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Tenant coalition defends against rent hike in city-owned Midtown Park apartments

Update: The final vote in the Board of Supervisors was held on 10/20/20, and the ordinance passed.

San Francisco — The tenants of the city-owned Midtown Park apartments won a concession last Tuesday from the city to reverse a rent hike imposed in 2014. The apartments contain 139 units, and the rent hike was putting financial pressure on these families already put under stress by the current economic recession. Some tenants saw their rent increase by 300%. “We are a community of San Francisco that’s about to be dispersed,” said Marcell Johnson to the Examiner. Many of the residents of the complex are descendents of people who were displaced when the original redevelopment happened in the 1960’s.

The Midtown Park apartments were opened in 1968 to house families displaced by urban development. Since then, the city has taken ownership of the complex and largely kept its promise of maintaining affordable housing for its residents. However, when the city renovated the property in 2014, they imposed rent hikes on rent-controlled residents, many of whom could not afford the new rates. Though rent control would normally apply in these circumstances, the city argued that since the residents were city tenants, the protections of rent control did not extend to them.

Activists from Save Midtown rallying against the rent hikes. Courtesy Save Midtown.

Since 2014, the tenants of Midtown Park have been organizing and agitating to force the city to roll back the rent hike. The city only gained $500K from the rent hike, which is a vanishingly small line item within a budget of $12 billion, but risked sending dozens of families who could not afford higher rents into diaspora or homelessness. In 2015, Save Midtown organized the largest rent strike in 40 years, bringing together a diverse coalition including labor advocates like UHW Local 47, the San Francisco chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, and lawyers from UC Berkeley. Though then-supervisor London Breed did not meet with the coalition, they delivered demands to her office.

Further actions, such as filing a lawsuit against the city and organizing protests with labor leaders and racial justice activists, eventually led to city action on the issue. Dean Preston, the newly-elected socialist supervisor and founder of Tenants Together, a tenants’ rights group, proposed a plan to reverse the rent hike and maintain the city’s promise to house these families in affordable dignity. That plan was unanimously approved by the board of supervisors, 11-0.

“There are many issues to be resolved at Midtown, including working out a longer term plan regarding the ownership and operation of Midtown,” Preston said. “I look forward to working with all stakeholders to arrive at a long term plan that is supported by the residents, but in the meantime it’s simply unacceptable for any residents of Midtown to be asked to pay rent increases in publicly-owned housing higher than rent increases that they would have faced if they lived across the street in privately-owned housing.”

A 50-year resident of the complex, Mary Watkins, said “Supervisor Preston has done a wonderful job trying to help us.” 

“I hope this will mark a new beginning for Midtown,” Supervisor Preston said, adding “tenant organizing works.”

Tenant organizers with Save Midtown rally in 2015 to send a message to City Hall.

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