Protesters blocked off the entrance to Vanguard Properties at 21st and Mission streets this afternoon during a rally against the sale of a Bernal Heights home, facilitated by one of the real estate firm’s agents, that would displace its tenants — a group of longtime Mission residents, teachers, artists, children and a senior citizen.
The protesters accused real estate agent Shelley Trew of “fraud, elder abuse, and greed” for coercing the 76-year-old owner of the house at 117 Ripley St. into signing over the rights to her family home in 2013. The elderly woman, they said, signed the contract after Trew offered to help her “find out how much her house is worth,” but was unaware that its stipulations included the sale and evictions of herself and some nine tenants.
“She is being railroaded,” said the owner’s nice, Nancy Pili Hernandez, a Mission muralist and the youth program manager at the Good Samaritan Resource Center, who also lives at 117 Ripley St. “This contract should have never been signed because she was not aware of what that contract said.”
“[Trew] lied about what the paper said that she initially signed,” said Pili Hernandez, adding that the house’s perspective buyer is currently suing her aunt for breach of contract for not going through with the sale.
Trew could not be reached for comment, and Vanguard did not respond to Mission Local’s inquiry into the sale at press time.
Among Mission community members, 117 Ripley St. is lovingly dubbed “thug mansion.”
“We call it that because that’s the roughness of the Mission, but it’s all love,” said Oscar Salinas, an organizer of the Justice for Alex Nieto Coalition, the group seeking justice in the controversial 2014 police shooting of Alex Nieto. Salinas called the house “iconic,” and said that his group has used the space to plan their marches.
“It’s a sacred space,” he said. “That’s why you see so many people out here today – there is so much love for all the work that this family has done.”
The elderly owner, a former hairdresser, bought the plot of land on Bernal Hill and enlisted her brothers, who were construction workers, to help her build the family home in 1980, according to Pili Hernandez.
The woman has sought legal help in filing paperwork to break the contract, a process that included a ten hour mediation between the elderly woman, Trew, and the prospective buyer.
“She’s 76 and has diabetes – at the end of a ten hour meeting she would sign her own death warrant,” said Pili Hernandez. “They are threatening to take the house and make her pay their legal fees if she doesn’t sign the the sale agreement.”
The elderly woman is refusing to sign the paperwork that would finalize the sale and give her tenants 90-day eviction orders.
But breaking the contract she signed with Trew could entail a costly legal battle for the elderly woman. With her signature, the woman unknowingly agreed to assume all legal costs, including the costs of Trew’s lawyer, said Pili Hernandez.
“We are here to support her and tell her that we will help her to fight, but we don’t have money to pay for her lawyer, let alone his,” Pili Hernandez said about her aunt.
Holding posters that read “Vanguard Vulture” above Trew’s headshot, some 50 protesters that included artists, community activists, city government representatives, teachers and their elementary schoolchildren, first held a ceremony at the site of the 22nd and Mission street building that was demolished after it was ravished by fire in 2015, before marching to Vanguard’s office at 2501 Mission St. to hold Trew’s employer accountable.
“This guy is very much a predator,” said Jesus Varela, performing arts manager at the Mission-based non-profit Accion Latina, who is a resident at the home at the center of the dispute. “This man goes around harassing elderly people into signing away the rights to their homes.”
The 117 Ripley St. home is valued at just under $2 million and is not the only property that Trew has managed in San Francisco. Research by Mission Local revealed that Trew bought or sold some 64 properties in Bernal Heights and 110 city-wide. His online profile claims $100 million in sales in the last three years alone and states he is one of San Francisco’s top 25 real estate agents, and in the top half a percent nationally.
Varela said that Trew has referred to himself as “the king of Bernal Hill.”
Joe Colmenares, a local art teacher and a resident at 117 Ripley St., also confirmed that Trew “put the house on the market without the owner’s consent” and called the deal and “inside job.”
“They offered to sell it to an inside client, so the real estate agent gets a double commission,” he said, although the sale of the house has not been finalized. “Trew’s M.O. is to go harass people until they give in or don’t understand what the documents are saying, and today we are here to expose that.”
The protesters set up in front of the firm’s entrance, locking the doors from the outside “for bad business” as members of the local band Soltron performed on the sidewalk. The group is among a multitude of Mission bands that practiced at 117 Ripley St. over the years.
Varela called the house one of the last standing “art incubators” – a rarity in a city where housing is a commodity that many artists and musicians can no longer afford.
“There’s not a lot of places where you can house a band for practice every Tuesday,” said Varela. “That house incubates artists of any craft.”
It is also an affordable space for teachers and youth workers to live, said Colmenares.
“It’s provided me with a safe haven to teach art and to continue to do art for the community that represents the culture of this neighborhood,” he said. “This house has been a real positive place for everyone – it’s where Carnaval starts and ends every year.”
Colmenares said the houses’ tenants reached out to many local organizations for help, but that the legal contract is binding.
“Those documents are legal documents, and they are irreversible through the court,” he said. “Because the documents are legal, the transaction is too – but what he did to get those documents signed, harassing the owner until she ultimately gave up – its fraud.”
The tenants are organizing to oppose the contract and stop the sale.
“We have 90 days to fight back or find a new home. For many of us, this has been our home for many decades,” said Colmenares. “I don’t know where I would go.”