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5M project shows we need to protect, sustain existing housing

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A development proposed near Fifth and Mission streets has some people worried that current residents could face eviction if too many well-heeled new residents move in. (Courtesy Forest City)

On Guard column header Joe
No amount of shiny gifts can ease the threat of housing displacement.

Such is the lesson of the 5M project, the 470-foot high rise that the Hearst Corporation may build right behind the San Francisco Chronicle building, on 5th and Mission.

Much like the Beast on Bryant and the Monster in the Mission, this new housing complex promises a bevy of market-rate units. More than 600, in this case.

And as is the threat of all major developments, the “Valencia effect” looms large: Market-rate housing may attract wealthy residents, who in turn will spur creation of pricey shops and eateries, and rents to rise.

Next come evictions, a fear that’s all too real for the Filipino community and others in the South of Market area around 5M.

5M is currently awaiting approvals from the Planning Commission, which will have a joint hearing with the Rec and Park Department on Sept. 17 to hear the many neighborhood concerns.

The 5M project differs from its brethren.

More so than the Monster in the Mission or the Beast on Bryant, my sources tell me, the developers of the 5M project — Forest City — are providing affordable housing and benefits to the community in spades.

Local activists had to strong-arm Maximus, the developers of the “Monster in the Mission,” to include a greater percentage of affordable housing on site. But Forest City has 212 affordable units, without much hand-wringing.

The project will also include a public park on the roof, walkways and public gardens, historic preservation, and promised spaces for the local Filipino community. That’s not to mention the millions in fees they’ll provide to youth organizations, local artists and more.

So what’s not to like? Dennis Richards, a planning commissioner, put it to me plainly.

“When I vote yes on this, how many people am I throwing out to the East Bay, and onto the streets?” he said. “That’s my worry.”

Whether or not a new development will displace nearby residents is a pernicious problem that those who shamelessly sing the praises of deep-pocketed developers have been unable to address.

What can developers, and The City, do to prevent the displacement of residents in the near term?

To understand why this question is so vexing, you’ve got to understand the solutions housing-wonks talk about every day.

From building more affordable housing on the site of new developments, acquiring “small sites” in The City to build affordable housing, or filling affordable housing funds, every proposed solution benefits The City at large — but doesn’t help neighbors.

That’s great for San Francisco, but not so for those living near new developments who fear eviction.

Even the promise of the much touted “supply and demand” theory — that building more housing in the present will yield lower rents years later — only addresses San Franciscans in the far-flung future.

Is it any surprise neighbors shout from bullhorns and fight back?

At a hearing on the 5M project at the Planning Commission on Sept. 3, many Filipino residents expressed fear that the new market-rate neighbors would lead to community evictions.

Vivian Zalvidea Araullo, executive director at West Bay Pilipino Multi Service Center, spoke to this problem eloquently at the hearing.

“Commissioners, the Filipino population we serve is in crisis,” she said.

“If the trend we’ve been seeing of the past years continues, of seeing Filipinos evicted, then this project will not meaningfully benefit our community,” she said. “By the time the affordable housing that’s being proposed is constructed, my community will be gone.

“We’re not against development,” she said, “but what is being done to stop the eviction of my people?”

Tim Colen, executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, told me that though building more housing supply is the only long-term solution San Francisco has to its rent crisis (though many debate this), developers still haven’t figured out how to mitigate short-term impacts.

“The need is so great, and the tools are so modest,” he told me.

One solution to help for this may be direct subsidies for current renters, he said, but, “we don’t have the money for that one.”

“The ugly truth is the best money we have for that is private development,” he said. “The federal government is not riding to the rescue. And there’s really no money from the state.”

Colen may be right. But without money from somewhere to address locals who fear displacement, they’ll continue to block new development for San Francisco’s future — and with good reason.

Because unless we find a way to protect them, it’s a future they won’t be a part of.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

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