Mohammed Nuru bribery complications left a 12-story, 109-unit residential building empty for nearly three years, but that building known as The Oak just got the OK to convert from condos to apartments under a new owner who does not have any bribery charges.

There’s long been a debate about whether there’s a significant amount of SF housing units sitting vacant. But in some cases, you can tell a residential building is vacant just by looking at it.

That was the case with the 12-story, 109-unit residential condo building at 1554 Market Street, whose full technical address is 1546–1564 Market Street, and whose name in marketing materials is The Oak (It is located near Market and Oak streets). While the condo building was completed in early 2021, its co-owner was arrested on bribery charges in the sprawling Mohammed Nuru corruption mess, which obviously complicated finding buyers. That same co-owner, Chinese tycoon Zhang Li, had similar legal problems that have stalled the Trader Joe’s at 555 Fulton Street.

The disgraced Li finally found a new buyer for the property this past November, according to an SF Business Times report from around that time. And the new owner, SoCal-based real estate investor Steve Hong, hoped to convert the building from condos to apartments.

The SF Planning Department, exasperated that 109 ready-to-go units were just sitting vacant, was all ears. “We’ll try to get this to the Planning Commission as quickly as possible,” Planning Department chief of staff Dan Sider vowed to the Business Times in early December.

Side of The Oak, Image: Google Street View

He got his wish. And on Thursday, the SF Planning Commission approved that conversion from condos to rental apartments in a 5-0 vote.

“We are obviously delighted that this project is becoming a reasonable project again,” commissioner Kathrin Moore said before the vote. “ We are seeing graffiti and it being really very much affected over the last year or two. And we all regretted that, because we thought this was a new beginning in that particular block.”

There’s still some downside tenants for who’d previously registered to live there, as the Chronicle reported in December that some below-market-rate (BMR) tenants had won the lottery to get affordable units at The Oak, only to lose those units when Li’s finances went belly-up.  

A representative from the new project’s sponsors, OakSF, LLC, told the Planning Commission that “Due to the dysfunction of the previous ownership and the high interest rates, the vast majority of the folks voluntarily have requested their deposits back. The new ownership took ownership without anyone’s deposits, or ownership claims on any of the units.”

But there were six tenants or families who had won the BMR unit lottery for The Oak. According to Planning Department staff, three have since gotten BMR housing elsewhere, one has received down payment assistance for a different unit, another is back in the lottery, the last one got their deposit back and hasn’t pursued further BMR lottery units.

Related: Long-Vacant, Frequently Tagged Mid-Market Condo May Finally Become Occupied as Apartments [SFist]

Image via Google Street View