The outdoor bathroom at the "Merry-Go-Round" Housing Collaborative on 2976 23rd St. Photo taken by Annika Hom on June 24, 2021.

Uptown Funk

Ah, smells like a deal. The property at 200 Capp St., which currently houses the revered dive bar Uptown, is possibly changing hands. Joe Eskenazi spotted the For Sale sign himself, which, according to a source with the bar, went up three weeks ago. 

The bar doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon, even if the building gets a new owner, an Uptown source told me. The lease they have is still viable. 

The current building owner is Kaushik M. Dattani. If that rings a bell, it’s probably because he’s one of the most detested landlords in the eyes of Mission housing activists, primarily for the Ellis Act evictions he’s implemented over the years. I mean hey, not everyone can say they’ve been put on Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s “Dirty Dozen” list. 

Or maybe you know him for funding the Mother Teresa/Martin Luther King, Jr./Gandhi mural — which, as Eskenazi pointed out in 2018, you can only see because the 2588 Mission St. building burned down. 

Thanks to public records, we know that the last time the building housing Uptown was for sale was in 2013, when it went for $3 million.

It’s unclear if there are any takers, or how much Dattani’s asking for. This reporter phoned Dattani Company and was told the man himself was out to lunch, and would call me back. Can’t be the first time a girl was promised this and let down. On the upside, I can always have a drink at Uptown to console myself. 

Merry-Go-Round House 

God, I love this job sometimes. On Thursday, the “Merry-Go-Round” Housing Collaborative on 2976 23rd St., near Harrison, officially unveiled its brand new renovations, and I came along for the ride. 

The Merry-Go-Round Housing Collaborative, allegedly named for its decor, is part of the city’s Small Sites Program, which rescues old housing structures of up to 25 units from the “speculative market” and transforms them into permanent affordable housing. 

The house is made up of two Victorians joined together and holds a total of 14 bedrooms, two kitchens, five bathrooms and plenty of common rooms. It’s a landing spot for artists and freelancers and, in a former life, was an international youth hostel. This is probably why the jungle mural adjacent to the staircase says “do not take root” at the bottom.

It’s likely exactly what you’d expect a quirky San Francisco artists’ haven to be like. There was a chalkboard fit with doodles and Polaroids of residents, a Pegasus (?) art sculpture on the stair railing, a collage that declares, “WE HAVE BUTTS.” There’s an outdoor bathroom with a tub that someone thought had derived from Oscar Wilde’s imagination. It “can fit two or three people if you try,” a resident informed me. Good to know.  

Many of the Small Sites are fixer-uppers — some severe — and this Merry-Go-Round house was no exception. In 2014, after artists living there advocated for affordable housing, the San Francisco Community Land Trust swooped in and agreed to buy it. 

Current resident Praveen Sinha, who’s lived here for nearly 16 years, told me the steps leading up it had holes. One of the shower walls was exposed from water damage, and it sometimes leaked. 

Brian Freitas, another resident who came from transitional housing through DAHLIA, the San Francisco Housing Portal, nearly three years ago, definitely appreciated the fire alarm. Obviously, a highly desired amenity. 

“Someone the other day burned a pizza, and we were all very aware of it,” Freitas laughed. 

With the help of the San Francisco Community Land Trust and $1.2 million from the city, it got a new paint job (residents helped choose the colors: dark blue, light blue, and gold), had a new fire-alarm system installed, and heating improved, said Keith Cooley, the director of asset management at the Land Trust. 

The project started in 2017, but construction didn’t begin until the pandemic. This caused half the residents to flee and the others to move things around when the architects came. Final touches were finished this year, invoking a “ribbon-cutting” ceremony — technically, a blue masking tape ceremony, since the ribbon was forgotten — by the building’s youngest resident, 11-year-old Wowie. 

Merry-Go-Round can house at least 16 people at a time, Sinha said. Now, five spots are open, but it could be a minute before they’re filled. Residents must apply through the city’s DAHLIA process, which Sinha said can “bottleneck” the process of attracting new roommates. 

Amy Beinart, an aide to District 9 Supe Hillary Ronen, attended the Merry-Go-Round ceremony and told me that at least 200 Small Sites exist in the district. 

She admired the house’s fresh paint. Before departing, she told me that now the building “will always be home to working class and low-income San Franciscans.”

Praveen Sinha, a resident of Merry-Go-Round Housing Collaborative, speaks before the blue masking tape cutting ceremony. Photo by Annika Hom on June 24, 2021.

Twitter fingers

What’s this ish about this sweeping state rent relief program? And what about eviction moratoriums? 

The Governor Gavin Newsom announced a $5.2 billion package that could pay off all pandemic back rent for low-income residents, the New York Times reported. This, along with an extended eviction moratorium, may materialize Monday, June 28, KQED reporters reckon. 

This threw Supervisor Dean Preston into a tizzy on Twitter. He tweeted that the money wasn’t new: “Maybe, for once, Governor Newsom could deliver for the 17 million tenants in CA who are struggling, instead of issuing press releases saying he has done so when he hasn’t.” (A program promising $5.2 billion for rent relief, also funded fully by the state, is mentioned in the Governor’s May budget summary.)

Preston later told SFGate that a hearing found that only one-third of San Franciscans behind on rent will see a cent of help, largely due to underfunding of local and state programs. 

Indeed, state rent relief programs have failed to move quickly on paying their recipients. As of early this week, only 8 percent of the $619 million in rent assistance requests were actually paid.

Rising from the ashes …

Maybe the developers of 2588 Mission St. do think the sky is the limit, because this building keeps on growing. 

The proposed building on this current weed-choked vacant lot seeks to add 34 units and another story to its project, according to a pre-application community meeting on Wednesday. 

As you well know, the new project , known as “La Muerte de La Misión” to some community organizers, has been controversial for years. It’s slated to fill the lot where the original burning burned down in 2015, a blaze that killed one and displaced 60 low-income residents and dozens of businesses, including Mission Local. 

On Wednesday, there was a neighborhood pre-application meeting, where project sponsors receive input from the community before they submit the project application to the city. Lucky for you, I tuned in. In total, the new proposal comes out to 10 stories and 182 units. Of these, 30 units will be affordable. Of those, 18 will be 50 percent of the area median income level; the remainder will be split between units up to 80 or 110 percent of the AMI. This is thanks to the state density bonus law AB2345, which allows more height and density if a project offers a certain amount of affordable units.

In case you’re keeping score, the last plan introduced in 2020 was for a nine-story building with 148 dwelling units and 28 were affordable. But let’s backtrack to 2018, when a seven-story building with 97 units, 24 that were affordable, was pitched. 

“I mean, is it true this one is just two stories higher than the one you previously presented to us?” said concerned caller Lou Dematteis.

“Yes, you are correct,” Ian Birchall, the project’s architect, said. 

In short, La Muerte is now a tall order. It towers at a 99-and-a-half feet, angering the handful of residents and non-residents who chimed in out of solidarity.

The building was insulted and called “ugly” more than once, especially for dwarfing nearby buildings. Kevin Ortiz from Latinx Young Democrats said that this project didn’t vibe with traditional Mission art or architecture. 

“You don’t understand the history, nor respect it,” Ortiz said. 

As expected, Wednesday’s ire was mostly directed at the property owner, Hawk Ling Lou. However, he was not present this time. Since he wasn’t, they turned the heat on Birchall. 

There was a woman with an ominous black-and-white “No to La Muerte” Zoom background (the only one who had it this time) and she told Birchall he doesn’t “have to work for this client” after his handling of the blaze. Birchall responded, “It’s not for you to tell me who I have to work for or choose to work for.” 

Erick Arguello from Calle 24 Latino Cultural District asked the project to be handed to an affordable developer so it’s 100 percent affordable, thus giving displaced residents an opportunity to return. Birchall reminded the listeners that he’s only the architect, and has no control over who owns the property or how it’s used. 

Despite the fact that a handful of speakers spoke more than once, the meeting ended relatively quickly. 

Birchall vowed to put the comments and that video up on a special page on his site, because of the special interest. He thanked the speakers and reiterated: “One of the more recent comments was that I am just the architect,” Birchall said. “And that is … a fact.”

A potential street view of the proposed 2588 Mission St. building. Courtesy of Ian Birchall. June 23, 2021.

Housekeeping: What you missed and what I’m reading

From us, to you, with love.

Our lovely Clara-Sophia Daly just rang in her birthday and gifted us with “Community leaders press supervisors to keep funding rent relief” — and, at the office, some homemade carrot cake. Supes promised Proposition I funds could go to rent relief, and residents haven’t seen a penny. State programs haven’t fared much better. Nearly all applying for rent relief at the local program — 98 percent — earn below $50,000. 

If this week’s item on “La Muerte” left more to be desired, check out my recent recap of the project. 

What I’m reading: 

California affordable housing — Are unions in the way?” Apparently, multiple bills that would allow more affordable housing have been sent to the Capitol. As Manuela Tobias pointed out, the only successful ones appear to have union backing. Tobias cuts through the noise to deliver an even-handed analysis about labor code nitty gritty and the mixed reviews on union labor’s role in affordable development.

Don’t Universalize Housing Vouchers” — an opinion piece by Edward Glaeser, an economics professor at Harvard — caught my eye on Twitter for the resulting threads. While the writing’s a little dry for my taste, the piece raises smart questions about Section 8 vouchers and how we should be using them. It also asks whether these will impact housing prices in a tight housing market.


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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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