City officials have pulled their support from an affordable housing plan for seniors at the site of the Forest Hill Christian Church. (File photo by Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

We need housing fairness in San Francisco

San Francisco’s housing crisis is the result of two connected factors: increased employment opportunities and population thanks to a booming regional economy paired with a woefully inadequate housing supply. The crisis is simply a supply shortage, the consequence of decades of not building enough housing, which is reflected in today’s sky-high home prices. The tragic result is the displacement of renters. And few renters are at greater risk of displacement than San Francisco’s low-income seniors.

In the face of this crisis, it is painful to see how often sensible housing solutions — including ones designed to help seniors and other vulnerable populations — are opposed by San Francisco’s politicians and residents. An especially disturbing example of this concerns a proposal to build 150 homes for low-income seniors at 250 Laguna Honda Blvd. at the edge of Forest Hill, one of The City’s most beautiful and expensive neighborhoods. It’s undeniable that this project would help some of The City’s most underserved residents; however, the Forest Hill Neighborhood Association has been actively trying to block this commonsense housing development. Some neighbors claim this is only because the proposal is “out of scale with neighborhood character.” Others, however, hint that because 20 to 30 percent of the residents might be formerly homeless seniors, the project threatens the neighborhood’s safety.

When it comes to the “neighborhood character” argument, the proposed site is currently on a church parking lot, a short distance from the Forest Hill Muni Station. The site is also directly across the road from Laguna Honda Hospital, which already has some of The City’s largest civic buildings, and is adjacent to a major transit hub that significantly reduces the project’s need for cars and parking. And even at the building’s proposed 50-foot height, it doesn’t obstruct neighbors’ views because of the hill slope. From an urban planning perspective, there is no better place to add more affordable housing.

As to the concerns about neighborhood safety, this is probably an issue where baseless fears and preconceived ideas trump the reality. For many years, The City has successfully managed thousands of homes in numerous developments for low-income seniors. Later this month, the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition is organizing a tour for Forest Hills neighbors of low-income senior housing developments in other parts of San Francisco to better understand what a new senior community would look like.

There is a fundamental unfairness when a privileged neighborhood in The City says they simply will not accept new housing or its occupants. It is part of a concerning pattern in which some neighborhoods accept new housing while others refuse to be part of the solution. This violates density equity, the principle that every neighborhood has a responsibility to do its fair share to build more housing. To help unite our community as we address these issues, I’ve joined a newly formed coalition called Rise San Francisco. We are a diverse group of local organizations and individuals united around commonsense, practical solutions to our city’s biggest challenges, including projects like this one.

Instead of simply opposing new housing for low-income seniors, the Forest Hill neighborhood might set a good example for others by collaborating with the builder on the project’s design, such as ground-floor usage, open space, public art and community-serving space. As a Forest Hill resident myself, I think the best message the Neighborhood Association could send would be, “we recognize there is a housing crisis, and we, as a community are willing to do our part.” That would be the neighborly thing to do.

Tim Colen is resident of the Forest Hill area, the former Executive Director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition and on the Steering Committee of RiseSF, a new policy advocacy group.

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