Raul Vasquez had only been in San Francisco for a few days when he found a listing for a room for rent, not far from his job as a baker at La Victoria. It was an ideal location, so he called the number and was able to move in soon after. He’s been renting there ever since.
“My rent is where it’s at, but I’ve been here for 30 years,” Vasquez said in Spanish.
Vasquez is one of a dozen tenants fighting an eviction at the yellow building at 2820 Folsom St. For many years, the three-floor Queen Anne revival structure has served as one of the dwindling outposts of affordable housing in the Mission. It attracted creative types, artists, musicians, teachers and immigrants like Vasquez. But the three-unit property at Folsom and 24th, just half a block down from Pigeon Palace, is in its third year of a battle against Ellis Act evictions that were initiated soon after the property was sold in 2015.
Longtime owner Lew Serbin sold the building to Danny Sun, who bought the property using funds loaned by speculators, then filed eviction notices in 2016, according to the tenants. Banding together, they have sought legal help from Tenderloin Housing Clinic.
Both sides have lawyered up, but the tenants are facing a looming Jan. 22 eviction deadline. Many of the them don’t know what comes next.
The precarious situation is leaving residents like Tommy Seiler, who lives in the top unit of the building, worrying about the future. Some of his flatmates have backup plans, but he worries about his downstairs neighbors, who are elderly, dependent on disability benefits — and, if the eviction goes through, facing possible homelessness.
“You just have to wonder what will happen to them,” Seiler said. “Where can they go?”
Vasquez is one of the senior tenants at the Folsom house. Up until four years ago, he was working as a baker for La Victoria, a job he held for more than 25 years but quit when he developed health issues. Vasquez, along with his flatmate Maria Tojin, plan on fighting the eviction, saying their fixed income is not enough to rent anywhere else. Both Vasquez and Tojin rely on disability benefits after developing diabetes. For Vazquez, this necessitated an amputated toe and eye surgery.
“We’ve got nowhere to go. A room costs $900; how am I going to pay for that? With the disability I get, I can’t pay for a room like that,” Vasquez said.
Tojin, Vasquez’ flatmate, said at times she was told by Sun to clear stuff out of common areas because he would be “remodeling.” She’s been renting here for over 20 years, and she’s unsure of where she’ll go if she’s evicted. Tojin immigrated from Guatemala, though she doesn’t remember exactly when; like Vazquez she lives on a fixed income and has a social worker who pays her rent. Last year she had to quit her job as a house cleaner after she was diagnosed with diabetes.
“I’m so accustomed to living here, but if I have to go then I have to go,” Tojin said in Spanish.
For the past three years Tenderloin Housing Clinic attorney Stephen Booth has represented the tenants at 2820 Folsom through several rounds of the eviction process. Booth said that, back in 2016, he was able to have the initial eviction dismissed after he found errors in the paperwork.
Another reprieve came when Booth was able to get a disability extension processed, granting all of the tenants a full year to plan and organize. But, last year, Sun issued his tenants another eviction notice. The deadline in that notice was set for Jan. 22, but Booth and his clients plan to fight it.
“These are the people that get marginalized. These are the folks that are the fabric of the Mission. Where are they going to go? How can they afford to live in San Francisco?” Booth said.
According to Seiler, there was hope that Sun would sell to the Mission Economic Development Agency or create a land trust deal, not unlike the one that saved Pigeon Palace. But talks fell through.
“You don’t know when the hammer is going to drop,” Seiler said. “This was just one of those amazing flats in the Mission where there were artists and families.”
He quiets down as Sun, visiting the house for the second time this month, knocks on the door, accompanied by a woman described as a building inspector. The two tour Seiler’s middle unit before disappearing upstairs.
Seiler plans on staying and fighting. He calls San Francisco, and the Mission, his home.
But downstairs, Tojin sits and prays at the foot of an altar erected at the foot of her bed. The septuagenarian doesn’t remember what year she was born, but she does know one thing: Whatever happens to her is God’s will.
She gazes at the altar, the fresh flowers and the small wooden cross.
“I know God will help me,” she said