A family of wealthy philanthropists is one of a handful of investors backing the purchase of a Mission District building where some 14 rent-controlled tenants have received eviction notices.
Howard and Irene Levine — the husband and wife investors — are also the named donor for the Howard and Irene Levine Program for Housing and Social Responsibility at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The program — which trains graduate students in real estate — is aimed at addressing “timely and critical issues related to urban housing markets” including the “housing needs and outcomes of low-income and workforce households,” according to its website.
The pair also run a tax-exempt family foundation with assets valued at $16 million and hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable donations.
But in addition to their philanthropic practices, the pair loaned $200,000 to Danny Sun on August 17, 2015 two days before he purchased a three-unit building at 2820 Folsom St. Eight months later — in April of this year — Sun gave eviction notices to all its tenants.
“They’re taking affordable housing, and these bastards are just getting rich off the backs of people who should remain in the city,” said Stephen Booth, a lawyer with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic who is representing 12 of the 14 tenants in the building.
Deep Pockets Fund Evictions
Booth first wrote of the tenants’ plight in Beyond Chron — a blog run by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic — in early May. He profiled the tenants facing eviction, many of whom are artists or musicians, and most of whom are working-class — teachers, baristas, and a Mission District baker.
The Levines did not return requests for comment. Tim Kawahara, the director of the UCLA program named after the family, said he did not know the specifics of the eviction deal and declined to comment.
“It would not be appropriate for me to comment,” he said.
Funding for the UCLA program was made through the Howard and Irene Levine Family Foundation, which pledged $3 million for the program in 2014. It pledged another $920,000 — and paid out some $933,000 — in grants to a variety of charitable causes, including more than $400,000 to Jewish and pro-Israel groups, including Birthright and a variety of congregations and schools, according to last year’s tax filings.
Howard Levine is an alumnus of UCLA, founder of a mortgage company, a board member of the affordable housing developer Mercy Housing, and a donor to the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate. At the same time, he and his wife were one of many wealthy investors who loaned money to Sun.
There is nothing illegal about the loans, but the story of the tenants on Folsom Street offers a glimpse at how wealthy investors can make money in a hot real estate market like San Francisco’s.
Other investors in the Folsom Street property include $350,000 from Leo and Donna Boger of San Jose, $500,000 from Boris and Tiffany Beljak of the Boris Beljak and Tiffany Beljak Family Trust, and $590,000 from Michael Moser of One to Four, Inc. Profit Sharing Plan.
The $1.64 million that Sun received from the investors allowed him to purchase the Folsom Street property for $1.72 million. It is unclear how Sun knew the investors.
The Folsom Street building is now worth some $2.7 million, according to the real estate website Zillow, meaning each unit could sell for some $900,000.
It is unclear how much each unit will be worth once it is remodeled and sold, but residential real estate in the Mission District averages some $900 per square foot, according to the real estate website Trulia.
The building is some 4,848 square feet, meaning the total price could be $4.36 million total — though realtors said such estimates were likely to be rough.
If Sun fails to repay his investors, they are entitled to take ownership of the house as a group, each investor with a share equal to the percentage of investment put in.
This is not Sun’s first Ellis Act eviction. He previously bought a rent-controlled, three-unit building in 2013 for a little more than $1 million and flipped it, evicting five tenants at 642 Natoma St. on April 24, 2014 through the Ellis Act.
The Ellis Act is a 1985 state law that was supposed to be used by landlords wanting to exit the rental market. In a tight real estate market, however, it is often used by speculators who pick up a building for a bargain price, evict tenants, and then resell the units at market-rate prices.
The building on Natoma Street, for example, was remodeled after the tenants were evicted. One of the units sold for $869,000 earlier this year, according to Zillow.
Leo and Donna Borger also loaned Sun $550,000 for the purchase of 642 Natoma St. — alongside some $1.2 million from four other investors. Donna Boger declined to comment on her family’s loans to Sun. None of the other investors could be reached for comment.
Both land deals specify that investors can expect to be repaid by Sun in full “with interest,” but do not define the interest to be paid.
“These people are speculators,” said Tommy Seiler, one of the tenants of the building. “It’s not owner move-in, it’s not rich people just moving in their families, it’s total speculation that destroys affordable housing in the city.”
For their part, the tenants are fighting their eviction. All have been offered buy-outs, according to Booth, but 12 of the 14 decided instead to seek legal assistance and fight the eviction.
The strategy is to ferret out improprieties in the eviction paperwork in an effort to further stall or quash the eviction.
“We tend to find weaknesses and try to exploit those,” Booth said. He said an eviction can be delayed two to four years, though “it depends on how good a job the landlord does” at filing paperwork.
Booth added, however, that the law firm retained by the landlord — Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners, which specializes in landlord-tenant disputes — “tends to do a pretty decent job on the paperwork.”
Still, he said, he believes he can quash the eviction — though he declined to describe a specific legal strategy.
This is the first in a three-part series about the purchase of the building at 2820 Folsom St. and the eviction of its tenants. Check back tomorrow for the next installment.
Part Two: Mission District Tenants Fight Deep-Pocketed Ellis Act Eviction, June 17
Part Three: Mission District House Targeted by Wealthy Investors Could Become Affordable, June 18