The affordable housing the Haight really needs

Did you read that the Haight’s progressive neighborhood group opposes replacing a McDonald’s with a seven-story affordable housing development? Shocked? You should be, because that statement isn’t actually true. So, what’s the real story?

It’s no secret that a wave of evictions and San Francisco’s soaring rents have made it exceptionally tough for many people to find and keep an apartment. So, the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council warmly welcomed the news that The City is buying the McDonald’s lot at Haight and Stanyan streets to build a new 100 percent-affordable housing development.

Now, it’s time to start thinking about the best way to develop this site to address our most pressing housing needs and becomes a valued part of our neighborhood. A great guide for this is the concept of a “complete community” that includes housing, retail, services, employment and recreation, with easy public transit access. As neighbors, we can help realize this by getting involved in identifying our community’s needs and the design that can best address them. Sure, The City has its own processes to run through — buying the land, selecting a nonprofit developer, putting together a design, obtaining planning approval and, ultimately, the actual construction — but making good choices requires constructive public input.

The McDonald’s lot has enough space to build units for several different types of households, each with different needs. For low-income families, the focus might be providing enough space for parents and children. Seniors might need less space but would appreciate services and accessible units so they can stay in their homes longer. A young San Franciscan leaving foster care or who was formerly homeless also won’t have huge space needs, but may need assistance from supportive services to make the transition to permanent housing. Because the lot fronts three streets, there’s a lot of flexibility to mix or separate different types of units.

The City plans housing on the upper floors, so what about street level? This is a great opportunity to add space for community and nonprofit services in our neighborhood. In particular, even though young people have come to the Haight for more than 50 years, groups helping them get off the streets have struggled to secure a permanent operating base. Homeless Youth Alliance provides case management, counseling and health services, and Taking It To The Streets provides temporary housing and jobs programs. A permanent base for both organizations would make them far more effective in helping young people put homelessness behind them and benefit us all. Local retail businesses selling affordable goods and food would also be a great street-level addition. Few may cry over the loss of McDonald’s, but there will remain plenty of people in the Haight who need a cheap meal.

A key consideration is the income levels used to plan the development. Let’s be clear: No one is happy about high rents, but as taxpayers, we fund subsidized affordable housing specifically for people with the greatest needs. That’s why HANC is recommending that all units be affordable to households earning 80 percent or less of the area median income — $64,550 for a single person; $92,250 for a family of four. That’s where it needs to be to benefit people like the lower-income retail workers and fixed-income seniors whose only chance to stay in San Francisco is to land an affordable rental unit.

HANC wants to maximize the benefit our community gets from this new development. That’s one reason we’re advocating for a transit-friendly design with minimal on-site parking. It’s also why we want a design the neighborhood can be proud of, regardless of what height produces the biggest bang-for-the-buck from the housing subsidies that will fund it.

That brings us back to the falsehood about HANC supposedly opposing seven-story affordable housing. To get federal funding, The City must request public comment on possible environmental impacts. For this, they floated very rough five- and seven-story options. Either option could be done well or badly. We won’t know what design will provide the best all-around solution until after The City figures out target households, construction costs and funding sources. Clearly, a badly designed seven-story option has a proportionally greater risk of getting mired in red tape and lawsuits. For this reason, HANC’s detailed public consultation response contained a couple paragraphs urging The City to be really careful with the design, especially for the higher option. We want to see a first-class design that commands broad neighborhood support. That’s the fastest route to building the affordable housing the Haight really needs.

Rupert Clayton is the Housing and Land-Use Chair of the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council.

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