Commission delays vote on conversion of Iris Canada’s former home

The San Francisco Planning Commission delayed voting on a request Thursday to convert the six-unit apartment building at 668-878 Page St. that housed Iris Canada, the centenarian who’s eviction made national headlines last year, into condominiums.

The commissioners voted to continue the matter to their Feb. 1 meeting with an “intent to deny.” Planning Department staff had recommended approval of the conversion, but following testimony from tenant advocates who objected the request, the commissioners agreed that more time was needed to verify information listed on the application.

“I want some substantiation for some of this,” said Commissioner Christine Johnson, who urged her fellow commissioners to state their intent to deny the conversion to “reinforce that condo conversions are clean and amicable, that’s how they should be.”

After spending the better part of three years fighting to stay in her home of five decades, Iris Canada was evicted from her 670 Page St. apartment on Feb. 10, 2017. Canada died a month later after suffering a stroke. Her case became emblematic of The City’s housing crisis that has left many senior and low-income tenants vulnerable to displacement.

In 2014, the building’s owners alleged she had been living with relatives since 2012 and moved to terminate a life estate agreement she had with them, which gave her the status of an owner and allowed Canada to block condo conversion of the unit.

Despite her publicly documented struggle, an application for a condo conversation at the building was greenlit by city planners and made its way in front of the commissioners Thursday.

“There is nothing about this application that differs from [the] scores of other applications you receive in terms of code compliance,” said a representative for the property owners.

In 2014 the owners, who bought the building in 2002 and evicted all of it’s tenants except for Canada, alleged that Canada hadn’t been living in the unit and let it fall into a state of disrepair, Iris Merriouns, Canada’s niece, said.

A judge ruled in the owners’ favor, who then offered to let Canada stay if she agreed to sign paperwork allowing for the condo conversion. Canada refused and asked to buy the unit at below-market rate instead.

“We offered a remedy, but the family wasn’t interested,” Peter Owens, one of the owners, said.

Unable to make the payments, she was evicted last February.

Tenant advocates who were involved in the fight to keep Canada housed opposed the conversion on the grounds that planning code prohibits such conversions at properties where tenants have been evicted.

“[The Planning Department’s] procedure is to call the Rent Board and ask if there was an eviction in last five years. Of course the landlords didn’t file this final eviction with the Rent Board. That happens all the time,” said tenant advocate Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee.

“There is no penalty, no enforcement. No one is watching.”

The application also reported that the unit occupied by Canada for half of her life had been vacant since 2012, which is false, according to Merriouns.

Merriouns and the advocates argued that the owners knowingly misled planners with the information they provided on the condo conversion application.

“This is fraud,” said Merriouns.

The commissioners agreed that the application was “incomplete and incorrect.”

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