Listings of SRO buildings in SF’s Chinatown ramp up

Stakeholders say that children of SRO building owners are not interested in managing the buildings


Listings are rising for single-room occupancy buildings in San Francisco’s storied Chinatown, mostly owned by families or private investors, as potential heirs lose interest in operating them.

Three such buildings on Powell Street recently hit the market, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Chinatown has about 15,000 SRO units.

The buildings are caught in a generational shift, according to attorney Allan Low, who represented the Community Development Center in the purchase of an SRO building. The children of owners are spurning the opportunity to manage them.

“The next generation doesn’t want anything to do with these buildings,” he said. “That is causing quite a bit of discomfort.”

The buildings, with shared bathrooms and kitchens, have long been a staple of Chinatown, serving restaurant employees and other low-wage workers, recently arrived immigrants, and seniors.

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“Losing SROs to speculation means losing the best version of Chinatown,” Malcolm Yeung of the Chinatown Community Development Center told the newspaper. “It means losing the immigrant gateway that has served generations of newcomers since 1850.”

The center recently bought and renovated a 64-unit five-story SRO building at 1005 Powell Street with a laundromat and beauty parlor on the ground floor. The center raised about $15 million for the purchase, with money from the Crankstart Foundation, the San Francisco Housing Accelerator Fund and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. The center’s purchase serves as a potential nonprofit model for the buildings.

Investors seeking to operate the buildings at a profit will have to raise rents to make them profitable. For example, an eight-unit SRO building is selling for $2.85 million. At that rate, the monthly payment would be $14,478 — well below the $3,032 generated from the building.

“Nobody is going to buy it just to keep the rents where they are — not if you are trying to run a business,” said Realtor Brian Leung, who represents several sellers of SRO buildings.

[San Francisco Chronicle] — Gabriel Poblete

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