Residents at Midtown Apartments at 1415 Scott St. have been fighting to gain rent control protections and ownership of their complex for years. (Amanda Peterson/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Tenants defeat rent hikes at city-owned Midtown Park Apartments

Supervisors approve legislation rolling back 2014 increases, putting rent control in place

San Francisco adopted new rent protections Tuesday for about 100 tenants living in a city-owned affordable housing complex in the Fillmore neighborhood after residents spent years opposing rent hikes.

The Board of Supervisors voted 11-0 to approve legislation introduced by Supervisor Dean Preston that rolls back rent hikes imposed in 2014 for those living in the Midtown Park Apartments. The tenants fought both the rent increases and other plans The City had for the site including demolition and rebuilds.

The legislation approved Tuesday will not permit rent hikes in excess of what’s allowed under rent control, which normally applies to private development built before June 1979.

“I hope this will mark a new beginning for Midtown,” Preston said Tuesday, adding that “tenant organizing works.”

The new rent restrictions apply to tenants of Midtown who were living there as of January 1, 2014. The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, which owns the site, can still set the rents based on income for prospective tenants.

A budget analyst report estimates the site could lose about $500,000 in rental revenue due to the changes. The City currently subsidizes the operation of the complex; in fiscal year 2018 the subsidy was $850,000, and in fiscal year 2019 it was $425,973.

“If The City needs to cover costs at Midtown it should not do so on the backs of long term residents there, a majority, 69 percent, of whom are African American,” Preston said at a recent board committee hearing. “The City needs to step up and invest the money needed to make Midtown thrive now and well into the future.”

Midtown Park Apartments, located at 1415 Scott St., comprise 139 housing units which opened in 1968 to provide housing to those displaced by the Redevelopment Agency’s urban renewal program in the neighborhood.

Tenants had long paid rents they assumed were covered by the private market’s rent control law, which only allows a percentage increase each year, even though they were living in a city-owned affordable housing complex.

But in 2014, The Mayor’s Office of Housing moved forward with plans to turn over management of the complex to the non-profit Mercy Housing and demolish and rebuild the units.As part of this new effort, tenants’ rents were raised based on their income.

It is common for affordable housing sites to require tenants to pay 30 percent of their income in rent, but Preston said some tenants saw their rent increase by as much as 300 percent.

The budget analyst report said that 86 tenants saw their rents increase by a median of 75 percent, with the increase phased in over five years.

The rent hikes, coupled with a distrust of what The City would do with the complex, led tenants to organize and advocate against the plans.

Preston’s legislation rolls back tenants’ rents to their 2014 level, before the income-based rent hikes, and restricts them to increases allowed under rent control. They will receive rent credits for the rent they paid over those amounts in recent years.

There is also a provision in the law that allows tenants to stick with the income-adjusted rents if they choose, because for some this rent is actually lower than what it would be if it was rolled back to the 2014 amounts.

Former District 5 Supervisor and former sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, praised the legislation in a recent board committee hearing for “stabilizing the rent procedures while there is still consideration for the original promise of Midtown.”

“It was over 50 years ago Midtown was designed to become a housing cooperative so that this diverse population of working class and predominantly Black residents were to become homeowners,” Mirkarimi said. “That promise was never fulfilled, but their rents paid off the mortgage.”

Mirkarimi said he supported a land trust or cooperative housing “but that faced stiff resistance from two mayors who had different designs for Midtown.” He encouraged Preston to continue to pursue it.

Preston said at a recent board committee hearing that he expects to return to the board to address “the long term plight of tenants at Midtown and how to make the repairs that are needed and stabilize the housing and have residents control and/or own the property.”

“But in the meantime we’ve got to stabilize and address this rent increase situation and that’s what the legislation before you does today,” Preston said.

Tenants recently praised the proposal.

Mary Watkins, a resident for about 50 years who raised her children at Midtown, said, “Supervisor Preston has done a wonderful job trying to help us.”

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