Community members oppose the sale to a provate developer, because it threatens this building’s important role as affordable housing and as a nearly century-old resource for San Francisco’s Filipino community.
For generations, this single room occupancy (SRO) building has provided affordable housing for recent immigrants, workers and their families. It has 24 units of affordable housing and its tenants include elders, blue collar workers, and a man who was previously homeless.
Since a group of Filipino leaders scraped together a few thousand dollars to purchase the building in 1920, the Gran Oriente in the South of Market has been a vital social center for Filipino families in San Francisco. The owners of the building, Worshipful Rizal Lodge, an affiliate of the Masonic order, GranOriente Filipino, are now seeking to cash in on the inflated SoMa real estate market by selling to a for-profit company despite receiving a market rate offer from a nonprofit that would preserve it as a community resource.
The City of San Francisco has ordered the sale to a for-profit developer temporarily stopped. However, the threat of the building's loss is still very real.
“They are destroying our legacy by selling to the highest bidder instead of to the community,” said Gran Oriente Filipino member, Steve Arevalo, 62. Arevalo is a paying member of the lodge and his family has been affiliated with the organization for 80 years.
Elder Evicted, Attempted Assault By Seller Alleged
Arevalo lives in the building and has been served a 30-day eviction notice, which was then followed up with a notice of termination. He says the Secretary of the Gran Oriente Filipino, John Fields, attempted to physically attack him at a meeting in February 2016. Arevalo is facing renal failure and is undergoing dialysis. He fears for his life if he is forced to leave his home.
“This is pure retaliation because I oppose the sale to a for-profit company. In its 96-year history, no one has ever been evicted from the Gran Oriente. I would be the first,” Arevalo says. “This sale and my eviction completely goes against our members’ values,” he said.
Arevalo describes growing up attending many events at the Gran Oriente. Families would use the large hall on the ground floor for weddings, birthdays, Christenings and even funerals. When first established, discriminatory laws prevented non-whites from owning property or marrying whites. The GranOriente was a refuge for members who had no other place to live or didn’t have families.
Affordable Housing, Filipino Historical Legacy at Risk
"The sale of this building will wipe out a major legacy of the Filipino community, a direct contradiction to the SoMa Pilipinas resolution creating a Filipino Heritage District passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors," says Executive Director of West Bay Pilipino, Vivian Araullo. The Gran Oriente and the nearby Rizal Lodge have been identified as significant community resources in the Filipino Social Heritage District, SoMa Pilipinas, which was unanimously passed by a resolution of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in November 2015.
"If sold to a private developer, the City will lose much-needed affordable housing," said Angelica Cabande, Organizational Director of the South of Market Community Action Network, one of the many community nonprofits opposing the sale.
“This is a repeat of the I-Hotel battle,” says Tony Robles, president of the Manilatown Heritage Foundation. “Our Filipino elders are being forcibly evicted and abused, and our historic legacy is being sold off. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Community members are calling for the owners to agree to the sale of the building to a non-profit capable of preserving the building.
To support efforts to save Gran Oriente, please sign this petition: Protect the Filipino legacy of Gran Oriente Lodge before its too late!
More on the Gran Oriente Filipino: From Here to Fraternity: the Gran Oriente Filipino Hotel By Eddie Foronda