On the two-year anniversary of a fire at 22nd and Mission streets that killed one man and left more than 50 tenants homeless, few have received definitive word on what will happen to them.
And for some, the deals that have kept them in temporary housing will expire in the next month or so. A city program that could help them — and has already been approved by the Board of Supervisors — only got under way on Friday.
“Everything here is a limbo, no one knows,” said Yanira Hernandez, one of the tenants who was displaced two years ago. “I do want to go back, but when? No construction has happened… On the contrary, they demolished, instead of building.”
The fenced-off site, a pit filled with rainwater, looks like some kind of urban swimming hole.
Despite the city’s ongoing efforts to protect tenants from future fires and make accommodations for those who have already been displaced, the path forward is not totally clear for the tenants.
More than half of the displaced tenants are housed on Treasure Island, in public housing units that were refurbished with the help of funding through Supervisor David Campos’ office. These tenants have gotten a year’s extension.
The remainder either received disaster relief rental subsidies from the city, were placed in housing with landlords renting under the Good Samaritan program, or found their own way to rooms in friends’ houses or apartments on the open market. The future of these tenants has yet to be determined.
It’s unclear exactly how many tenants were placed in housing through the Good Samaritan program, which calls on private landlords to offer disaster victims short-term leases at reduced rents. But Good Samaritan placements have a time limit of two years – which, for most tenants housed through that program, will run out in February or March of this year.
“It’s really alarming, this upcoming timeline we’re facing, considering that a lot of these are families,” said Peter Papadopoulos, who has been helping a group of nonprofits known collectively as United to Save the Mission develop a plan to help keep the displaced tenants housed.
One lifeline was supposed to be a city program that gives residents displaced by disasters like fire a certificate of preference in the below-market-rate housing program. The Board of Supervisors approved those preferences in July 2016. But as of Friday afternoon, not a single tenant had made use of the preference – because the certificates had not been released yet by the city.
“The most important block of permanent replacement housing is the affordable housing that comes online through the Mayor’s Office of Housing… That’s a huge way that we’re going to get all of those victims rehoused permanently through the preference,” said District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “I am deeply concerned that we help these families continue to remain housed in SF and I’m going to do what’s necessary to help every single one of them.”
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Gabriel Medina, policy manager for the Mission Economic Development Agency, another organization that has been helping tenants deal with the fallout of the fire, said Friday afternoon that the city had just that afternoon released the certificates so that tenants could begin using them in their housing applications.
He said the agency plans to organize a workshop to help tenants hoping to apply for below-market-rate housing take advantage of that preference.
Even among those on Treasure Island, who will be able to stay for another year, uncertainty remains. While their placement is not limited by the Good Samaritan law, it was originally planned to last two years before the city made a deal for its extension. But several tenants contacted by Mission Local were not up to date on the extension.
“Next month will be two years, and I don’t know what the lease will be, if they’re going to give us another year,” said Tony Segovia, another displaced tenant. “We’re just waiting to see when the lease comes up in February.”
Former 22nd Street tenant Jose Gonzalez, whose son Alessandro had to hop out of the second-story window with the family dog to escape the fire, said he had heard about the extension but hasn’t heard much else.
“I was asking around, I am not sure if all other families know,” Gonzalez said. “Because we want to go back to 22nd and Mission, but the owner hasn’t even built yet. He is disappeared.”
“I have a full time job and everything, and I don’t qualify for any help, so I’m like one of the worst ones,” said Marcela Cordoba, another displaced tenant living on Treasure Island. “They mentioned that there was going to be housing, that you would have priority. But I don’t qualify for any of that stuff.”
On Treasure Island, another factor is the large development scheduled to transform the island which has already slowly begun, making it impossible for the tenants to stay indefinitely.
Most pervasive among tenants, their advocates, and the city is a sense that the site of the fire remains completely inactive.
“We know of no movement on that site at all, and we’ve gotten no update and no new information on the site,” MEDA’s Medina said. “We get asked all the time; it’s just it’s really discouraging…it’s a difficult time right now for everybody.”
A spokesperson for the Planning Department said no permits have been issued for new construction on the site. Five civil suits against the landlord, Hawk Ling Lou, have been filed, but it’s unclear if or how those would affect construction on or a sale of the site.
“I don’t know what will happen,” said displaced tenant Araceli Tolama. “The owner will decide, and he… Who knows. We don’t even know.”
Mission Local was one of the businesses displaced by the fire. We have since relocated to the MEDA-owned building at 2301 Mission St., Suite 104.