Muni is set to build its first-ever housing development over a bus yard soon, a plan that’s been two years in the making.
But the project will be unusual in at least one more respect: It will sport far more affordable housing than the norm in San Francisco.
The City’s transportation agency is aiming to build roughly 525 housing units, 50 percent of which would be affordable housing, over the bus yard at 17th and Bryant Streets, the agency told the San Francisco Examiner.
Fifty percent is a high level of affordability by San Francisco standards, where the Board of Supervisors has sometimes had to twist arms to reach 40 percent.
The plan is ambitious, transit officials said. It’s also not set in stone.
“It’s a target,” Rafe Rabalais, long-range asset development manager at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said. “It’s not something you can certainly say is done until you’re right on the verge of construction.”
While The City is already eyeing private developers to pay for part of the project, getting it up to that affordability level may also require a city subsidy, SFMTA officials said.
Luckily for the Mission and Potrero Hill neighborhoods the project straddles, the Mayor London Breed has come out in strong early support of pushing for a high affordable housing percentage on the development site.
“We need to do everything we can to address what we know is a serious shortage of housing in our City,” Breed told the Examiner, in a statement. “The proposal to build housing on the SFMTA Muni Yard at Potrero is an exciting step in our efforts to use public lands to create more homes, and while there is an ongoing process that will continue to move forward, we absolutely need to focus on creating as many homes as possible while also delivering the highest number of affordable housing units possible to benefit our residents.”
Making the project a reality may also be difficult because of what else is on that site: A bus yard.
The housing development is part of a $400 million plan to modernize Potrero Yard — but that price tag doesn’t include the housing component. Originally built in 1915, the site used to house 100 streetcars. Today it’s home to 138 trolleybuses that drive the 5-Fulton, 5R-Fulton Rapid, 30-Stockton, 22-Fillmore, 6-Haight/Parnassus and 14-Mission lines, serving roughly 100,000 daily Muni riders.
Trolleybuses are the kind that features poles connecting them to overhead wires for power. One day, however, Muni hopes to convert its entire fleet into battery-electric buses that will have no need for poles.
Modernizing the yard, then, will help Muni create a state-of-the-art facility capable of charging those buses at night. The new housing development will rise on top of the bus yard, creating a unique stack of uses just a stone’s throw from Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.
But it won’t just be buses and homes there. SFMTA Campus Planning Manager Licinia Iberri said there may also be shops and stores on the ground floor of the bus yard. These won’t be inside the development, like a mall, but street-facing.
“It’s small businesses, it’s sandwich shops,” she said.
The timeline for the project is driven by a planned bus fleet expansion that will be housed in Potrero Yard. A developer for the project will likely be selected by the end of 2020, according to the SFMTA, with construction to begin by 2023.
The City will need to approve a special use district so the area’s zoning restrictions can be relaxed. The block is now zoned for heights up to 65 feet, but the San Francisco Planning Department has recommended the project go up to about 150 feet.
The first people to get a glimpse of the 50 percent affordable housing proposal were members of an SFMTA “working group” formed of community members in Potrero and the Mission, some of whom pushed for a higher number of affordable homes.
“The Mission is one of the few neighborhoods in the city where there’s an ambitious baseline affordability project of 25 percent,” Rabalais said.
Working group members told the agency that because it’s “a public site, given the gentrification pressures in the Mission, even a minimally affordable project is something we need to do better than,” Rabalais added.
Scott Feeney is a member of the working group and also of the local housing advocacy group Yes in My Back Yard, or YIMBY for short.
“YIMBYs are pretty happy that the city is proposing a bold project,” Feeney said. “We think the 50 percent affordability target, which would mean hundreds of permanently affordable homes, is great.”
For context, Feeney said, the number of affordable housing units proposed in the Muni project is equal to roughly one-third of all five 100-percent affordable housing projects currently proposed in the Mission District.
And it’s only one project.
Still, some members of the working group have concerns.
“Some may not feel 50 percent is adequate. In some meetings they pushed for 100 percent,” said J.R. Eppler, who is also the president of the Potrero Hill Boosters Neighborhood Association.
Eppler worries increased density at the location may put pressure on community facilities, like the nearby Franklin Square park or neighborhood Muni bus lines.
“When you’re building this large of a housing project, you have to carefully consider the impacts and make sure the people that currently live there will continue to live comfortably,” Eppler said.
SFMTA is hosting a workshop open to the public Saturday, October 26 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at The Archery on 498 Alabama Street, and hopes to solicit public feedback there.
Editor’s note: A photo caption incorrectly described the housing in this project as driver housing. That description has been removed.