BY RIGOBERTO HERNANDEZ
Adelina Vasquez and her family of six will vacate their home of 17 years on August 16.
They may be joined by at least four other families that are facing evictions from their non rent-controlled apartments at 2789 Harrison St. after a dispute that began last year when a new landlord increased rents by as much as $800 a month.
“We understand that it is okay to raise the rent, but not this much,” said Vasquez, 48.
The rent increases of 35 to 40 percent a month are legal because the building, constructed in 1985, is not restricted by rent control. Building owner Allen McCarthy increased the rent shortly after buying the eight-unit apartment building in June of last year for $1,190,000, according to public records.
Before purchasing the units on Harrison Street, McCarthy owned a multi-family home at 1489 Valencia St. that sold for $2.5 million in January, 2008. It was purchased for $685,000 in October, 2003, according to Trulia, a real-estate search service.
McCarthy’s lawyer Andrew Wiegel said in a telephone interview Wednesday morning that his client will negotiate with the families who live in units one, four and six, but not the other tenants because they do “the kind of things you don’t want in a family.”
Wiegel added, “that is dependent on everyone preceding in good faith. If we start seeing character attacks like protests, we might change our faith.”
Tenants later disputed Wiegel’s allegations and said they act like any other tenant.
Moreover, a demonstration scheduled for late Wednesday afternoon at 24th and Harrison went on as planned. At least one of the families McCarthy has agreed to negotiate with attended the protest of some 50 people.
“He may have a legal right to do that, but it’s immoral,” said District 9 Supervisor David Campos who attended the rally and promised to introduce a resolution next week if no agreement is reached between the tenants and McCarthy.
Dolores Street Community Services Executive Director Eric Quezada said that the tenants would have already been evicted had they not protested earlier.
Quezada, who advised the tenants last fall to refuse to pay the increases, said new landlords usually wait to bring units to market level rates until after old tenants have left on their own. He warned that evictions would put the families in danger of being homeless or living in other substandard conditions. In the end, he said, taxpayers will pay the bill if the families go into shelters or hospitals.
Wiegel said earlier, “Mr. McCarthy is not a provider of social services.”
For the tenants, the prospect of eviction was daunting.
“I already lost everything,” Vasquez said about having to leave her apartment next month. ”I feel sad– my children try to cheer me up and say, ‘don’t worry mom we will find a better place.’”
Tenants say they began to receive letters in November that informed them of the rent increases citing that the rents, which range from $1,500 to $1,800, for the seven two-bedroom apartment and one three bedroom represented the market value for the apartments.
Christina Olague, who described herself as a tenant activist for seven years, said she had never seen such a high increase on a non-rent-control buildings.
“It is usually 10 percent, maybe 15 percent.” Olague said.
When Quezada advised them to refuse to pay the increases, McCarthy began sending tenants dozens of notices to pay or leave.
Tenants said they never had any problems with the previous landlords.
“He doesn’t even look at us,” Vasquez said referring to McCarthy.
Marla Flores, the restaurant owner of Usulutan, which is also in the building, said that she feels less certain about her future since the new owner came in.
Some of the tenants said they can’t pay the increases McCarthy is asking because they live on fixed incomes and others said the economic crisis has affected their jobs.
Miriam Gonzales, 30, and her family of four are not one of the three families McCarthy is negotiating with.
The Gonzales family has lived in a two-bedroom apartment at Harrison for almost two years. She cleans houses for a living and her husband installs wood floors.
Before the recession started they made $3,000 dollars every two weeks. Nowadays, she said, they are lucky if they can eke out $1800 every two weeks or $3,600 a month. They barely make ends meet, she said.
“There is not that much work and what he asks of us is too much,“ she said referring to the $800 rent increase to $ 2,300 a month from $1,500 a month.
The stress she gets from the situation has left her with little sleep and too much on her mind, she said.
“When I go to work I worry the whole time that when I come back he is going to take my things outside and I will find my children and our things on the street, “ Gonzales said referring to her children ages 12, and 14.
The constant letters she receives act as a reminder. Last week alone she said she found nine letters posted on her door and nine additional letters arrived by mail. The letters gave her three days to vacate the building, she said.
“We are just trying to reach some sort of agreement with him,” Gonzales said.
Tenants said they would like to stay but believe that is unlikely. Gonzales has begun looking for a place elsewhere but the only thing she has found in the Mission is a three bedroom apartment across the street for $2,500.
“We can’t pay that,” Gonzales said.
Mayra Sandoval, 46, and her family of four are one of the families McCarthy is negotiating with.
She currently lives with her children and their families in a two-bedroom apartment that rents for $1,700 a month. McCarthy proposed a $600 a month increase soon after he took over the building.
Sandoval has been unable to work since being diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago and she relies entirely on the $535 in CalWorks check that she receives for her two children.
“I am thinking where am going to get that money to pay?” she said. The rent is now paid by her sister-in-laws family that also lives at the apartment.
Sandoval said the eviction process has increased her stress and seven months ago, her doctor prescribed high blood pressure medicine.
Being close to San Francisco General Hospital has been important, Sandoval said because she receives her cancer treatment there. The hospital has offered to provide her taxi service if she leaves, she said.
Vasquez, who suffers from a back injury she got while working at a hotel, and her husband, who has epilepsy, are the only tenants who have agreed to leave.
She and her husband, who depend on disability, live with their four children and paying a big jump in rent would have proved too difficult, she said.
Earlier this summer, Vasquez and McCarthy reached an agreement on a $200 a month increase, but that jumped back to $600 after allegations that Vasquez’ son was drinking and littering in the downstairs garage.
“I feel tormented she said, I have everything here,” Vasquez said adding that only the Excelsior has comparable rents.