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Excelsior community concerned with affordability, transparency in proposed housing development

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Kearstin Dischinger, second from right, addresses more than 100 people who attended a community hearing on Saturday about a proposed joint-development bringing 175 affordable and 251 market-rate units to two parcels in the Excelsior District. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner)

Plans to build 251 market-rate apartments alongside an affordable housing project slated to rise in the Excelsior District drew the ire of community members and activists who said they have been left out of the discussions at a public meeting about both projects held on Saturday.

The non-profit housing developer BRIDGE Housing Corporation is planning to construct 175 units of affordable housing at 4840 Mission St., at the current site of the shuttered Valente Mortuary, a second-floor, 10,000-square-foot space that will house the Mission Health Clinic and a 53,000-square-foot commercial space that will eventually be occupied by an adjacent Safeway.

In a second phase of the project, a smaller Safeway that is currently located at 4950 Mission St. will be razed and replaced with 251 market-rate homes and 15,000-square-feet of retail. The 19 percent below-market rate units required by The City for a market-rate project of that size will be tagged onto the 4840 Mission St. project, bumping up the total number of affordable units for the project.

The Safeway property is owned by National Electrical Benefit Fund, which has agreed to develop the site as long as the Safeway remains open throughout construction, triggering plans for its relocation to 4840 Mission St.

More than 100 people attended the first community hearing about the project on Saturday and many called for more affordable housing and transparency from the developers.

Original plans negotiated by community groups since 2014 were for some 100 affordable apartments and 19 market-rate townhomes, resulting in 80 percent proposed affordable housing at the site, and did not include the adjacent market-rate development.

“This is all private land and we are going to get 60 percent market-rate, 40 percent affordable housing,” said District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who last summer helped negotiate what he called “a better project,” about the reconfiguration.

Kearstin Dischinger, project manager and policy planner for BRIDGE Housing Corporation, said the developers and city struck a good compromise.

“Personally, I think 175 new [affordable] homes is a great asset to The City and the Excelsior,” she said. “I don’t think we often see projects with that many affordable units.”

But many of those who attended the public forum were outraged at the change of plans, which they said invited more market-rate developments into a neighborhood that is growing increasingly unaffordable, without adequately addressing the present need for low-income housing.

Now a joint venture between BRIDGE housing and Emerald Fund, the developer of the market-rate housing, community advocates criticized the revised project for prioritizing a new Safeway over the clinic, which has been booted to the second floor of the affordable housing development.

“Community organizations advocated for the commercial space to not be a kind of formula box retail like a Walgreens or a CVS, but instead advocated for [the health center] to take over that space and expand its services,” said Jessie Fernandez, an organizer with community organization PODER. Fernandez added that the new “mega development” is “out of touch with the neighbood,” which he said has faced more than 600 “evictions and displacements” in the last two years.

“[The reconfiguration] increased the number of units that would be affordable but ultimately lowered the ratio [of affordable to market-rate units],” said Fernandez. “If they are going to talk about these two projects as one, we should be back at the 80 percent affordability rate where we were when we had the original expectation for development at just the mortuary site. “

Others wanted to know who would actually be able to afford the below-market-rate units, which will be set aside for varying income levels, Dischinger said.

“Most of my clients, many which come from D11, are at 20 percent [Area Median Income], at 30 percent and below. There is nothing I can do for them as their case manager in terms of housing options,” said Kristin Sajonas, housing case manager at the Veterans Equity Center in the South of Market.

According to the standards set by The City, 30 percent AMI is $24,200 annually, and 100 percent AMI is $80,700.

“There is no affordable housing stock at the extremely low-income level, and there are so many of our neighbors here that fit that profile,” Sajonas said. “For this development to go up and not be proportional to the need of this community is a sticking point, because we are just going to invite more money into this neighborhood that will continue to bring up prices and push people out.”

While it is still unclear what the AMI standards for the project will be, 40 percent of the affordable units will be prioritized for current Excelsior residents, Dischinger promised.

The environmental review process for the project requires a series of public hearings, and community members will have future opportunities to weigh in, according to the developers.

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