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Changing plans for major affordable housing project leads to concern for Excelsior health clinic

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A woman walks past Valente Marini Perata and Co. funeral home at 4840 Mission St. in the Excelsior on Sept. 20, 2017. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Discussions are underway to move a Safeway in the Excelsior into a rare affordable housing development slated for construction next door, raising concerns that a Latino health clinic will lose a prime spot in the project.

For the past year, the Mission Neighborhood Health Center has planned to expand the cramped Excelsior Clinic on Mission and Francis streets into the more spacious ground floor of the 114-unit affordable housing project.

But last month, developer BRIDGE Housing told health center Director Brenda Storey that the health clinic may no longer be able to move into the space.

“BRIDGE asked to meet and told us that essentially that us being on the ground floor was not an option,” Storey said. “All along, I was thinking this was a for-sure thing. I was disappointed. I thought we had an agreement.”

The project, slated to replace the Valente Marini Perata & Co. funeral home at 4840 Mission St., is expected to become the first major housing development to rise in the Excelsior in 25 years.

There remains uncertainty over whether the Mission Neighborhood Health Center’s Excelsior Clinic or Safeway will occupy the ground floor of an affordable housing project planned for 4840 Mission St., currenlty occupied by Valenta Marini Perata & Co. funeral home. (Rendering courtesy Van Meter Williams Pollack, LLP)

The project includes 8,300 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, and five stories of below-market-rate apartments on Mission Street. On the other side of the lot, 20 market-rate townhomes are slated for construction along Alemany Boulevard.

But Supervisor Ahsha Safai, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and the developer are considering changes that would add additional units of affordable housing and a grocery store to the project.

The discussions have focused on moving the adjacent Safeway into the ground floor so that a developer can build market-rate units on its current site, according to Storey. The health clinic would then have a potential spot on the second floor of the affordable housing project or in the upcoming market-rate development.

“Right now these are only discussions and analysis is being done to see if more community benefits can be added,” Safai, who represents the district on the Board of Supervisors, said in an email.

“Whatever the outcome I support 100 percent the Mission Neighborhood Health Center’s place in any project that would be built and adding affordable housing to the original proposed concept,” Safai said.

But Storey has problems with moving into a market-rate development or to the second floor.

For one, planning a new development on the Safeway site would take years and delay the health clinic’s relocation.

Emerald Fund is the rumored developer. Emerald Fund did not respond to a request for comment.

The other issue is with the clientele.

“Part of the appeal of being on the ground floor of affordable housing is that we could serve the community and residents,” Storey said. “We’re really set up to serve working-class families.”

The Excelsior Clinic planned to double in size and add dental services if it moved into the ground floor. The clinic has six exam rooms and an employee lounge that doubles as a meeting room.

“The clinic was caught completely off guard,” said Charlie Sciammas, an organizer with Latino activist group PODER. “It was very troubling for the clinic and our community organizations.”

Kevin Griffith, director of business development for BRIDGE Housing, said in a statement that a permanent home for the clinic “is fundamental to our development and we have no intention of changing that.”

“There is a potential opportunity to expand our project to include additional neighborhood benefits, including more affordable housing and a brand new grocery store,” Griffith said. “It would be irresponsible not to investigate the possibility fully.”

Ellen Canale, a spokesperson for Mayor Ed Lee, said in a statement that the affordable housing project will add “a new home for Mission Neighborhood Health Center.”

“Any change to the project would need to significantly enhance community benefits and there is no scenario that does not include a permanent home from Mission Neighborhood Health Center,” Canale said.

City records show that the National Electrical Workers Association owns the Safeway site. A representative could not immediately be reached.

On Sept. 14, dozens of community members rallied in front of the mortuary where the affordable housing is slated for construction to call for more transparency and for the community to be involved in the discussions.

“What I would like to see is everybody sitting at the table,” Storey said. “It’s only by sitting together at the table that we are going to see what are the options.”

Griffith said that BRIDGE Housing will discuss the plans with the community “as soon as possible.”

“We need to bring the community into the conversation as we always do on our projects, but we cannot begin the conversation until a feasibility analysis has been completed,” Griffith said. “We expect that to occur within the next few weeks.”

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