Housing for veterans and the formerly homeless is on the chopping block on Thursday after San Francisco sued a landlord for allegedly converting single-family homes into cramped dwellings for vulnerable tenants to turn a profit.
In the midst of a housing crisis, landlord Judy Wu is seeking approval to remove 15 unauthorized units from eight of the dozen houses she rents in the Bayview to veterans and very low-income tenants, according to the Planning Department.
Concerned about displacement, tenant Fred Bryant filed applications for the Planning Commission to take a closer look on Thursday into the removal of units at each of the properties.
The situation has put city officials in a tight spot. City planners are generally against removing units because of the lack of affordable housing in San Francisco, but there is also a need for livable homes that pass muster with the law.
Wu and her husband Trent Zhu have divided a dozen homes into overcrowded buildings and created 49 units, according to the Planning Department.
(Source: S.F. Planning Department)
“I don’t want to remove any units, it’s The City that is forcing me to do so,” Wu said in a phone call on Monday. “I don’t want to displace any of our tenants.”
Wu said she has housed formerly homeless individuals, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addicts who were in and out of jail. She also said her property is in “good condition.”
“I hope the Planning Commission don’t force me to remove them because they really don’t have any place to go,” Wu said.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued Wu and her husband in August 2016 after building inspectors and city planners issued notices of violation for each of their properties.
Deputy City Attorney Nick Colla said the landlords applied for permits to add laundry rooms, but instead used the new piping to add kitchens. He also said the properties were cited for cleanliness.
“They essentially turned single-family homes into multi-unit housing by evading regulations,” Colla said. “They use cheap materials. They have very, very thin walls. You can hear anything that goes on.”
The lawsuit accused the couple of “flagrantly violating the law” for profit, renting to vulnerable populations for a “guaranteed stream of income” through government subsidies and “generating far more rental income from the properties than lawful, fair market use would generate.”
Attorneys for the couple denied the allegations in their response to the lawsuit.
The tenants either have rent subsidies through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program or the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which used to be called Section 8, according to city planners.
In the most extreme case, the landlords converted a house at 1351 Revere Ave. from one unit to seven units, bringing in $11,830 each month in rent subsidies as of August 2016, according to the lawsuit.
Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents the Bayview, called the situation a conundrum and declined to comment on whether the units should be removed. Cohen said her office has been “dealing” with the “bad” landlord for years.
“We’re in a unique situation when it comes to Judy Wu,” Cohen said. “We don’t want to reward the bad behavior … We’re also not looking to exacerbate the housing crisis.”
The Planning Department has recommended that 15 of the 49 units be removed.
“The department discourages demolition or removal of existing dwelling units to prevent loss of housing stock and the displacement of existing tenants,” city planners wrote. “While additional housing is desirable, The City also needs to maintain standards for the quality of dwelling units.”
Peter Keith, chief of code enforcement with the City Attorney’s Office, said Wu could be on the hook for some relocation fees for the tenants, and may have to take “concrete steps” to find them housing.
“From our standpoint, Judy Wu created this problem and she’s got to be part of the solution too,” Keith said.
The Planning Commission will vote Thursday on whether to remove the units.
The San Francisco Superior Court case is scheduled for trial in February 2018.