Thursday, February 05, 2015

Old Mission relic consumed by fire

Demolition contractors are gathering.
Not far from where I live, eight days ago a fire gutted an old three story building on Mission Street. One resident died and 64 people are homeless, as are nearly two dozen small businesses which occupied offices on the second floor and the store fronts at ground level. The neighborhood feels as if a hole had been gouged in its heart.

A passerby on his bike knew what he could do: launch a GoFundMe appeal for the residents. Zack Crockett thought he might raise about S2000. So far, the fund has collected over $110,000 which will be distributed through Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA).

Crockett is also sharing what he has learned of the lives of our displaced neighbors via the web site where he works, Priceonomics. At the link, he shares the interrupted story of Salvadoran immigrant construction worker Toni Segovia and of two young women whose families now wonder where they will end up.
The girls, who had just applied to college less than a month prior to the fire, each have a distinctive dream. Mayra, who has “always been interested in helping people,” wishes to attend the nursing program at Dominican University in San Rafael, about 30 minutes north of San Francisco. Perla would like to attend Syracuse University in New York and work toward becoming an early childhood education teacher -- though, the disaster has impacted her desire to leave home, and her family.

“Now that everything happened, I don’t want to go as far away,” says Perla, softly. “I can’t leave everything the way is it, now that this happened. It would make it more difficult to move on.”

“I’ve worked so hard to have a better future,” adds Mayra, “and now I feel, like, guilty for leaving to college.”
The hard truth is that the Mission is no longer hospitable to the sort of naturally occurring community of low income renters which occupied that building. There are legal protections for the displaced people, but they are weak. And there are no protections for the small businesses that have scratched out a living in the odd corners of our streets.
... When incidents like this happen, tenants are legally entitled to return to their units, once the units have been repaired, at their former rent prices. There are, however, many loopholes to this. If a tenant accepts his security deposit back or takes any other financial offer from the building owner, for instance, he could lose this right. What’s more, if 75% of the building is deemed “a new development” upon restoration, this right is terminated, essentially punishing the tenants for the severity of the fire. With damages on Toni’s building estimated at over $8 million, this is a likely scenario.

Staying in the Mission -- the only place Toni, Perla, and Mayra have ever called home in America -- is a major concern.

“Our rent didn’t raise too much -- only, like $60 every two years,” says Toni. “Our unit was the biggest one in the building, and we paid less than $1,100 [per month].” Finding something comparable in San Francisco’s increasingly-heated and crowded real estate market will be a daunting task.
The hyperlocal news site Mission Local, itself one of the displaced small businesses, has provided extensive coverage of this neighborhood trauma.

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