Rent Control for Midtown

As Midtown Park Apartments celebrated its 51st anniversary this year, residents continue to clash with the City over the future of this 139-unit complex in San Francisco’s Fillmore District. The Midtown Tenants Association is leading a rent strike and tensions are high. At issue is whether San Francisco’s rent control laws protect the Midtown tenants.

Midtown is a City owned property. Midtown was built in the 1960s with the plan to become a limited equity cooperative owned by the tenants. But the developer went under and the City took ownership of the property in 1968, and leased it back to the Midtown Tenants Corporation, which in turn collected rent from the tenants. Many residents believed they had rent control protections, and their annual rent increases were limited. In January 2014, the Mayor’s Office on Housing dissolved the master lease, and soon turned management over to the nonprofit Mercy Housing. Mercy began applying affordable housing rules regarding rents, income qualifications, and a range of lease obligations. Some tenants faced large rent increases. Many tenants objected to the rent increases and the new, restrictive house rules.

For over two years, the tenants have been fighting to establish that their units are covered by rent control. They filed a petition at the SF Rent Board in February 2014. The Rent Board ultimately concluded that rent control does not apply to Midtown. Tenants have now sued in court to reverse the Rent Board’s determination and to establish that rent control applies. That case is pending.

The Board of Supervisors does not need to wait for this matter to drag on further. The Board can modify the relevant Rent Ordinance language to bring Midtown under rent control. Such legislation would take minutes to write, a few months to pass, and would leave residents with greater security in their homes. It would also help defuse what has been a difficult conflict between Midtown Tenants and Mercy Housing, one of the leading affordable housing providers in San Francisco.

There is precedent for this approach. In 2005, when a building full of rent controlled tenants at 1030 Post were suddenly forced into a tax-credit affordable housing program that would have raised rents and displaced residents, I worked with Supervisor Peskin to pass an ordinance amending the same part of the Ordinance at issue here. Our goal was to make sure the existing tenants were protected by rent control even after an affordable housing program took over. A similar legislative approach could be taken to protect Midtown tenants.

The diverse community, including many long-term African American residents, at Midtown has enough to worry about without facing rent hikes and new house rules. Located in a transit rich neighborhood with increasing gentrification nearby, Midtown residents will need to weigh in on redevelopment plans that are in the works for their complex to ensure that they are able to continue calling the Fillmore home.

The SF Board of Supervisors should extend rent control to current Midtown residents without further delay. Our neighbors at Midtown deserve nothing less.