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Academy of Art at Center of San Francisco’s Growing Real Estate Crisis

Since 1929, the Academy of Art University has held a prominent place in the city of San Francisco. An established art school, the Academy of Art has a student body of over 18,000 people and is one of the largest property owners in the city.

And the school is now in the crosshairs of San Francisco’s officials.

As the San Francisco Examiner reports, attorney Dennis Herrera officially announced on Friday that the city was filing a lawsuit against the Academy of Art. This lawsuit focuses on what city officials say is an abuse of city planning codes. The Academy of Art has forty buildings, only seven of which San Francisco government officials say are being operated according to city codes.

This legal action comes amidst skyrocketing rent and scarce housing in San Francisco. City residents face the highest rent in the country at $4,690 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to Apartment List. Eviction rates have also climbed to their highest points in ten years.

City officials are laying many of the repercussions of this real estate crisis at the feet of the Academy of Art.

Herrera says that the institution, which has converted dozens of properties to student dorms and university facilities in the past twenty years, has deprived San Francisco of approximately 300 residencies. The city attorney went far enough to blame the school for “exacerbating the already scarce supply of affordable housing,” according to the San Francisco Gate.

The Academy has a long history of less than stellar abidance to city codes. Since university President Elisa Stephens took over in 1992, 22 buildings, ranging from residential structures to hotels, have been purchased and converted for use by the school. The city’s lawsuit alleges that none of those conversions received the proper approval from the Planning Department. The suit calls for the university to return many of its buildings to residential use, as well as pay civil fines estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.

The code violations, which have occurred over the course of several years, were never directly addressed by the city government until now. The city’s Planning Department says it was never able to enforce its codes on the Academy because of its skilled team of lawyers that have consistently fought off the department.

From the school’s point of view, the lawsuit is unnecessary. Attorney James Brosnahan, who represents the Academy of Art, says his client has spent nine years and over eight million dollars working on an environmental impact report, the missing paperwork for the school’s conversions. The report is expected to be done July 1.

In past weeks, the city and the Academy attempted to make a settlement, yet the negotiations fell through.

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