The developers of a controversial Mission District housing project have offered opponents and city officials a deal they say would bring 306 new affordable units to the Mission District in return for approval of 331 for-profit apartments at the 16th Street Bart Plaza.
But the plan, which requires the developers to buy two additional sites they have not yet secured, was met with skepticism by many community members and planning officials at a rowdy Planning Commission hearing at Mission High School Thursday. The hearing was informational only, with no vote scheduled, but still drew hundreds of speakers.
In order to smooth the approval of a project opponents have dubbed the “Monster in the Mission,” Maximus Real Estate Partners have offered to buy two other Mission District sites, 2675 Folsom St. and 2918 Mission St., which together are entitled for 192 units. They would then be maxed out for affordability using a state density bonus and dedicated to the City.
“We have now reached agreements in principle to purchase both sites. However, the deal will not be available forever,” said Maximus spokesperson Joe Arellano. “It’s really important that the community make a decision imminently and grabs this brass ring we are providing — we think this is everything they’ve asked for,” he said.
However community members and advocates organized as the Plaza 16 Coalition continue to oppose the high-end project, which they say will increase gentrification in a neighborhood already under intense pressure due to rising housing prices. They are calling for a 100 percent affordable project on the centrally-located site.
“It has been more than five years that we have been pushing against this monster that says they have a community solution,” said Marilynn Duran, an advocate with PODER, at a rally held before the hearing.
“They want to use smoke and mirrors to make us think they are really going to build more affordable housing, but really they are only going to give us crumbs,” she said.
Hundreds of the project’s opponents and supporters filled the high school’s auditorium to capacity to hear Maximus representatives reveal details of their proposal in a public hearing that was requested by opposing community groups.
Supporters of the project speaking at the hearing included labor union members and Mission District natives who said that more housing was badly needed. They lined one side of the auditorium, while opponents waiting to weigh in formed two lines on the other.
Union member Tony Rodriguez said that for every 10 people “coming here we are building one unit.” He added that the project “isn’t displacing anyone,” and in the years it has been delayed The City’s housing shortage “has gotten worse.”
Another proponent described gentrification as a buzzword. ”Gentrification is a word that’s used and thrown around, but how many of us really have felt that?” the woman said.
Immediately, dozens of hands were raised, as many audience members shook their heads.
Emotions ran high during the testimony, demonstrating the high stakes for many community members.
One woman said that she recently lost her daughter and feared displacement because her daughter’s “memory is here.”
A Mission native who said he is supportive of the project felt compelled to assure the planning commissioners that he is “not a sell out.”
Some in the audience hissed. Throughout the night, opponents accused supporters of the project of being paid off by Maximus.
“By a show of hands, how many of you are being paid here tonight? How many are not?” asked Kevin Ortiz, of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club. “Unions, Mission for All and the developers are getting paid, not the overall community voice that is here today against this project.”
“Gentrification is violent,” said Ortiz. “You build this project and it will raise the prices of rents, commercial and residential, and people will be displaced,”
In nearly four hours of public comment, opponents made clear Thursday that they would reject any plan put forth by the developers that did not involve an entirely affordable project.
From the outset, Maximus’ project has been challenged over its lack of affordability by Plaza 16, which also argues it would cast a shadow over a neighboring elementary school, reduce the public plaza frequented by low-income community members and accelerate the displacement of the neighborhood’s poor and working class residents.
Plaza 16 members have put forward their own proposal for what they called the “Marvel” — an affordable housing project that would include a public plaza, as well as space for community and social services.
“Since 2008, 87 percent of all units built in the Mission have been unaffordable,” said Roberto Alfaro, executive director of the youth empowerment nonprofit HOMEY, who presented the Marvel plan.
Alfaro added that for every 2,300 units of housing built in the neighborhood, the average rent drops by just $20.
“Continuing to irresponsibly build market-rate units will not solve the housing crisis,” he said.
In its initial proposal in 2013, Maximus suggested that 41 apartments would be for sale, and that funds generated from these condos would be used to build 49 below market rate apartments elsewhere in the community.
Last fall, plans were revised to include two 10-story market-rate buildings and 46 below market rate units in five-story townhomes along Capp Street. Rental income from these units would have been reinvested in the community, generating upward of $1.15 million annually to help subsidize rents for 159 low-income Mission households.
The latest proposal consists of three separate residential buildings over ground floor retail. It would include 291,000 square feet of residential space, 34,000 square feet of retail space and 55,000 square feet of parking, and would be transit oriented, said Rogelio Foronda, a project manager for Maximus.
“The project is located on one of the region’s most important transit hubs serving 13 million passengers a day,” said Foronda. “This is a gateway to the city.”
He stressed that no residents would be displaced, and that the new plan to construct affordable housing off site with the density bonus would allow for an additional 114 affordable apartments.
But questions of how the new plan would be financed remain unanswered.
The sites have not been purchased and are currently entitled as for profit-housing, noted Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards. Converting the entitlements for nonprofit use would require the developer to start the planning process anew.
“How could they be promising this if they don’t have it locked up?” said Richards. “If it’s 100 percent affordable it needs to be reconfigured as such.”
Shanti Singh, a housing activist with the San Francisco Tenants Union, pointed out that a firm commitment between Maximus and the owner of one of the sites, 2918 Mission St., remains outstanding.
Owner Robert Tillman’s efforts to build condos in the place of a laundromat on the site famously ended in a lawsuit against The City that has since been dropped.
“By Tillman’s own admission, there has been no transaction between Maximus and [Tillman],” said Singh. “In fact, he is shopping for multiple offers.”
The Marvel proposal, on the other hand, would be financed by City funding, grants and bond money — and is dependent on “government will,” said Chirag Bhakta, community engagement coordinator with the Mission Housing Corporation and an organizer with Plaza 16.
“There is a lot of money in this City,” he said.
Arellano, of Maximus, conceded that the company would “have to work to find the funding” to construct the affordable housing proposed under its new plan, but called the Marvel “a myth.”
Maximus earlier this month indicated that it may pursue a ballot measure to gain approval, should this latest proposal be rejected by the city.
Asked if that was still an option Thursday, Arellano told the San Francisco Examiner “correct.”
As the hours-long meeting concluded, planning commissioners appeared fatigued and little impressed.
“Our job is to find balance and I don’t see the balance in here tonight,” said Commissioner Rodney Fong. “You have to be a little tone deaf to not understand the imbalance and come out and support the project.”
Commission President Myrna Melgar said that she too, was skeptical of Maximus’ proposal.
“What has been presented to us doesn’t really meet my standards,” she said.