Members of a queer activist collective threatened with eviction gathered August 11 and sharply protested their co-founder’s attempt to sell his Bernal Heights home where they have lived for nearly a decade.
Current residents of the Holly Park Collective, located at 150 Highland Ave. near Holly Park, accused their former housemate Adan Luevano of acting as a “pro-eviction” landlord motivated by greed. Luevano is suing his former partner, Sahee Kil, to force a sale of the house where members of the collective have lived for years.
Kil and Luevano both own the home and founded the collective in 2008. Kil said the couple’s conflict began when the market started “getting hot” in the years since the tech boom.
“That’s when I noticed changes in Adan in relation to how he saw our home as not a home, but as real estate,” said Kil. They purchased 150 Highland as a couple in 2007 with the intention of creating a home for queer and minority activists.
Kil said that the couple split in the midst of adopting a transgender teenager in 2015.
When Luevano first proposed selling the home and moving the collective to Oakland in late 2014, its members reacted with disbelief.
“I said wait a minute – this is a project to have queer people of color stay in the city in the midst of gentrification and that’s what I signed up for,” said Reverend Israel Alvaran, an organizer with the Reconciling Ministries Network and a resident of the house. “By selling, you’re losing this spot. Who will buy this house given the market? It will be a white yuppie couple or person.”
Luevano has since left the collective and split with Kil.
Some 15 queer activists have lived with the collective since its inception, though only four people currently live in the three bedroom and two bathroom house. Members of the Holly Park Collective have paid as little as $400 in rent over the years, according to Kil.
“From the beginning, we were specifically looking for activists who did intersectional work along the lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, immigration,” said Kil. “This is a home for a certain type of progressive, radical activist.”
Rooms in 150 Highland Ave. were not advertised and could only be obtained through queer activist circles, explained Alvaran.
“Since moving to the city the collective has been my home,” he said, adding that members share chores, expenses, and grow much of their own food. When Alvaran lost his job in 2012, the collective cut his rent in half.
Luevano and Kil enlisted former members of the collective to engage with them in a mediation process, but Luevano moved out of the home before the issue of the property could be resolved.
“Now, he is suing me because I am refusing to sell the home,” she said.
On Thursday, members of the collective and their supporters gathered in front of John O’Connell High School where Luevano is employed to protest the eviction.
Holding up signs that read “Greed Kills Homes,” they hoped that community pressure would persuade Luevano to accept a buyout offer of $200,000 for his share of the property.
A recent appraisal valued the home at $1.1 million, and a real estate agent working with Kil earlier this year estimated that selling the home in the current market would leave her and Luevano with $225,000 each after paying off their $580,000 mortgage. They bought the home in 2007 for $799,000.
“My offer is very close to a fair market buyout,” she said, adding Luevano is no longer contributing to the mortgage. “It’s the best I can do to save our home.”
When reached by phone, Luevano said that he did not think this deal was fair at all because he believes the house to be worth more – and that the sale in the context of gentrification and displacement has been portrayed “really inaccurately.”
“I have the right to move on with my life,” said Luevano, adding that he previously agreed to accept the buyout offer under the condition that the property be willed to his adopted child, or if sold, that Luevano receive 18 percent of the selling profit.
“This percentage is only if she sells the house in the future – she’ll make a killing off of it,” said Luevano.
Kil responded by calling this demand “an extortion plan.”
“This guy has goldrush fever,” she said. “He won’t recognize that he’s causing the context of two people’s eviction.”
Luevano did acknowledge that he could play a part in the displacement of the collective, but contended that he had no other options.
“It’s a horrible situation and it does impact people,” said Luevano, who now lives in Oakland and says he himself has been displaced from the city since leaving the collective.
“But I need to sell my portion of the house so I can assure that my child and I have housing security in the future,” he said, adding that he is still willing to negotiate with the collective.
The collective has created a GoFundMe campaign to cover the legal fees of $6,200 that they say the ongoing negotiations have incurred.
Alvaran, who has been living in the collective since 2010, and Gilbert Villareal, a tenant since 2015, fear that a sale of the home at market value would mean an eviction notice by subsequent owners.
“Evictions are happening left and right in the city and while I am not faced with eviction just yet, that is likely to happen once our home is place on the open market,” said Villareal.
Even though no eviction has been initiated, Housing Rights Committee organizer Tommi Avicolli Mecca, who stood with the protesters on Thursday, said that the tenants’ “clocks are ticking.”
“If this place gets sold, especially at market value, someone is going to come in there and want to throw everybody out,” he said.