From the tents of our homeless neighbors to skyrocketing rents, we all get it: San Francisco needs more housing — for families and single people, tech workers and teachers, low-income residents and seniors. We need more housing. For everyone.
But most new housing is only for the affluent who can afford “market-rate.” Everyone else gets pushed out of their homes or thrown to the whims of housing lotteries.
As faith leaders, this concerns us. Our traditions call us to care for the most vulnerable, and these now include many families battling a cruel gentrification. For them, there is no sanctuary in our “sanctuary city.”
As an example of how cruel housing policies can ravage a typical neighborhood, perhaps even one like yours, consider the 10-story, 331-unit behemoth the New York speculator Maximus Real Estate wants to build at the 16th Street BART station. We locals call it “the Monster in the Mission”. It was never designed with our community in mind.
Rather, this luxury development of mostly one-bedroom, million dollar condos will offer little room for low-income families and no community space, will cause increased rents, illegal evictions, and an influx of businesses catering to the affluent. It will literally throw shade on the schoolyard next door, invite harassment of community members from speculators and police, and continue turning our neighborhood into a playground for the rich.
We can do better, which is why we Mission residents developed our own plan that we proudly call the “Marvel in the Mission.” Its housing is 100% affordable, and it features a lovely plaza, much like those in Latin America, where people can connect with neighbors, play with their kids, and enjoy a little green space in a part of the neighborhood sorely needing parks. It has space for community meetings and offices for social services. It is beautiful and accessible, just right for our community.
On November 1st, 4 pm, at Mission High, we’re going toe-to-toe with Maximus. In an informational hearing before the Planning Commission, we’ll discuss our community’s needs and proudly unveil our plans. Coincidentally on that same evening, Buena Vista Horace Mann School will begin sheltering homeless families overnight in their gym. They are piloting this program because roughly 60 of their 600 students are currently unhoused.
Luxury high-rises and the displacement they inflict on our communities are not inevitable. They may have resulted from the bad choices of past city leaders, but we can choose a different path now. This will require both our own hard work and a Planning Commission willing to hear our concerns and proposals.
We know our fight with Maximus before the Planning Commission could be bruising. Maximus, after all, is known for its bullying tactics and has plenty of cash for glitzy media campaigns. But David had the same odds when he faced Goliath, and here in the Mission, we, like David, just happen to believe a Marvel can defeat a Monster.
The Rev. Joanna Schenck is Associate Pastor of First Mennonite Church in San Francisco and Father Richard Smith, Ph.D., is an Episcopal priest in San Francisco’s Mission District. Both are clergy leaders in Faith in Action Bay Area.