’s personal, you know? It hurts,” Berry said. “There were black seniors living here in this building that were evicted.”
Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and editor of Beyond Chron, has long espoused on San Francisco housing.
He told me that just how much hardship Brown’s tenants faced after an eviction in San Francisco circa 1994 depends on how low their rent was in the first place — though he did say 1994 was a “slow” period in San Francisco real estate. This wasn’t the tech boom, yet.
“It’s always the case in San Francisco if you’ve been in a place for a long period of time anything on the market will be significantly more,” Shaw said. “It makes an incredible difference.”
We don’t know much about how the tenants fared besides Cotton and his roommate, who moved to Florida. Another tenant eventually moved into public housing.
Brown’s campaign spokespeople said the occupants weren’t paying rent at all. None of them.
When I asked the long-time San Francisco observer how he thinks voters will react, Shaw said “It’s really hard to know. I think when you do a fraudulent eviction, as Amos Brown did in his supervisors race and lost to Gerardo Sandoval because of that” in the year 2000.
In this case, “it will really depend on how Vallie explains what occurred,” Shaw said.
Brown told SF Weekly that she and her co-owners needed to renovate the place, which was beset by mold, and negotiated with the tenants to adjust the rent to do so. Brown and her co-owners only moved to evict them only after negotiations came to a standstill.
“Tenants felt, for paying rent, the place was too much of a wreck,” Brown told SF Weekly. “We wanted to keep people there and we didn’t have help.”
Preston’s supporters think it should be a flashpoint for voters in the neighborhoods Brown or Preston would represent.
“It was just as wrong to evict tenants 25 years ago as it would be today,” tenants advocate Jennifer Fieber said in a press release. “The last person we need in City Hall is someone who would personally evict, displace and profit off the misery of long-term tenants forced from their homes.”
Cody McFarland contributed to this report.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.