“While I’ve spent my career protecting wildlife habitats, facing an Ellis Act eviction brought home the fact that my understanding of human habitats paled in comparison,” claims Bay Area native Jude Stalker (photo, right), a resident of 520 Shrader St. This property is a Victorian in a prime location just a stone’s throw away from the action of Haight Street, now popular with the young, six-figure-earners for whom the neighborhood meets their expectations of the ideal urban experience.
When a 26-year-old Jude originally landed at a friend’s third-floor apartment at 520 Shrader St., she aimed to stay for just six months after moving back from overseas. That was in 1988.
Three decades later, Jude’s life is the Haight in that same one-bedroom apartment she currently shares with a cat, temporarily named Wanda after it “wandered” into the antique store where her friend works and Jude’s reputation as an animal-lover led to her being asked to take on the role of caregiver.
“Over many years, I have grown to love and become part of this community. Early on, I worked at a local bakery-café, and later had a dog, so I got to know many in the community. The Haight is a very friendly community and after 30 years I have met and become attached to many people here,” says Jude.
Life was good … until the day in 2017 when a lease modification arrived, accompanied by a letter stating that the longtime owners were looking to empty out the building via Ellis Act evictions, a California law that enables property owners to get out of the business of being landlords.
Jude and the others in the building were panicked.
As much as Jude dreaded losing her home, she mostly feared losing her community. She had watched kids on the block grow up, taken care of traveling neighbors’ pets and had helped others out when they needed it, as they did for her. Jude could not imagine leaving her community.
That panic soon transferred into action. Jude’s background organizing to protect wildlife led to her mobilizing the neighbors in all other five rent-controlled units (one unit was already vacant) to collectively ascertain their options and their tenants’ rights — something she never thought much about before. They started down the path of exploring all the avenues of staying in place, from learning about their tenants’ rights to legally fighting the eviction to the potential of nonprofit ownership through the City’s Small Sites Program, which allows nonprofits to purchase four- to 25-unit properties with tenants vulnerable to eviction.
After learning about community land trusts from their neighbor Bruce Wolfe, the tenants approached a nonprofit to purchase their building from the owner as an alternative to the evictions. They initially learned about the program requirements through the San Francisco Community Land Trust (SFCLT). Unfortunately, SFCLT was not able to move forward with the acquisition, at which point the project was referred to the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD). MEDA Associate Director of Community Real Estate Johnny Oliver has overseen the nonprofit’s purchase of over 20 buildings throughout the Mission in just three years — with the purpose of stemming hyper-displacement and keeping the community a Latino hub.
Housing Rights Committee’s Cynthia Fong and Joseph Smooke also came into the picture. They offered tenants more information on their rights, with many group discussions taking place.
For their legal defense against eviction, the tenants reached out to Stephen Booth, an attorney at Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC). His main goal was to buy the residents time, first by showcasing that there were disabled and elderly residents in the building, a fact that gave a one-year extension on evictions that were, per state law, originally slated for four months after original receipt of the notice. Later, Booth assiduously worked to forestall the evictions based on technicalities of paperwork and the like.
The tenants organized to bring their pending eviction in front of Vallie Brown, recent supervisor for District 5, the former area represented by Mayor London Breed. Supervisor Brown sat with the tenants at City Hall for an hour-long discussion on their dire situation. Moved by their story, she became an advocate for her District 5 constituents, reaching out to the sellers, their agent and MEDA to discuss this matter. Urgency was the word of the day, as there was now an impending expiration date for the Ellis Act evictions.
Explains Oliver, “MEDA had looked at this building a year-and-a-half prior, in early 2018, with SFCLT to strengthen their financial and ownership capacity to purchase this building. When that wasn’t feasible for both sides, MEDA looked at other alternatives for ownership to make this deal work, as we were asked to do so by Supervisor Brown.”
Additionally, Supervisor Brown fought to make sure the City allocated $40 million in funding for the Small Sites Program, so that the purchase of 520 Shrader St. could even be possible.
As a neighborhood-based community developer, MEDA knew the long-term future for bolstering the Haight/Western Addition from continued displacement is to have a developer committed to the ecosystem of the neighborhood. MEDA brought in a co-developer, San Francisco Housing Development Corporation (SFHDC), which was started in 1988 to combat displacement from neighborhoods with a significant presence of African American households. With 520 Shrader St., MEDA would be embarking on a five-building partnership to increase preservation and asset-management capacity of SFHDC, focused in the Haight/Western Addition and Bayview-Hunters Point.
Sadly, a few 520 Shrader St. residents had already chosen to leave the stressful situation. One was the neighbor across the hall from Jude who, ironically, was a community member who spent most of his career working in homeless agencies.
Laments Jude, “My neighbor told me how he had for years stood before groups and told them that, ‘We could all be homeless one day,’ but he never believed that it could happen to him. Then that became his reality. It’s so sad. We were like roommates. If I had a box of oranges, he’d always get half. We took care of each others pets, watched out for each other and are good friends.”
As nightmares of eviction became a nightly happening, that resident chose to extricate himself from the overly stressful situation — an all-too-common situation for those facing impending no-fault eviction.
A few months later, Supervisor Brown’s advocacy proved successful, and a workable price was reached. MOHCD, tasked with oversight for the Small Sites Program, then signed off on the deal.
Now it was time to secure bridge financing to meet the seller’s tight timeline to sell the building. As his team has done seven times prior for Small Sites Program purchases, Oliver looked to the San Francisco Housing Accelerator Fund (SFHAF), which provides affordable-housing developers with acquisition, predevelopment and rehabilitation financing. This time, Oliver and team member Juan Diego Castro also showed the ropes to the up-and-coming staff at SFHDC to prepare them for acquisition, rehabilitation and ownership of 520 Shrader St.
“MEDA is excited that a community-wide effort has led to a successful Small Sites Program purchase of 520 Shrader St. That’s why the recently passed Community Opportunity To Purchase Act (COPA) will help, as qualified nonprofits now have a first-right-to-purchase of buildings of three or more units. It consists of both a right of first offer and a right of first refusal for the purpose of creating and preserving permanently affordable housing. So, with COPA, look for more success stories like 520 Shrader St.,” optimistically states MEDA’s Oliver.
Jude and the other remaining tenants, Alexandra and Joe (photo, left and center, respectively), are extremely relieved and grateful that they will remain in their homes and community, and thrilled that the acquisition will allow some affordable housing to remain in the neighborhood.
Jude will be able to continue tending to her curbside garden, located in front of 520 Shrader St., now in full bloom after gentle spring rains.
“The garden has been my analogy for our building’s whole situation. The plants have all grown together nicely to form a beautiful community. If you rip one or more out, you create a big empty space and weaken the community,” concludes a thankful Jude.