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UncategorizedThe Agenda, April 27-May 3: Dancing for the Mission...

The Agenda, April 27-May 3: Dancing for the Mission and an odd Tenderloin project

An early chance to get involved in the giant Mission District March on City Hall — and is “naturally affordable” housing for real?

Mission residents are getting angry -- and taking their case to City Hall
Mission residents are getting angry — and taking their case to City Hall

By Tim Redmond

APRIL 27, 2015 – The Mission District has become Ground Zero for the eviction battles in San Francisco, the place where Google buses and evictions clash with a long-established community that includes many lower income people and locally owned Latino businesses.

That’s why Sup. David Campos is talking about a moratorium on new development while the city and the neighborhood figure out how to protect existing vulnerable communities.

And it’s why hundreds of Mission residents and workers will descend on City Hall Friday May 8 to demand an end to the evictions, more affordable housing, and no Monster in the Mission. Should be a giant rally that will demonstrate how much anger is boiling up.

Among the sponsors: ACCE , Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, Eviction Free SF, Our Mission No Eviction , Plaza 16 Coalition, Poor Magazine, and more.

But you don’t have to wait until May 8 to get started and get in the mood for demanding change. There’s a flash mob dance rehearsal starting Tuesday May 5– and the level of experience required is “zero to tons.”

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You can get the details here.


There’s a very odd Tenderloin development project working its way through the San Francisco planning process, and it’s slated to come up before the Planning Commission Thursday/30 (although it might be continued until June).

The proposal involves the construction of two eight-story buildings that will contain 238 “group housing” units – that is, SRO hotel rooms – on what are now parking lots.

Sounds good, right? The project sponsor says that because of the size and type of the units, they will be “naturally affordable.”

But there’s always a catch or two here – and when it was first proposed, the project was going to allow the owners of several residential hotels to convert their rooms to tourist use – eliminating 238 rent-controlled apartments. Along the way, the developer wants to see if young tech workers are willing to pay a fairly high price (more than most SRO tenants could ever pay) to live in places with shared bathrooms and no kitchens.

A lot of tech workers don’t cook at home anyway – they get fed at work, or go out to eat. So it’s not that much of a stretch to think that SROs in the Tenderloin could be worth thousands of dollars a month.

Now the project sponsor says the deal to convert 238 existing SROs is on hold – but not dead. It could come back at any time.

And then there’s the concept that this market-rate housing project wouldn’t have to set aside the usual 12-15 percent of rooms for affordable housing or pay the city the requisite fees.

Randy Shaw, who had some problems with the original project, now thinks it’s only fair for these projects be exempt from the affordable housing fees. I think it’s safe to say that much of the affordable-housing community disagrees.

This is part of the much larger question about housing, gentrification, and possible displacement in the Tenderloin. As long as most of the low-cost housing is owned by nonprofits and is off the private market, low-income people will be able to stay in the Tenderloin and the Sixth Street corridor. The stores and restaurants may get more fancy (and on the upside, the streets might get safer) but there won’t be widespread evictions.

That, of course, is an argument to get as much housing as possible out of the private market.

But there’s also a lot of privately owned housing in those areas, including private SROs, and there are people living around the edges (say, in mid-Market) who have turned what was once unwanted office space into housing – and with the Twitter tax break spreading displacement further and further into what were once considered low-rent areas, we are going to see more and more of this sort of project.

Which says to me that the notion of “naturally affordable” is becoming a joke.

Oh, and this: I am hearing that John St. Croix is going to leave his job as the head of the Ethics Commission. So somebody will get a post where he or she could have tremendous influence over campaign finance, corruption, and the direction of ethics at City Hall.

Start thinking of good candidates.


Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. SF spends over 160 million a year on these problems and they just get worse. In fact, the more money the city throws at the homeless, the more of them show up here because we are so generous.

    Your idea appears to be lets spend far more money on them and somehow magically they will all become law-abiding, economically-producing tax-paying citizens. No they won’t. They will just have more left-over cash to buy booze and drugs.

    Personally I think the only solution is to do what we did a few decades ago and demolish the slums and start over. Areas of SOMA and Fillmore used to be just as dire but we cleaned them up. Wholesale re-development is what we need, and move the problem people somewhere where they do a lot less harm

  2. Maybe not anyone and everyone – but those who are city residents and those who are faced with displacement by the forces who have determined that because $1600-2000 is a median studio rent, that’s what anyone who wants to live here should be able to afford. And by focusing your comments on behavior of people forced to live in the streets you seem unable to grasp that there are much larger, more profound elements at play, that put them there. Perhaps you don’t believe that government needs to be part of the solution and as elected representatives need to address the underlying problems and help honest people find an honest home.

  3. 99.9% of the crime, blight and unpleasantness in the TL is caused by the underclass of semi-homeless there. Emphasising the tiny amount cuased by the odd tech workers who might go out in that neighborhood is disingenuous of you.

    “Lily white”? Ugh. And now you compound your inverted economic snobbery by being a racist as well?

  4. I live in the Tenderloin and am offended by bodily fluids on the sidewalk whatever the socio-economic source. The identical substance-abuse stupor that leads to crack heads shitting in the street leads to the high-AMI types barfing up their $12 cocktails. Arrogant, offensive disregard in both cases.

    Bottom line: SF is building plenty of housing for those above the AMI. We need housing for those below the AMI if SF isn’t to become a lily white within ten years.

  5. But in the end that didn’t matter, because it turned out that we needed places to live more than we needed places to work.

    That was my point – that it worked out OK in the end.

    And the history of how they got built was interesting too because it was an example of the city going to developers and asking them what they would build if only they could. Their answer with those live/work lofts (which were built in many cities at that time).

    If only the city would ask questions like that now, we might see more homes get built

  6. Sorry, that wasn’t meant to describe motivations, just to characterize proceeding with difficulty.

    Yes, that’s right: affordable housing must be unattractive in some way. Were it not, it would not be affordable.

  7. No disrespect but I don’t believe that San Francisco is struggling to develop housing that is affordable – just as I don’t believe that we are really trying to “fix” Muni.

    The problem with SROs can be seen through the lens of SF history: After the economic cycle is done, nobody wants to live in them.

  8. They were given variances to zoning and building codes because they are live work. But most were just “live” and everyone knew that was going to happen from day one.

  9. San Francisco is struggling to develop housing that is affordable by any but top decile earners. This is one solution: developing modest units with few amenities, in which people would prefer not to live. People with high incomes will pass these units by, so their rents will stay lower.

    As for the future, when the cycle turns as all cycles do, these units will be there for the people who need them. How is their existence a problem?

  10. We need both. We cannot really build too much housing, and this is not an either/or proposition.

    Let’s build the homes that you want AND let’s build these as well. Even if the tech workers go away (doubtful) there will always be a market for cheap central homes

  11. But live/work lofts were never designed to be cheap, and never were cheap. And they do house a large number of people who might otherwise be doing Ellis evictions or TIC conversions, so I’d have to assess the live/work lofts as a success.

    These units, however, are clearly targeting the low end of the market and, crucially, require no subsidy. There is no perceivable downside to building them, given that the money isn’t available to otherwise house the people they target.

  12. Building SROs for the current wave of workers in a questionably sustainable economic sector is about the most short-sighted thing we can do. Yes, the tech-working millennials get meals at work. Is that going to last forever? No. Is the tech economy going to last forever? Maybe, but not in San Francisco.

    We need housing that people want to live in – not just crash.

  13. Actually Shaw gets these things right a lot more than Redmond does. Shaw is of course tainted by the homeless housing mafia that pays for his two million dollar mansion. But at least he provides cheap housing whereas Redmond typically opposes all new housing.

    Given the fundamental incompatibility between NIMBYism and affordable housing, it is Redmond who is the bigger NIMBY, and therefore the bigger foe of affordable housing.

  14. Shaw – unusually – is right, and the affordable-housing community is wrong.

    The city’s flat fee structure pressures developers to maximize per-unit profit. The result is to discourage the development of dense, modest units like these and to encourage developing even yet more luxury apartments. This policy, as Shaw notes, creates an incentive to develop something dense and modest instead.

    It isn’t useful to be against everything. What can the affordable-housing community support that does anyone any good, if not developments like this?

  15. Just as we saw in the past with ‘live-work’ housing that turned out to be a scam, these new SROs that will be ‘naturally affordable’ so they aren’t subject to fees and rules is also a scam. What is clear is that developers are creative and unscrupulous in finding ways to get around rules, and city officials who allow them to do so are either rubes or getting some benefit from the project.

  16. $1600 to $2000 a month is well below market for this town, and especially for a very central neighborhood.

    Whether you think it is “affordable” or “cheap” is a subjective notion. The word “affordable” often isn’t helpful because it begs the question of affordable to whom?

    I would argue that anyone making the average household income in SF (about $80K a year) could afford one of these units. Could the unemployed or dirt poor afford them? No. Could someone on a minimum wage afford them? No. But then they probably can’t afford anything in the city, and the cost of housing all of them is prohibitive and impossible.

    The beauty of the TL project is that they are about as cheap as we can build without massive subsidies. If the demand is there, we should build them, especially since they are just car parks right now.

    Oh, and your comments about the new residents and them “barfing” in the street is plain offensive and classist

  17. The Planning Dept. Executive Summary of the “odd Tenderloin project” Redmond writes about states , “The Project Sponsor contends that the size and location of these
    rental units makes them “affordable” by design and that the target market for the units averages 150% of
    Average Median Income (AMI).”

    Affordable by design yet targeted at people making 150% of the AMI, north of $150K? Huh??? With units marketed to wealthy techies at rental rates double the going TL rate for a monthly SRO room (about $800-$1000) “affordable” is laughable. And the model may prove the test bed for a new form of gentrification.

    The TL is already edgy-hip, the place where the upper-AMI goes slumming, barfing overpriced drinks on the sidewalk. A brand new unit in a semi-communal development will bring daring upper-AMIs to live in the TL, raising gentrification pressure inexorably.

    Randy Shaw is dead wrong that the gentry want private kitchens. The new inhabitants will be recent grads used to living in dorms. With the money saved on rent, they’ll have plenty left over to eat out or do the microwave-mini fridge thing like they did in college.

    There goes the neighborhood…

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