Toddlers patted paint onto squares of butcher paper outside the Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center on Precita Avenue Tuesday, but the afternoon wasn’t just your average kid’s art class. In front of the colorful building stood neighborhood volunteers and Precita Eyes muralists as well as some local activists, holding signs that read “Please Don’t Buy This Building.”
The building at 348 Precita Avenue, where Precita Eyes opened its first of two locations in 1977, is for sale for $995,000 and was open to prospective buyers.
Local nonprofits fear a new owner will displace the mural center and the building’s three residential tenants. Instead, they want to buy the building. Their proposal involves the nonprofit Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) and the Community Land Trust making a competitive offer using a seller’s note. The latter depends on the owner offering the buyers a mortgage to purchase the building over the course of three years. Doing so would keep the units there perpetually affordable, but the proposal relies on avoiding a bidding war.
“We’re hoping to dissuade other prospective buyers from outbidding MEDA,” explained Nancy Pili Hernández, a Precita Eyes muralist.
Several prospective buyers came and went without comment. Some stopped to talk with the activists and neighbors standing outside. In some cases, the exchanges became heated. Pili Hernández said one potential buyer became incensed when a woman approached him asking his intentions for the building. Pili Hernández said the man told the woman he would put in an offer for $2 million and evict her.
That’s the kind of possibility that makes Randy Odell, an upstairs resident of 30 years, uneasy.
“It’s no fun having your home threatened.” Odell said. “When you have no right to keep people from coming in and looking at your home, and sussing out the value, it’s very hard to keep my dignity.”
Other potential buyers took a more diplomatic approach.
Micheal Zook, a San Francisco native and former building manager who was once evicted from a building he lived and worked in for 20 years, now works as a realtor but was considering the building as a potential home for himself, his wife and his children. He talked at length with community organizers about the property and how displacement could be avoided.
“It makes me apprehensive about getting involved, but I think it’s necessary to cooperate with the community,” Zook said.
He said he sees the neighborhood as good place to raise a family, in part because of the arts center, and that a compromise would need to be reached to keep the center in place but compensate for the value of the real estate.
But the devil, as always, is in the details — in this case of what a well-intentioned buyer might actually be able to preserve in the building. Apart from the fact that a new owner may want to live in the building and would thereby inevitably evict at least one tenant, there’s the problem of the rental income covering the cost of the mortgage.
Another prospective buyer, Billy, declined to give his last name but said what attracted him to the building was the low price per square foot, which is often easier to find in multi-unit buildings than in single family homes. He also said that the building’s total rental income is about $42,000 per year.
“On a million dollar property, that’s a little low,” he said. If one tenant left as the result of an owner-move-in eviction, he said, it might work out, and additional tenants might eventually move on.
He, too, would want to keep the mural arts center in place. He said he’s not looking for a place with a commercial space out in front, so Precita Eyes would be a good fit.
“Yeah, they could stay. Especially if the community cares about it,” he said. “Kicking them out, that doesn’t even make sense financially unless I can’t pay my mortgage.”
One of the three residential tenants is a so-called protected tenant, said a realtor for the site, Chris Farrigno. This means the tenant couldn’t be forced out by an owner-move-in eviction. The arts center, however, is on a month-to-month commercial lease.
Erick Arguello of the merchants’ and neighbors’ association Calle 24 spoke at length with at least one possible buyer at the open house.
“It’s important for those folks to educate themselves,” he said. But he had some doubts about the ability of a well-meaning buyer to keep everyone in place, for example by building out additional units on top of the existing structure to eliminate the need for an owner-move-in eviction by a buyer who wanted to move in.
“It would be up to everyone to come together to find a solution,” Arguello said. “How likely is it for nobody to be displaced?”