The case of the ongoing rent strike and enormous deferred maintenance bill at the Fillmore-adjacent Midtown Park Apartments dates back to last August, when renters in the publicly subsidized 139-unit building went on strike after a new affordable housing non-profit, Denver-based Mercy Housing, began hiking tentants' rents an average of 100 percent, and as much as 300 percent, in an effort to address the property's many problems. The 1964 building at Geary and Divisadero is in need of an estimated $38 million in repairs and upgrades which the former tenant-managers can not afford, and after a succession of property managers while the building was under the ownership of the city, Mercy Housing took over, and what's resulted, as SF Weekly described it in December, is "one of the most frustrating housing puzzles in a city famous for real estate shitshows."
The above documentary, produced by Marianne Maeckelbergh and Brandon Jourdan, attempts to unravel some of this puzzle and get the perspectives of some of the many longtime tenants, who have historically been paying extremely low rents with the original promise of eventually owning their own units once the building's mortgage was paid off.
The building was the only residential property owned by the city that was not public housing, as IndyBay reported last year, but in 2013, the Mayor decided to dissolve the building's board and turn it over to Mercy Housing. A Department of Building Inspection inspector told SF Weekly at the time that the large and serious number of maintenance issues at the property, including mold and hot water heaters that needed replacement, "would have gotten any private landlord in major trouble." Mercy was trying to address the problem with the rent increases, clearly, and the city conducted an audit of the tenants to determine what their rents should be, as aligned with other nearby public housing projects with "affordable" defined as 30 percent of one's income.
Such increases, though, were hard to swallow for many of these tenants, especially given the original rent-to-own promise at Midtown not to mention the fact that this building was one of a number of piece of replacement housing constructed expressly to house residents displaced by the SF Redevelopment Agency's infamous bulldozing of much of the original Fillmore District in the 1960s in the name of "urban renewal."
Now the tenants are engaged in the largest and most sustained rent strike in the city since 1978, since the Ping Yuen public housing strike in Chinatown.
Activists have taken up the Midtown cause and aligned it to the Black Lives Matter movement, and started this website and petition campaign. The building remains, however, a potential major liability and it remains to be seen who will step in to cover the $38 million bill which on the surface would seem to be a prime candidate for a piece of the $310 million in bond money for affordable housing construction and rehabilitation that voters approved as part of Prop A last November.
There are echoes here of the recent dustup, just settled out of court, over the nearby Section 8 project Frederick Douglas Haynes Gardens at 1049 Golden Gate Avenue. In that case, once the affordable complex's mortgage had been paid off, the non-profit board began shopping for market-rate buyers and Former City Attorney Louise Renne told the Chronicle that this would likely be just the first of many battles over the neighborhood's multiple affordable and public housing projects as their mortgages got paid off.