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A Housing Solution Success Story: Nonprofits Buy Buildings To Prevent Displacement

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- It's a San Francisco success story: nonprofits are increasingly buying buildings citywide to prevent displacement of rent controlled tenants.

Chloe Jackman Buitrago's building sold earlier this year.

"It feels like we won, and that's a really, really good feeling," Jackman Buitrago said.

At home in her Inner Richmond apartment with her husband Mike and their new baby Alonzo, Jackman Buitrago is all smiles, but earlier this year, life as they knew it was in jeopardy. It all started when her landlord put the building up for sale and strangers started asking to tour her place.

"I just felt very defensive, these people are coming through, it's very invasive to have someone come into your space so they can figure out a way to get rid of you," she said.

"Then there was a note that said, 'This is not a rent controlled building,' with an asterisk by it, that's when we freaked out," Jackman Buitrago said.

Jackman Buitrago is a female, a minority, a native San Franciscan, a new mother and small business owner. She's a little bit of everything San Francisco is consistently at risk of losing by pricing people out.

She works around the corner from her apartment as a photographer in her own studio and her baby Alonzo often comes with. She was not about to give all of that up.

"So we started getting all the neighbors together, talking to all the neighbors and saying, 'This is what needs to happen,'" she said.

Through a flier in her mailbox, Jackman Buitrago just happened to learn about the Small Sites Program.

"This is an issue that affects every resident of San Francisco," said Karoleen Feng, the director of Community Real Estate for the Mission Economic Development Agency, or MEDA for short.

MEDA connected Jackman Buitrago and tenants in her building to the Small Sites Program. Small Sites uses public money to help nonprofits like MEDA buy buildings off the private market so tenants can stay.

"We essentially pay what you pay on the private market for it, we're not paying any less than another buyer would be paying," Feng said.

MEDA owns the largest number of buildings associated with the Small Sites Program. San Francisco provided $75 million to help MEDA purchase 26 buildings and help more than 400 tenants keep their affordable housing. All told, the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development helped nonprofits buy 35 buildings and keep more than 500 residents in place.

The program started in 2014 with just $3 million, a lot of which came from inclusionary housing fees that luxury developers pay toward the city's affordable housing fund. This November, the program got a big boost when Measure A passed.

"The city just passed a $600 million bond in November, with that we'll have another at least $30 million to add to the pot to buy buildings off the private market," Feng said.

Feng and her team are training other nonprofits to continue this work, and they're looking for more permanent forms of funding. She's warning tenants to look out for telltale signs.

"Be on alert for changes to your building, whether it's your landlord starting that painting that they've never done after not paying attention for over 10 years, to having random visitors walk through your building," Feng said.

Jackman Buitrago's building is now protected for the next 99 years, long enough for the next generation of San Franciscans to call this place home.

In June, the city enacted the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, or COPA, that law now ensures nonprofits get a five day heads up to purchase eligible properties on the market.

Read more of Susie Steimle's PROJECT HOME

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