5M project a smart change for SoMa

Supervisor Jane Kim’s work to include 40 percent affordable housing in the 5M project is an effective way to save our neighborhood diversity and character in rapidly changing times.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering the 5M project on Tuesday with affordable housing, open space and youth programming for our kids. Keeping those benefits in our neighborhood to addresses vital needs right here in South of Market is an important first step.

Opponents have been vocal and largely inaccurate in what they’ve been conveying. Importantly, there are large numbers of Filipinos, and youth, arts, affordable housing and planning groups supporting this. Why? While other developments ignore neighborhood needs, this one directly addresses them.

Forest City would build two new residential buildings and one new office building, and preserve three historic buildings. These plans also include a strong vision for supporting the existing neighborhood, a direct result of what the community has expressed to the developer over the last several years. SoMa needs affordable housing, parks, safe places to walk and youth programs.

The fact is the project would provide 40 percent affordable housing (241 units), even though The City normally requires only 12 to 20 percent. Supervisor Kim’s efforts resulted in agreement not seen in a private development project. We support her mantra that 40 is the new 30. Most developers simply pay into an affordable housing fund instead of building on-site or nearby.

The argument by opponents that there is no affordable housing is counter to the 40 percent affordable housing levels applauded by the community, public officials, public agencies, affordable housing groups and others.
The 5M project provides housing at all levels, including middle-income people like me. There are 71 units of affordable family housing, including 27 percent for formerly homeless families, just four blocks from the project. There are 83 units for senior housing on the same block as the project, and 87 units of affordable housing for middle-income households on-site. Of course, there are market-rate units, too. That’s what pays for the affordable housing.

The question for those of us in the community who support 5M is: How can we make sure this change will include tangible, positive benefits like public open space and affordable housing — rather than just more of the same?
Through the noise of debate, it’s important to recognize that in exchange for new zoning that allows taller buildings, the 5M project actually doesn’t build on half the site, and instead builds public open spaces and preserves historic buildings like the Chronicle building. Our district has the least amount of open space of any in The City so this is really important for our kids and teens. The developer is also donating another historic building to an arts group so that arts and youth programming have a permanent home on the site. There are lots of improvements to make it safer to walk around the area. There are also funds for youth and teacher programs for Bessie Carmichael, my old elementary school, which will benefit from the support.

What’s the reality in the neighborhood?

It’s already seen a lot of change. On 6th Street, just half a block from the project, a lot of affordable housing is permanent. The best way to build on this is to make sure existing residents can stay in this community, to make sure benefits stay in the neighborhood and to support the construction of new affordable housing here.

Change is never easy, but if we join together change can mean progress — and I can’t think of a better way to honor a neighborhood and its history.

Carlo Gascon was born in and lives in SoMa, attended Bessie Carmichael elementary school, and is active in several SoMa neighborhood nonprofit groups.

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