‘You live in a city, not on an island’: Nonprofit leaders rally in support of affordable housing bond

As a representative of Chinatown Community Development Center, Matthias Mormino says he regularly visits multi-story apartment buildings with a single...

As a representative of Chinatown Community Development Center, Matthias Mormino says he regularly visits multi-story apartment buildings with a single shared bathroom or stove.

He sees living spaces with three generations crammed into two-room units and pests and molds infesting entire floors, threatening the health of children and seniors.

Mormino says that hundreds of primarily Spanish-speaking, Chinese and African American low-income communities across San Francisco have endured inhumane living conditions too long.

That’s why this Saturday, he gathered the leaders from six local nonprofit and community organizations at Chan Kaajal Park in the Mission District to promote Proposition A, a bond measure that could offer these communities better, safer, more sustainable living.

On Nov. 5, San Franciscans will find “San Francisco Bond Issue for Affordable Housing,” or Proposition A, on the ballot.

If passed, the proposition will authorize The City to issue $600 million in bonds to fund affordable housing for 2,800 households – an investment long overdue, according to Alexandra Goldman, a community planner at the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation who also attended Saturday’s gathering.

“The only way that low income people, or really anyone earning less that $100,000 per year, can afford to stay here is affordable housing,” Goldman said. “This bond will enable opportunities for people to live affordably, in rent-controlled spaces.”

Goldman said this is the largest bond ever issued by the city of San Francisco, and would benefit both low-income and middle-income residents, without burdening tax payers.

“No taxes, no increases,” Goldman stressed. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Supporters say a third of the funds from Prop. A – $220 million – will go towards buying, constructing or rehabilitating low-income housing over the next four years.

The construction of senior housing and rehabilitation and repair of public housing will take up 25 percent, or $150 million, each.

A smaller chunk of the investment, $60 million, will focus on housing preservation for middle-income residents, providing more options for affordable home ownership or rental.

And the remaining $20 million will fund housing for San Francisco Unified School District and City College of San Francisco educators and employees.

Mayor London Breed and The City’s Board of Supervisors are unanimously backing the bond, which was placed on the ballot in July.

A similar proposition was passed by a citizens’ majority in 2016, when The City repurposed 1992 seismic-upgrade funds to convert multi-unit buildings into affordable housing. A little over $260 million were issued then.

But while the 2016 bond was successful in creating more living opportunities for low-income residents, community leaders at the gathering said the latest proposition can offer a lot more.

“There’s a couple of things people are really excited about,” Mormino said. “For the first time, we have dedicated money to our seniors…. and the programs that acquire existing buildings – rather than buying new property – are really taking off.”

Rev. Arnold Townsend, who represented the local Baptist Church Without Walls at the gathering, said it’s crucial that the new proposition includes school teachers and staff.

“I’ll give you an example,” Townsend said in an interview with The Examiner. “239 Clayton: It’s a property occupied by senior retired teachers and school district employees that our nonprofit is working on right now and that has just been sold. If we don’t buy the building, they’re out. And if we don’t pass this proposition, a lot more people will be out.”

Townsend expressed regret at seeing local workers – teachers as wells as firemen, police officers, carpenters, bus drivers and construction workers – who have lived all their lives in San Francisco, being thrown into the street with no place to go.

He recalled walking in the Tenderloin along Market Street last winter. He said it was a stormy day, with heavy rain dropping hard onto the streets. Yet, the sidewalks were crowded, carpeted with homeless people.

Some shielded themselves under overhangs and awnings. But most laid down the middle of the sidewalk, wrapped in heavy black garbage bags, as the rain beat down on them.

“You live in a city, not on an island,” Townsend said. “What kind of neighbors do you want? Do you want neighbors who are homeless, neighbors who are struggling? Neighbors who feel that there isn’t opportunity to at least be indoors, and are not careful about taking care of themselves and your property? Or do you want a city for everyone?”

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