Yesterday afternoon, Chinese-speaking SRO residents gathered in protest, hanging copies of eviction notices that many have been served since October. The Chronicle reports that at the site of the protest, 2 Emery Lane, a 32-unit residential hotel, a real estate investment group has served eviction notices to 24 families and may be hoping to attract technology workers who use a corporate shuttle nearby. The group is now seeking $1,300 a month for rooms whose previous average rent was $550 a month.
Update: Mayor Lee and Supervisor Christensen have just issued this joint statement:
“After hearing about these disturbing eviction notices served in Chinatown, we contacted the owners and property managers of 2 Emery Lane, and we are happy to report that, as a result, they are withdrawing the eviction notices immediately. They have also pledged to not issue any new eviction notices in the foreseeable future.
No one should have to fear losing their home because of issues that, we think, can be addressed through better communication.
The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development will work with both the owners and the tenants to address the issues that led to these notices of violation and eviction notices. The City is also providing the fullest legal defense to tenants at 2 Emery Lane and other buildings at risk for real estate speculation."
At the address, a mix of seniors and young families live in 100-square-foot rooms and share both kitchens and bathrooms. Certainly that rent increase, the character of the building, and the evictions are enough to justify the Chronicle's classification of gentrification, which is now occurring in an area previously thought to be insulated from such displacement.
“This is the most direct indicator we have seen of gentrification in Chinatown,” Gen Fujioka, public policy manager for the Chinatown Community Development Center, told the Chronicle. “This is the bottom of the housing market. This is last-resort housing, where immigrants and poor people live.”
“Your predatory practices constitute nothing less than rent gouging — exploiting the housing crisis in an attempt to charge upscale rents for the city’s shelter of last resort,” reads a letter from the Chinatown Community Development Center and other groups to the owner, Emery Vallejo LLC, demanding that the evictions be withdrawn and the rent increases reversed.
Hanging laundry outside windows is one reason that's been given for evictions, and as such, the letter alleges that the property owner has “grossly exaggerated the seriousness of minor transgressions.... patrolling the halls with cameras and making a range of petty complaints.”
According to Jennifer Raike at Old Republic Title, Emery Vallejo LLC purchased the property in November 2013 at a price of $2.72 million. The company is registered to West Portal attorney Greg Rocca, but Sterling Heatley, a vice president at Paragon Real Estate Group, was the signer of the eviction notices and operates the property. He once worked for CitiApartments, which was, while it remained in business, a group frequently accused of similar behavior: raising rents and clearing tenants.
Heatley, however, defends his business. “When we took over the property, like a lot of SRO hotels in Chinatown, it was riddled with building code violations and health code violations," he said, implying that tenants were "taking advantage" of the previous landlord." They were making messes in the bathroom and hanging clothes outside, said Heatley. "If they want to paint us as the bad landlord, there is nothing we can do about it. Everything we have done has been within our right per their lease and health and building code regulations.” Since Emery Vallejo LLC acquired the property four rooms were cleared and rented to young professionals. Heatley, however, maintains that the building was already home to several non-Chinese “professional” tenants at the time of acquisition.
Of course, tenants see the situation differently. “We are intimidated by the garbageman the property owners hired,” Xue Yan Dai, who lives in the building along with her husband and two children, said through a translator. “He says things like 'don’t you think that you can live here forever because I will get rid of every one of you.’” Others say the property management's employees have tried to buy them out for several thousand dollars, meanwhile counting violations like hanging Chinese New Year decorations in hallways.