Evictee tours renovated former SF apartment 

click to enlarge Gum Gee Lee, 75, on Tuesday toured the apartment from which she was evicted. After Lee’s family paid $778 a month in rent, the unit is being listed with a sale price of $759,000. It goes on the market today. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/special to the S.f. Examiner
  • Gum Gee Lee, 75, on Tuesday toured the apartment from which she was evicted. After Lee’s family paid $778 a month in rent, the unit is being listed with a sale price of $759,000. It goes on the market today.

The first thing Gum Gee Lee, 75, did when she stepped into her old apartment of 34 years in Polk Gulch on Tuesday was smile.

"It's very pretty," she said in Cantonese during the open house. It was her first visit since moving out a year ago after an eviction through the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords looking to leave the rental market to evict tenants.

The unit, 1506 No. 2 Jackson St.instead of the former address of 1508-A Jackson St., smelled of fresh paint and new furnishings.

Lee pointed out that the two bedrooms and a bathroom that used to be on the left side had been replaced by a new bathroom and laundry closet, leaving a spacious area with a sleek galley kitchen and marble-framed fireplace. She walked into a new bedroom and noted that it was her old kitchen, that the patio she used to hang her laundry on had been converted into a two-sink bathroom, and that a wall added to her old living room created a second bedroom.

click to enlarge The remodeled kitchen in Gum Gee Lee's old apartment in Polk Gulch. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • The remodeled kitchen in Gum Gee Lee's old apartment in Polk Gulch.

"From the doorway it seemed familiar," Lee said: "Inside it is completely transformed. I don't recognize it."

Lee, husband Poon Heung Lee and their disabled daughter received an eviction notice in May 2012 informing them they had to vacate their home by Sept. 25, 2013. The family's plight became the face of The City's changing housing landscape as hundreds protested their eviction, winning support from Mayor Ed Lee and delaying the eviction for nearly a month.

The renovated two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit is one of four modern luxury flats on sale, with the offers being accepted by Brown & Co. Real Estate at noon today. Four more units are under renovation.

click to enlarge Gum Gee Lee, 75, visits the apartment she and her family were evicted from last year. Gen Fujioka, right, policy director at the Chinatown Community Development Center, and the mother, left, of potential buyer Jen Chou, 28, join Lee in the tour. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Gum Gee Lee, 75, visits the apartment she and her family were evicted from last year. Gen Fujioka, right, policy director at the Chinatown Community Development Center, and the mother, left, of potential buyer Jen Chou, 28, join Lee in the tour.

The Lees' former unit, which they rented for $778 per month, is listed at $759,000. Matthew Miller bought the eight-unit building for $1.2 million in January 2012.

At the time of the Lees' eviction, organizers with the Chinatown Community Development Center had denounced Miller as a real estate speculator, pointing to his previous purchase of Ellis Acted 32-40 Varennes St. He renovated the units into luxury tenancy-in-common units, listing them for $439,000 each

A city budget and legislative analyst's report released in March determined that the average profit earned from selling properties that had Ellis Act evictions was $1,545,949.
click to enlarge Gum Gee Lee, 75, stares out the window of her former Polk Gulch apartment. Her family was evicted from the unit last year, and now it's on the market after a complete renovation. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Gum Gee Lee, 75, stares out the window of her former Polk Gulch apartment. Her family was evicted from the unit last year, and now it's on the market after a complete renovation.

"This was the game plan for Matt Miller," said the center's policy director Gen Fujioka. "Before it might have been guesswork, but this is the outcome."

A family of three would need an annual income of about $190,000 to afford the Lees' former unit, said Peter Cohen, co-director at the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations.

"The price point of $759,000 is off the charts for the low- and middle-income households that The City is typically working with," he said.

click to enlarge Gum Gee Lee, 75, stares out the window of her former Polk Gulch apartment. Her family was evicted from the unit last year, and now it's on the market after a complete renovation. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Gum Gee Lee, 75, stares out the window of her former Polk Gulch apartment. Her family was evicted from the unit last year, and now it's on the market after a complete renovation.

Lee, teary-eyed as she gazed at the glistening kitchen counter table, spoke in Cantonese to a few potential buyers at the open house. She touted the safety and security of the neighborhood, and wished them luck in the purchase.

The words were reassuring to Jen Chou, 28, who said she works in finance for a retail company.

"I'm very interested," Chou said. "It's very nicely remodeled. I like the layout and I think it's a very good price considering how new it is."

click to enlarge Gum Gee Lee, 75, in her former Polk Gulch apartment, which her family was evicted from last year. The apartment is completely renovated and now on the market. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Gum Gee Lee, 75, in her former Polk Gulch apartment, which her family was evicted from last year. The apartment is completely renovated and now on the market.

Lee said she found closure by visiting her old living quarters, but it did not wash away the decades of memories.

"If I won the lottery, I would buy this place -- even if it cost me more," she said. "Because even when I dream, I still think about this place."

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Bio:
Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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