For first-time homebuyers, breaking into the San Francisco market can be a nightmare of paperwork and bureaucracy — a task made more difficult when English is a second language.
That’s why HomeBricks — a nonprofit subsidiary of affordable-housing giant Bridge Housing, which works with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency — hired Kan Yin Chow. The 52-year-old was responsible for reaching out to members of the Chinese community and helping them apply for a number of below-market-rate homes offered by the Redevelopment Agency.
But Bridge Housing, which hired Chow, and the Redevelopment Agency now allege he was taking advantage of those people by telling them their applications would bypass dozens of others for an extra fee.
Officials became aware of allegations when contacted by a woman who claimed she was asked for the additional fee, according to Bridge Housing and the Redevelopment Agency.
“One of the alleged victims contacted the Redevelopment Agency,” said Executive Director Fred Blackwell. “She told us what had happened. She got a request and was very confused.”
Blackwell would not say the exact amount of money Chow allegedly asked for, but said that it was more than $1,000.
The Redevelopment Agency contacted Bridge Housing to tell it about the alleged bribery. HomeBricks then terminated Chow’s contract in October because of the pending investigation by the District Attorney’s Office, said Lyn Hikida, a spokeswoman for Bridge Housing.
“If the allegations are true, we didn’t want him having contact with applicants,” she said. “We’re fully cooperating with the Redevelopment Agency and the District Attorney’s Office, but our top priority is to make sure that the application process is fair across the board.”
Chow, who has no disciplinary actions listed on his California real estate license, handled outreach for two developments, Mission Walk in Mission Bay and Armstrong Townhomes in the Bayview district. Redevelopment Agency and Bridge Housing officials said the allegations against Chow are in connection with Armstrong Townhomes.
“If you’ve never done it before, it can be a pretty complicated process,” Hikida said. “If you’re someone who is a little overwhelmed, you might feel a little vulnerable.”
A call to a San Francisco address associated with Chow was not returned. His California real estate license lists a Las Vegas address. Chow’s Nevada real estate license expired in 2007.
Officials did not say how many people were affected by the alleged fraud. The District Attorney’s Office would not confirm an investigation, but no charges have been filed.
Mayor Gavin Newsom said he was outraged by the reports.
“We are doing everything, I assure you, in our power to find out the merits of the allegation,” he said. “My director of redevelopment is taking this very seriously. All of us share equal outrage.”