After a near 10-year battle to save their home at 53 Columbus Avenue -- formerly known as the Fong Building in Chinatown -- residents held a ceremonial wall breaking yesterday in honor of the coming renovation and seismic upgrades of their 21-unit building and Chinatown's first affordable housing co-op.
Gen Fujioka, Director of Programs at the Asian Law Caucus, gave a brief speech and presented certificates of recognition to the groups that contributed their time and energy to the realization of the co-op, as senior residents kicked off the wall destruction by punching holes in the buildings wall with a golden sledge hammer.
In 1998, residents were almost displaced when San Francisco City College wanted to demolish the building and erect a Chinatown-North Beach satellite campus. City College backed down when the costs of seismic upgrades and relocating building residents was not feasible.
Yu Chiu Kwan, 72, has called the building home since emigrating to the United States from Hong Kong 30 years ago. “The most powerful moment [was] waiting for today to happen after fighting for ten years,” said Kwan through David Ho, a senior community organizer for Chinatown Community Development Center acting as a translator. Like Kwan, many of the residents have lived in the building for many years, and most are families with seniors. Two tenants have lived there for 50 years.
“When City College owned the building there was a lack of care and sincerity in making sure that residents needs were being taken care of,” said Kwan. “Now the care of the building is much more attentive.”
“None of this would have been possible without the residents organizing, refusing to be bought out and standing up for each other for almost ten years,” said James Tracy, president of the board of directors of San Francisco Community Land Trust. While Kwan says that, “people from around the community…that united behind the tenants here, that's how we were ultimately able to create affordable housing.”
“There were many moments where the tenants had the opportunity, where individually some would benefit more than others,” said Fujioka. "But tenant solidarity won out in the end.” He attributes the idea of operating the building as a co-op to the tenants.
When addressing the purpose of the building, Fujioka, who has been supporting residents in their fight for the building since 1998, said “the core is to acquire land and allow tenants to own the building, not to just benefit immediate tenants, but really long term.”
“We still have work to do,” he said. Over the next year the residents will elect a board to represent the building. The Community Land Trust and legal teams will work together to create guidelines that will meet the needs of the co-op residents.
During renovation, occupants will be temporarily relocated.
Once renovation is complete on the two bedroom units, tenants will move into their $10,000 apartments and together will own the building while the land under the building will be owned by San Francisco Community Land Trust with a ground level office on long term lease to the Asian Law Caucus. Fujioka compares the ownership to a corporation, a tenant corporation, if a tenant decides to sell their share to a new tenant it will be sold for $10,000 plus any interest accumulated on the property during the time of occupancy.