But moments before their testimony Supervisor London Breed, who represents the neighborhood, attempted to quell those concerns by putting her reputation on the line.
“Whether I am supervisor or not, I will continue to run into these residents because I am a part of that community, too,” Breed said. “I can’t walk in that community and hold my head up if I don’t do this thing right.”
Tuesday’s tenant turnout was the culmination of weeks of meetings with city officials over the future of Midtown, a 139-unit, low-income housing complex at the corner of Geary Boulevard and Divisadero Street. The City bought the site out of foreclosure in 1968. In a unique arrangement, a group of tenants have managed the housing through a nonprofit called Midtown Park Corp.
But as housing conditions deteriorated, The City made it clear things needed to change. Tensions reached a boiling point when, over the Christmas holiday season, The City terminated the lease agreement with the nonprofit effective Jan. 31.
On Monday, Olson Lee, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing, sent an email to the Board of Supervisors stating Midtown “is struggling from years of deferred maintenance as a result of insufficient rental revenue received from rents.” The situation, he said, has forced The City “to finance health and safety repairs because the development has insufficient revenue to pay these costs.”
The plan is to income-certify tenants beginning in March and require payment of the new rents gradually over five years.
“Our goal is that all residents will pay the industry standard of at least 30 percent of household income for rent,” Lee said. The rent increases are part of an overall plan to rehabilitate the existing units and construct two new buildings.
Some tenants also called on The City to rescind the termination of the agreement with the nonprofit board. Tenants are “are afraid of gentrification coming to Midtown,” said Marchell Johnson, head of the nonprofit board. In response to Breed’s comments, Johnson said, “This is the first time that I have felt a little bit at ease.”
Nonprofit below-market-rate housing provider Mercy Housing is set to take over management of the housing complex. “This is going to be a very difficult process. But ultimately my goal is to make sure no resident of Midtown is displaced,” Breed said.