A four-alarm fire at 22nd and Mission streets in 2015 left five people injured and one dead. The fire displaced 71 residents, who still have not been able to return to their homes. (Gabrielle Lurie/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Affordable housing bond must include funding for fire victims

By Gabriel Medina

This Tuesday, July 9, the mayor and Board of Supervisors will place a $600 million general obligation bond on affordable housing on the November ballot. This will be the largest affordable housing bond in San Francisco history. San Francisco will also operationalize the largest city budget in history at $12.3 billion, containing $1 billion in new spending.

The San Francisco Latino Parity and Equity Coalition was proud to see $400,000 in new social services for asylum seekers. The budget allocated $8 million to help San Francisco’s lowest paid public workers making as little as $16 and hour. Deep investments were also made to address homelessness. But one priority has been lost in the city budget and especially in the affordable housing bond: San Francisco tenants that have lost their homes to fires.

Many tenants displaced by fires are fortunate enough to maintain a legal right to return to their buildings upon restoration. Most never make it back. All have a moral right of return. San Francisco had 45 fires in 2015 and 2016, displacing 198 people and killing three, including a child. One of those victims was Mauricio Orellena who died in the 22nd and Mission fire on January 28, 2015. That fire displaced 36 businesses and 71 tenants. Almost all of those tenants were low-income Latino residents. More than 2300 people, small businesses and new local hero, Zachary Crockett, helped raise over $200,000 for those tenants, which MEDA made sure 100 percent got into the hands of those displaced within 30 days.

It’s been four and a half years! That crater, while a slap in the face to the Mission and the Latinx community as a whole, is more importantly a devastating loss of livelihood for those tenants. Some tenants both lived and worked in that building. Some lived there for as long as 65 years. Some lived there for their entire lives.

As if that tragedy was not enough, a fire at 3300 Mission St. burned out another 58 very low-income SRO tenants on June 18, 2016. Community members like Edwin Lindo and another 1000 more community members and small businesses raised $150,000 that again MEDA helped make sure 100 percent got into the hands of those tenants within 30 days. Then Supervisor David Campos secured $300,000 in rental assistance for these tenants displaced by fire. But it’s been three years and those subsidies lasted just two years.

Why can’t we rebuild these burned out buildings in two years? Or even three years?! In both these cases the building owners saw an opportunity to wait tenants out and flip those formerly rent-controlled homes into market-rate profits. Some tenants became homeless. Affordable housing developers are trying to buy those buildings. The City needs to set aside funds so that they can make prudent offers to bring these buildings into community hands.

The affordable housing bond is a great start, containing much needed funding streams for educators ($20 million), seniors ($150 million), public housing ($150 million), low-income households up to 80 percent AMI ($220 million). There is even $60 million for housing preservation, middle income housing and first-time homebuyers. But this affordable housing bond must be amended to include a dedicated funding stream to restore buildings that have displaced tenants from fires.

The San Francisco Latino Parity and Equity Coalition, representing 20 agencies, 900 employees and serving 80,000 low-income Latino clients every year, requested funding for both the 22nd and Mission and 29th and Mission sites. These alone could restore 129 longtime low-income San Francisco residents, most of which are Latino.

Fire housing restoration is the most effective way to restore communities, better than any lottery or preference. These tenants are missing from their communities. If they cannot return, their affordability levels can be preserved. While the Mission has seven affordable housing projects in the pipeline. This is seven more than in the last 15 years but is not enough to restore the 8,000 Latinos that have been displaced in that time. More importantly, there are 129 tenants that want their homes back. Citywide, there will be hundreds more tenants that want the City to prioritize restoring their homes lost by fire.

Call the Mayor and your member of the Board of Supervisors to amend the Affordable Housing Bond to prioritize restoring sites lost by fire that have tenants with legal and moral right of return. Attend the Board of Supervisors Meeting Tuesday, July 9 at 2 p.m. in Room 250.

Mayor Breed (415) 554-6141

Board President Yee (415) 554-6516

Your Supervisor (415) 554-5184

Gabriel Medina is the coordinator for the San Francisco Latino Parity and Equity Coalition (SFLPEC) and spearheaded the dispensation of the Mission Tenants’ Fire Fund to the victims of the 22nd and Mission and 29th and Mission fires.

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