When MEDA’s Johnny Oliver and Dairo Romero heard that 1500 Cortland Avenue was potentially facing foreclosure, they seized the opportunity to avail the vulnerable residents of their tenants’ rights … and their options. The multi-unit Bernal Heights property was ripe for speculation — a likely target to be flipped by converting rentals into Tenancies in Common (TICs).
The MEDA team’s initial conversation with residents included explaining how the City’s Small Sites program could secure this housing, thereby stemming displacement. Small Sites is a two-year-old program from the City of San Francisco. The aim is to acquire four- to 25-unit buildings where long-term tenants are at risk of being evicted through the Ellis Act, an owner move-in or other means.
With all tenants of 1500 Cortland on board — as must be the case for MEDA to proceed with any prospective Small Sites program purchase — the Community Real Estate team began the process of saving this building. Their strategy included working with Northern California Community Loan Fund on the first mortgage and the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) on the second mortgage.
There are four units at 1500 Cortland that are called home by families — the types of families MEDA is looking to help stay in their neighborhood of choice.
Unit 1 is a one-bedroom apartment that is the 23-year home to Lisa and her husband, Winefredo, who is disabled and receives in-home care. Lisa, who is a hotel worker and the sole income provider, was in a car accident last winter, with head and back injuries meaning she cannot currently work. Daughter Jennifer lives with her parents, but is ready to start college.
In Unit 2 reside Gabriela and Ramon, devoted parents of Javier, an eighth-grader at nearby Paul Revere K-8 School. The family makes this one-bedroom apartment work for their living situation, and they feel part of their Bernal Heights community.
Unit 3 is the two-bedroom residence of Tomas and Greisy, plus their two young children, Jennifer and Kevin. Tomas works in construction, while Greisy is a full-time mother. This Latino immigrant family has felt welcomed in the neighborhood and were excited to find a way to stay. If not for the Small Sites program, they knew they would be displaced from San Francisco.
In two-bedroom Unit 4 reside 77-year-old Jane and her spouse, Claudio, who is one year older; their sole income is from monthly Social Security checks. The couple has lived over half their lives in this apartment at 1500 Cortland. Claudio’s sister, Bernadette, also lives with them for now. This is the third generation to call this apartment home.
To showcase how 1500 Cortland has become its own community over time, Jane serves as caregiver for Winefredo in Unit 1.
“These four units’ residents seized the opportunity to make this Small Sites program deal possible,” explains Housing Opportunities Coach Johnny Oliver, who helped structure the sale. “Tenants agreed to increase their rent a bit to maximize the amount of the first mortgage, but they will still be in affordable housing that is around 50 percent of the median for this neighborhood. This is a win for the community.”
Rehabbing the property
The property at 1500 Cortland was constructed in 1960 and is definitely showing its age. The good news is that Small Sites program monies were allocated by the City to fix up this apartment building. All residents will be relocated during this process.
The extensive work will include new kitchens, bathrooms, windows, flooring and drywall, plus painting of interiors and exteriors. The roof is also scheduled for replacement.
Once the property’s refurbishment is complete, residents will be able to enjoy their new homes for many years to come. All thanks to the City’s innovative Small Sites program.
“MEDA appreciates all who helped make this acquisition possible, so that 13 vulnerable residents could stay in their homes. MOHCD’s Small Sites program is an integral part of my team’s strategy to produce and, as in the case of 1500 Cortland, preserve housing — part of the Mission Action Plan 2020. This purchase showcases MEDA’s community real estate with values,” concludes Director of Community Real Estate Karoleen Feng.