As if it wasn't gentrified enough in San Francisco, a landlord is looking at opening up more office space in an area stereotypically known for prostitution and drug use -- the Tenderloin. But this expansion comes at a cost to a commune of artists living at 1061 Market St, one of the city's last sanctuaries offering affordable rent for artistic collaboration. This all comes at a time when technology giants like Twitter and Spotify have recently moved into the neighborhood.
According to a press release, the commune received a 30-day eviction notice on March 13 from landlord and San Francisco Bay Area business investor, Jennifer Chen. The artists argue they should have been given a 60-day notice under rent control laws. They assert Chen is mistreating the commune by claiming they are a commercial building, even though her representative was aware that individuals were living in the unit.
When the artists petitioned the San Francisco Rent Board to find out if they were protected under rent control, the landlord scrambled to stop them. Chen reportedly offered the tenants a buyout of $2,500 each to avoid the hearing with the rent board. As stated by musician Stefen Smith, the buyout was offered to 23 people and would have totaled at $57,500. They didn't take the bribe.
Tech brings high rent and community investment. Rent has increased dramatically in the mid-Market area around the commune. This comes as no surprise since the tech industry has received move-in tax incentives from the City of San Francisco in 2011, prompting growth and making living spaces -- even in districts like the Tenderloin -- sparse.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca, of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, told me on the phone that evictions -- like 1061 Market St. -- followed after the incentives.
"Non-profits have been pushed out of the area. Now we have landlords pushing out low-income artists. I know six buildings of artists being threatened with evictions. The fact that I know six, means there has to be triple or quadruple than that."
Mecca explained that many evictions (like those at nearby art collectives 1049 and 1067 Market St.) came only a few months after Twitter relocated their office space to the area back in 2013. Although Chen has not stated who specifically she will be renting out commercially to, it's unlikely it won't be a tenant from the technology or startup sector.
Renters can suffer from having tech as a neighbor, but the companies that have taken the tax incentives have also invested in the community. Deputy City Administrator Jennifer Johnston stated in an email to the San Francisco Examiner that the tech industry has brought "6 million in the direct investment to the Central Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods."
Renters keep on fighting. "The reality is the city isn't working for tenants in San Francisco. So we have take matters into our own hands. We have to go into the court of public opinion, the courts of these lands don't always hold up the rights of the tenants." Mecca concluded in our conversation.
The press conference held on March 26 made it clear the artists weren't giving up anytime soon. Heartfelt testimonies revealed that already over twenty artists had been kicked out of 1061 Market St. in the last year, and those remaining aren't planning on following them. A GoFundMe was also announced to raise money for the commune's legal defense fund, showing the collective has every intention to oppose the eviction with all possible means.