After two moves and months of uncertainty following an eviction last year, the non-profit anti-eviction group Tenants Together finally settled into its new digs in the Mission District earlier this month.
During an open house on March 14, the group showcased its new four-room office on the bottom floor of the Centro del Pueblo building at 474 Valencia St., which houses nonprofit and social organizations. Over beer, hummus, and housing justice–themed tunes performed by activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca, the staff and supporters of Tenants Together reflected on the tedious journey and toasted to perseverance.
“This could be a forever home,” said Aimee Inglis, the group’s acting director. “We are close to BART and in the heart of the Mission. We could have very easily not been this lucky.”
The calm was preceded by a storm of hair-pulling and hand-wringing, said Adolfo Echeverry, the group’s office manager.
“We’ve been in move mode for the past six months,” he said. “We’ve moved three times and have been working out of boxes. At times, it felt like the sky was falling.”
Last December, the statewide tenant advocacy group was one of two housing rights nonprofits that were displaced from 955 Market St., a 15-story building that for years was home to a slew of community-serving organizations. But following the building’s purchase by WeWork, a New York–based startup that leases co-working spaces to entrepreneurs and other startups, the nonprofits left one by one.
As residents for nearly a decade when its lease expired in December, Tenants Together and its subtenant, the Eviction Defense Collaborative, were two of the last to leave the building.
For many, the irony of the tenant advocates’ eviction was a testament to the turbulent times in which many of the city’s nonprofit and art organizations — faced with increased rents and an influx of corporate dollars — are operating.
“It’s hard for the nonprofit and creative culture to exist in the city today,” said Fara Akrami, programming director of Artist Television Access, or ATA, at 992 Valencia St. “The climate is pretty aggressive, honestly.”
Unable to keep up with market-rate rents, many community groups have been confronted with the threat of eviction once their leases end — and are often forced to relocate out of the communities they intend to serve.
“It’s still very disappointing to us that the community of nonprofits at 955 Market St. was disrupted and scattered around the city,” said founder and Executive Director Dean Preston. “But even more shocking [throughout this process] was seeing how high commercial rents are.”
Akrami applauded the group’s success in finding a space in the Mission and said he could wholeheartedly relate to the struggle because his organization nearly faced a similar fate. After ATA’s lease expired last November, a substantial rent increase almost displaced the artist-run film nonprofit from its Valencia Street location of almost 30 years.
Through extensive negotiations with the landlord and a grant from the city’s new Nonprofit Displacement Mitigation Program, ATA’s leadership was able to secure a new five-year lease by offering the incentive of renovating the space.
“The city needs to get behind nonprofits and art organizations by subsidizing public spaces,” said Akrami. “The government should be responsible in providing social spaces towards arts and education that serve the people.”
Tenants Together may also qualify for a grant that could recover some of the organization’s moving costs, but has received little help from the city in finding a new space out of which to operate.
Echeverry, the office manager, said that Tenants Together originally planned on moving into a space in the Tenderloin that had “big windows and a kitchen.” The group had already begun renovations to the new space before being notified last-minute that the deal would not pan out.
“We were supposed to move in on December 26, but three days before, we were called into a meeting and told that we weren’t going to get the place,” recalled Echeverry. “We [painted] and removed walls and invested money. I couldn’t believe it.”
“We are feeling very good to have landed a space that is affordable to us,” said Preston. “Here, we share a space with other like-minded organizations.”
Although the new Mission location is convenient and welcomed by the group’s staff, the downtown views of the mid-Market office will be missed, said Inglis.
“The view is a bit different — our windows now face out to a hallway,” she said.
To keep spirits up and the staff focused on tenant justice matters, Echeverry, the office manager, has hung a framed photograph of a view of Market Street from the group’s old location in the new office space.
“I brought the view with me,” he said with a smile.