When Alba Guerra’s new landlord broke the news to her that her monthly rent would increase by $3,000, she could only think to turn to her community for help.
Guerra, who owns Sunrise Restaurant—a Salvadoran eatery located at 3126 24th St.—wrote a Facebook post on the evening of Feb. 14, pleading for the Mission community’s support in the wake of her substantial rent hike.
“Unfortunately after 13 years of service to the community the new landlord has increased my rent by $3,000 per month which means now that I’m going to have to pay $7,800 per month starting April 1st,” Guerra wrote. “This happens because there is no control on the rent making smaller businesses disappear due to the fact that they couldn’t pay the massive rent.”
When Guerra moved in 13 years ago, she paid $4,000 a month. But when Guerra resigned her lease in 2013, her rent was raised to $4,800. Guerra’s new landlord, Andrew On Tak Kong, purchased the building located between Folsom and Shotwell streets in March 2014.
And on Feb. 10, 2018, while at work and as her lease was set to expire, Kong handed Guerra a contract for a renewal of the lease, listing the new rent at $7,800 a month.
Guerra, who celebrated her 50th birthday on Feb. 16, was stunned.
“He told me to sign, and I told him, ‘I’m not going to sign, because I don’t know if I can afford this.’ He said, ‘Yes you can, raise the menu prices,’” Guerra said.
Guerra turned to Diana Ponce de Leon, project manager for the Invest In Neighborhoods program in the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. And soon after her Facebook post, word of her potential displacement spurred her community to take action.
“The news of this rent increase has spread community wide, and people are ready to come out and protect these cultural assets,” said Erick Arguello, president and cofounder of Calle 24. “We’re really going to put our foot down with this one, because this is what we’re trying to do—protect these small businesses against these rent increases.”
Arguello wrote a letter to Kong asking him to reconsider the rent increase or to at least negotiate. Arguello also sent copies of the letter to District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronan, Ponce De Leon, Mission Economic Development Association (MEDA), United to Save the Mission and Our Mission No Eviction.
Arguello also said that Calle 24 is currently working on getting Guerra an attorney through the Mayor’s office.
“Truthfully, I don’t know what’s going to happen. If they’re going to negotiate and lower the rent, great. If not, I’m still going to fight,” Guerra said. “This space isn’t just mine, it isn’t just my business. People know that when this business opened, it was a space for the community. If this restaurant closes, we won’t be able to give back to the community.”
Near the register, Guerra proudly displays half a dozen awards, ranging from being recognized for her community service, to neighborhood business awards. She’s periodically held fundraisers and events at her restaurant, at times donating 20 percent of her proceeds.
But being located on 24th Street for more than a decade, Guerra has witnessed substantial change.
“The small businesses are disappearing from here,” she said. “Here on 24th Street, we’re the only Salvadoran restaurant that has survived. I’m really worried. I have kids, employees that depend on me. Say if nothing happens and I agree to pay this rent, the neighbor will be next. Everybody else will have to pay what I’m paying.”
Guerra said she’s steadily raised the menu prices over the years, but worries that she’ll have to once again, something she fears her costumers won’t like. “I have to increase the prices now. It’s something I’m going to try, but I don’t know how my clients will take that.”
Guerra left her homeland of El Salvador for the United States 30 years ago, and routinely worked in restaurants. “Like anyone else, I had a dream,” she said. “My dream was to have my own business. And to not be treated like I was treated at my other jobs. A healthy environment for my employees. We see ourselves as family. We’re a family restaurant.”
Guerra’s husband purchases the materials and does maintenance, while her sons—one who studies at U.C. Santa Cruz and the other who attends June Jordan School For Equity—help with dishes and paperwork.
“I’m going to fight,” she said. “I’m not going out easily. I’m not giving up.”
As of press time Kong couldn’t be reached for comment.
Story by: Alexis Terrazas