Photo by Lydia Chávez

The owner of a 108 year-old building destroyed in a fire earlier this year that left one man dead and displaced dozens of tenants and businesses is considering offers on the building of around $20 million, according to sources involved in the negotiations.

The offers coming in on the building at 22nd and Mission – assessed in 2014 at just over $6 million – are based on tearing down the existing structure and putting up five floors of market rate housing on the Mission Street side and four floors of market rate housing on the back of the building. The ground floor would again be commercial.

At least one offer for 100 percent affordable housing is in the works, though it would require some additional cooperation from the owner to complete. The Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) said that it first notified the owner, Hawk Lou, that it was interested in making an offer to build affordable housing at the site in the month after the fire. Lou, however, said rumors that MEDA had sent him a letter of intent to purchase the building were unfounded, as he had never received one.

When MEDA heard recently that Lou was considering an off-market sale, it began piecing together an offer that remains incomplete because it must wait for the city to confirm its help in financing the package.

Although the owner initially declined to comment directly on any negotiations, writing  “I am very, very sorry for this tragedy. This accident really ruined the life of many people,” he later offered some additional information.

“I think it is a little late for MEDA,” Lou wrote, though he did explore the nonprofit’s website after hearing rumors of its intent to purchase the property. He wrote that he liked the organization’s profile and its purpose of “helping a lot of minorities in the Mission.”

Nonetheless,  Lou said he was likely to go forward with an offer from a buyer who “knows what’s going on in the Mission” and who will rent the newly built units to the displaced tenants at their prevoius rent.

“I am pretty sure that they can move forward faster than me,” he wrote. “I hope you can understand my situation.”

He added that he could no longer leave the fire damaged building in its current state because he is getting citations from the Department of Building Inspectors. There are ongoing issues, he wrote, with rats, bad smells and graffiti.

Lou also clarified the ownership of the building, writing that he shares his interest with several family members.  He declined to confirm the potential sale price of the building.

If considered and completed, MEDA’s offer would involve the city’s help from a “transit oriented affordable housing” fund, according to Karoleen Feng, the director of community real estate for MEDA.

Feng said the city was moving as quickly as possible to pull something together. Teresa Yanga, director of the housing development for the city, could not be reached for comment.

Feng did not give a figure on MEDA’s proposal, but said it would also involve Lou giving MEDA a note or loan that would be repaid over five to ten years.

One advantage of choosing an affordable housing project is that the deal would not be upended by the temporary controls on Mission market rate housing being considered by the Planning Commission this month and on the ballot in November.

Plans for affordable housing would be unaffected by both proposals for a slowdown. However, the possibility of either proposal going into effect also puts pressure on Lou to accept an offer for market rate housing sooner rather than later.

The fire on January 28th displaced 65 tenants and dozens of businesses. Tenants would still have the right to return to any new building replacing their old homes, but as Mission Local found, return is relatively rare as tenants have generally settled elsewhere by the time a building is complete.

In the hours and days after the fire, tenants told Mission Local that they had no notice that the building was on fire. Instead, they were alerted to the danger by hearing the incoming sirens or opening their doors to a hallway full of smoke. At least seven had to be rescued from either the hallways or fire escapes that failed to work.

Forty-eight of those tenants living in 15 units are cooperating in a lawsuit against Lou that could be filed as early as this week, according to Steven J. McDonald, the lawyer representing the tenants.

Mission Local’s investigation in the month after the fire showed Lou and his wife Kitty Fong Lou as the owners of 19 properties with an assessed value of some $15.3 million.

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Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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  1. Well yes, there is something. Lou was obviously negligent in the damage and death this fire caused. The historic building needs to be preserved with insurance from Lou. Not torn down. Not used as an opportunity for cheese slum lords to cash out.
    Excuse my harsh language but this is inexcusable.

  2. 19 properties assessed at 15.3 million, yet this one property alone is likely to go for 20 million. It looks as if assessing property value is an art that can’t keep up with the SF market. I hope it becomes affordable housing.

  3. There has been a recent epidemic of buildings burning and nobody seems to believe they may not have been accidents. I don’t recall there being this many fires during the recession.

      1. The latest report from the fire department concludes no arson. We are working on the story of the full report, but no, the fire department found no evidence of arson.