In the mid-Market Street loft Ben Cady calls home, the photographer has everything he needs: affordable rent, a prime location and enough space — about 500 square feet — to serve as a studio.
The only thing missing is a window — which makes his “home” an illegal residence. Because of that, Cady and 59 of his neighbors at 1049 Market St. must leave after receiving 60-day eviction notices Sept. 13.
The final eviction tally is unknown, but it could grow to upward of 100 people, according to tenant and housing activists. That would make it one of the largest evictions in San Francisco since the 1970s.
A second building, 1067 Market St., owned by the same ownership group is in a similar situation, with tenants living in illegal units, said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, an activist with the Housing Rights Committee who’s working to organize the tenants.
That means up to 300 people — mostly artists, all middle class at best — could be evicted from affordable mid-Market housing at the same time The City is taking pride in the revitalization of one of its grittiest neighborhoods.
Live, work, leave
Cady’s fourth-floor room is one of about 60 occupied “office lofts” in the century-old building between Sixth and Seventh streets. They were rented out after being advertised as “live-work” spaces.
Some were rented recently; others, like the loft rented by artist Chandra Redack, have been occupied since the first dot-com bust in the early 2000s.
While the leases are legal, the units aren’t legal housing. The building is zoned for commercial use, and the “office lofts” — which have loft beds over kitchen areas — are supposed to be used as offices only, according to city records.
Knowing this, the building’s current ownership group bought the property in 2010 with the idea to “legalize” the units and keep the tenants, most of whom are paying under $1,000 in rent — a situation that simply does not exist elsewhere in The City.
But to bring the living units up to code, the rooms without windows need access to natural light, according to the Department of Building Inspection.
And that’s simply impossible to do in an economically feasible way, said John Gall, a partner in the ownership group that owns 1049 Market St. and two other buildings on the block.
Gall and his partners spent nearly three years meeting with city building officials to try to hash out a way to bring the units up to code, he said Monday, showing a stack of email communication dating back to 2010.
“I believed it was possible,” he said.
But the only solutions — cutting a hole in the building to serve as a light-providing central courtyard, or carving tunnels to “periscope in” light — proved economically “unfeasible,” according to Gall.
It’s unclear what course of action the tenants have against what is a lawful eviction, according to Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the area.
“The best-case scenario is to legalize the units and as many tenants as possible can stay,” she said.
However, that option has been exhausted, Gall said.
Renaissance or reinvention?
The building was flagged by the Department of Building Inspection for the illegal units in 2007 — thanks to an anonymous complaint filed by, it’s believed, a tenant who was being evicted for nonpayment of rent.
No action was taken after Gall’s predecessor filed a permit to legalize the units in 2011, but no work was ever done.
The Building Inspection Department reopened the case this year and sent Gall a notice over the summer to do the work to legalize the units or remove the building from the rental market — i.e., remove the tenants.
He’s now taken out permits to convert the office lofts into office space. Residents on three of 1049 Market St.’s six floors have received eviction notices, along with $5,200 in relocation assistance, with residents on two other floors to follow.
With the tech boom increasing demand for office space, that makes the property more valuable — and part of a successful resurgence of mid-Market, a renaissance that Mayor Ed Lee heavily pushed.
New eateries are taking over vacant storefronts, and sparkling new high-end residential towers are sprouting up along the corridor.
Two blocks up Market Street, of course, is the new headquarters of micro-blogging website Twitter, lured to the area by a tax break that was one of Lee’s first acts in office.
The mayor has recently promoted mid-Market as an arts haven and a techie’s dream, saying at a groundbreaking for theater space last week that it was arts — and not Twitter — that rebuilt the neighborhood.
“The City is trying to promote mid-market as a place for the arts – and now they’re going to evict a bunch of artists to do it?” Avicolli Mecca asked. “Sounds pretty strange to me.”