Housing activists take aim at Cow Hollow company over eviction of longtime elderly tenant

Nathaniel Y. Downes/Special to The S.F. ExaminerProtesters attempted to occupy the offices of Urban Green Investments on Union Street in the Cow Hollow neighborhood Wednesday over the eviction of 98-year-old Mary Phillips and her caregiver Sara Brant from their Mission district apartments.

Nathaniel Y. Downes/Special to The S.F. ExaminerProtesters attempted to occupy the offices of Urban Green Investments on Union Street in the Cow Hollow neighborhood Wednesday over the eviction of 98-year-old Mary Phillips and her caregiver Sara Brant from their Mission district apartments.

Anti-eviction activists have blamed San Francisco's housing crisis on a number of entities, from landlords to tech companies to commuter shuttles, but they staged their most recent protest against a self-described green-friendly company that they and some city politicians claim is one of the largest local real estate speculators particularly quick at flipping properties for resale.

Urban Green Investments, at 1746 Union St., had several dozen Eviction-Free San Francisco protesters outside its office Wednesday morning. The activists with Eviction-Free San Francisco decried the property owner's latest Ellis Act eviction involving 98-year-old Mary Phillips, a 50-year resident, and Balboa High School teacher Sarah Brant, the only two remaining tenants at a six-unit complex at 55 Dolores St. in Mission Dolores.

“There are other notorious speculators who have evicted perhaps more, but these evictions have happened very rapidly,” Eviction-Free San Francisco organizer Erin McElroy said. “It's not like Urban Green has been sitting around 10 years, periodically evicting. They just came on and started evicting really quickly.”

The real estate company, which closed its doors during the protest Wednesday, and its lawyer could not be reached for comment. On its website, Urban Green Investments states that it “invests in multi-family, commercial and entitled land real estate in California,” and “adds value by increasing efficiencies, enhancing entitlements, and employing carefully calibrated green renovations.”

In a post on its own website, the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, which McElroy also volunteers for, published another purported description of the company formerly on the Urban Green Investments website: “We are able to efficiently analyze opportunities and have the ability to make all-cash, quick closings … The two main approaches to maximizing values are: 1) to renovate and increase existing cash-flow, and 2) to renovate and convert the property to a Tenancy in Common (TIC), then sell the property as individual owner-occupied units.”

The anti-eviction project, based on public-records research and a state database, claims the company is currently displacing tenants at a half-dozen other buildings in The City. Urban Green Investments appears to be aggressively pushing out Brant, a caretaker for Phillips, as a means to drive the elderly woman out, McElroy said.

Supervisor David Campos said the situation illustrates “how grave a problem” evictions continue to be in San Francisco.

“Urban Green is trying to hide behind their florescent environmental name,” he said. “But they have followed predatory practices and that they are willing to evict a 98-year-old woman proves a point.”

An anti-real estate speculation measure that would impose a graduated tax on short-term property flips could discourage companies like Urban Green Investments if city voters approve it in November, Campos said. But a major setback at the state level occurred last month when Sen. Mark Leno's Ellis Act reform bill failed to pass the Assembly Housing Committee.

“A lot of people have been speaking out about these really unacceptable actions and protesting,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the district where Phillips and Brant live. “But ultimately, without reform at the state level, it significantly limits what we can do to keep people stable in their housing.”

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