Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Gordon Mar on Friday announced the purchase of a Taraval Street property through The City’s Small Sites program. The purchase preserved the home of tenants including Zhen Ying Lee, far left, and Ming Young Lee, second from left. (Caroline Ghisolfi/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Community leaders move to ‘aggressively’ preserve affordable housing in the Sunset

Ming Young Lee said she felt her heart burst into her chest every morning for ten months, after receiving notice that her Taraval Street unit in the Sunset was being sold. She couldn’t eat and couldn’t sleep.

The Lees – Ming Young and her husband Zhen Ying – had been living in their home since 1994.

One of 479 families in the district facing evictions this decade, the elderly couple had nowhere to go, according to Supervisor Gordon Mar. Then, the City stepped in.

“The Sunset District has by far the lowest affordable housing investments of any other district in the city,” Mar told The Examiner on Friday, “We needed to save the Lees…, prevent this eviction.”

The supervisor, together with Mayor London Breed and local community leaders, took the first step towards preserving the building affordable housing in the Sunset this Friday, working with the nonprofit Mission Economic Development Agency to quickly acquire the property at 3544 Taraval St. before the Lees lost their home. Five other units that received eviction notices at the same address were also spared.

The investment was financed by the Mayor’s office and the SF Housing Accelerator Fund as part of the Small Sites Program, which has been protecting low-income tenants and stabilizing rent across the city since 2014.

To date, the program has financed and preserved 278 units and 34 buildings, and is working to stabilize another 110 units and 12 buildings in the coming months, Breed said at a press conference Friday. Its latest acquisitions, finalized this summer, included properties in Telegraph Hill, Chinatown, and in the Mission and Outer Mission districts, The Examiner reported.

3544 Taraval St. was the first building in the Sunset District to be included in the program, and Mar said it cannot be the last.

“I am going to be very aggressive in pursuing other opportunities,” he said.

In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the Sunset was the second district – after the Mission – with the most annual landlord Ellis Act evictions, with two to three times more notices than most city districts, according to the latest annual statistics by the Rent Board.

Meanwhile, rent prices are on the rise.

“This neighborhood has historically been the frontier of affordability: a working class enclave with small apartment buildings,” Mar said. “(But) it has since been undergoing dramatic change with fewer affordable, neighbor-serving businesses and more luxury condos.”

The building adjacent to the Lees’ residence was recently transformed into a three-condo luxury complex, Mar said. Each condo sold for $1.3 million, driving rents to unparallelled heights.

Had the Lees been evicted, it would have been impossible for them to continue living in the Sunset, their daughter Winnie Mui told The Examiner.

Breed emphasized at the conference that preserving existing affordable housing must be as important as building new affordable housing in the city.

“And the Small Sites acquisition program is just an incredible, incredible opportunity to do just that,” Breed said.

The program removes selected buildings from the speculative market, appointing nonprofits to serve as landlords and ensure financial sustainability in perpetuation.

Renovation costs are also covered, Breed said in a follow-up news release. The Lees’ building received a $400,000 rehabilitation grant, which will cover crucial repairs such as seismic strengthening and the installation of a fire alarm system.

“This feels like a big boulder is being lifted from (my) chest,” Ming Young Lee said in an interview with The Examiner, assisted by a translator. She later added: “We are grateful (to) Supervisor Mar and Mayor London Breed for choosing our building… and we are so happy to know that San Francisco has the Small Sites program.”

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