The Housing Rights Committee is leaving its location at 417 South Van Ness Ave. after facing a prohibitive rent increase with the expiration of its five-year lease. The organization is the third tenants rights group, after the Eviction Defense Collaborative and Tenants Together, to be displaced due to rent increases in the last few weeks.
“It was just not economically feasible for us to pay that kind of rent,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, an organizer with the group for 15 years. “We had a five-year lease at our location and it got up and then the rent got jacked up.”
Avicolli Mecca was not sure of the specific rent increase, and the executive director of the group, Sara Shortt, was not immediately available for comment. The move comes on the heels of Shortt’s departure from the organization for Los Angeles.
The incoming director, Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, said the housing group was unable to secure a long-term lease for their growing organization.
“It was more than we were able to absorb, and we’re also growing in size,” she said. “We would have considered staying in the building if we could’ve gotten a long-term lease there, but my understanding is we neither got a long-term lease nor at terms we were able to afford.”
The group learned that the landlord planned a rent increase late this summer, said Avicolli Mecca, and spent a few weeks scouting new locations before settling for a fifth-floor office at 1663 Mission St. The seven-story SoMa building is just a few blocks from their old offices at 15th and South Van Ness, but advocates worry clients may find it more difficult to find their new location.
“Right now we’re in a storefront in a neighborhood where it’s convenient for people to get to us,” Sherburn-Zimmer said. “We’re hoping that folks will still be able to find us efficiently despite the move.”
“I’m not really too concerned,” said Avicolli Mecca, while acknowledging that he “always liked being on the ground level.” The group has been letting clients know of the move so they are not caught unawares. “We’ve been handing out flyers to all the people that come in, alerting them through our webpage.”
Moving costs have also taken their toll.
“We have to ask the city to help finance our move,” said Sherburn-Zimmer, saying the group would apply for a grant. She declined to comment on the grant amount, saying only, “it definitely is no small cost, the actual moving.”
The landlord could not be reached for comment. Avicolli Mecca said the group had a “good relationship” with the property owner and that the displacement was inevitable.
“It’s just that the reality is property prices have gone up. That’s what happens when you build condos in the neighborhood,” Avicolli Mecca said, pointing to the five-story condo complex across the street. “It’s going to be pricing everybody out of the neighborhood, that’s how gentrification works. We keep saying that. When you bring condos to working class neighborhoods, rents go up.”
The group will be offering services to tenants at its new location starting on January 4. Though Avicolli Mecca said the group was lucky to have found a new location, he saw the displacement as part of a larger trend for housing groups and non-profits.
“It’s really tragic because we’re the folks that provide vital services to the city,” he said. “The city can’t afford to lose organizations like the Housing Rights Committee. This has got to be another wake up call for city hall.”