Landlord Halts Evictions After Discovering Fate Of Low-Income Tenants, Says He Knows “What It Feels Like To Be Excluded”

Photo: Brandon Chew, The Chronicle

In the midst of economic boom, it’s rare to find a businessman who’s more interested in human consequences than the bottom line. In the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s even more rare. But gay Benicia landlord Gene Pedrotti, 58, is showing there’s a viable alternative to greed called compassion. Go figure.

As is the case in many major metro areas across the country, the Bay Area is going through major growing pains. As property values continue to rise and new housing construction doesn’t meet demand, it’s the lower-income, often long-time tenants that get the short end of the stick. That’s if they’re lucky enough to get a stick at all — evictions have become as common as fog in July (aka very common).

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Pedrotti, a hardware store owner, had plans to build a new shop on the site of the trailer park he owns. But he withdrew the permit when he learned the personal stories of the mostly senior tenants and the fate he’d be assigning them if they were forced to move.

Pedrotti originally intended to do right by the tenants. He would offer buyouts to the residents, pay for relocation costs and subsidize their new housing for the next two years.

It seemed like a great idea. New, nicer homes for the tenants, improved commercial development for the neighborhood, and a spot for Pedrotti, who currently leases a space at the Southampton Shopping Center, to call his own.

But then he found out that eight senior citizens living in the park were told it could take “several” years to find replacement housing. In the meantime, they’d be on their own with nowhere to live in Benicia, where many had resided for years.

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“I cannot proceed to close the park at this time when the assurance of replacement affordable housing is so vague,” he told the city council.

“I know what it feels like to be excluded,” he added in a SF Chronicle profile.

Pedrotti also decided to go one step further. He’s pledged $100,000 to the Benicia Community Action Council over the next decade, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to residents struggling to meet basic human needs.

In a housing climate where the dollar is heralded as the ultimate endgame, Pedrotti shows how human costs can be factored into the equation.

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