Tenants Together's new office is located at 474 Valencia St. The only thing missing are the windows, said Acting Director Aimee Inglis. Photo by Laura Waxmann

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.”

Tenants Together’s new office-warming party included beer, hummus, and a performance by Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee. Photo by Laura Waxmann

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.

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  1. Standard practice when signing a lease is that you stay for the duration of the lease and when the lease is up you cross your fingers that the rent will not go up too much. Unfortunately, its a hot market and the competition is fierce. Also, if you want to get out of your existing lease the landlord may not allow it with a huge penalty. I personally know of one business that was bursting out of its seams at the location they were in. I talked to the owner and he explained to me that even though it was obvious that he needed more space ( he has inventory out on the sidewalk while he figured out where he was to put it) the landlord would no release him from his lease. When the market is soft the landlord does not want you to leave. If its hot the landlord will sometimes pay you to vacate in order to put someone else who is willing to pay a lot more. I was this happen to my mechanic back in 2006.

  2. Non-profits already recieve public financial support in the form of a tax exception. I don’t feel we need to provide additional support

  3. As a tenant’s rights group, they need to keep their finger on the pulse. Did they not know their lease was coming up? Did they not realize that all landlords have been raising rents when leases came up? You didn’t need to be a housing actiivist to understand rising rents in this city. It’s been in the paper every day and their are protests all the time. Only a hermit would not know this.

    They knew year’s in advance that they were going to get a rate increase. Instead of being proactive and securing space ahead of time, they waited until the last minute. This is mismanagement and poor judgement. Frankly, lack of acument was being nice. They were flat out stupid for not securing their future.

    1. No, we didn’t wait until the last minute. Do you not realize this is a trend happening to nonprofits all over the city and it’s very difficult to find a space?

  4. When I look for education or help, I look to experts in the field that are successful. Not people that have failed or have been unsuccessful. How good is this non-profit if they couldn’t even keep themselves from being displaced? Are they really experts?? Do they all have a masters education or years of work experience in solving these housing issues? Or are they just good meaning folks that want to help people, but don’t have the accumen to do so?

    1. They’re obviously quite successful at staying afloat. And they’re good at tenants’ rights and activism, like rallying commenters at public hearings in Sacramento.

    2. I agree with John. First thing that came to mind was when you board an airplane. Incase of an emergency you supposed to put your mask on first , then help your child or others who need help. You can’t help anyone if you can’t breath yourself. Tenants Together should take a deep breath and get themselves together first. Probably best to take a couple years off and come back stronger and healthier then ever and can help other people. Sadly they are selfish and too short sided. Need to ge yourself healthy first. Tenants Together helping other tenants is like a blind man assisting others cross market and Van Ness at 5 pm on a Friday. They have huge hearts but do more damage then good. Do not vote Trump.