The fire that injured a family of five in San Francisco's Mission District this week has exposed a potentially dangerous side of the city's housing crisis.
When firefighters arrived at 24th Street and Treat Avenue early Wednesday morning, they found two people trapped inside a liquor store on the first floor of the burning building.
The store entrance was padlocked and firefighters had to cut off the lock to free the people inside. Investigators later found beds in the back of the store.
San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission, said the blaze shows that many people, struggling to stay in the city as rents skyrocket, are living in places that are not safe.
“The sad reality is there may be families out there that are choosing between sleeping on the street or sleeping under a roof, even it it’s not the safest place," Campos said in an interview. “That’s a very tragic choice for anyone to make, and we want to make sure that we minimize those situations as much as possible.”
Converting a liquor store into a space for residential use is a violation of the city's building and planning codes, said Scott Sanchez, a zoning administrator at the city's Planning Department.
The presence of a large number of illegal housing units in San Francisco -- typically in-law apartments built in garages, basements or attics -- is well established. Estimates floated last year, when the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that would allow landlords to legalize their unauthorized in-law units, put the number at 30,000 to 50,000. The 2010 U.S. Census put the total number of occupied housing units in the city at about 346,000.
Campos plans to hold a Board of Supervisors committee hearing in the coming weeks to address safety issues brought to light by a deadly fire in the same neighborhood and several other apartment blazes in late January.
The fatal fire at Mission and 22nd streets on Jan. 28 also led to questions about how well the Fire Department enforces code violations.
“The city has a role to play in making sure that we’re not losing lives because of unsafe living conditions, " Campos said.