A coalition of housing advocates, activists, and Mission residents joined forces at 16th street BART Plaza on Saturday afternoon to rally against a proposed large-scale market-rate housing development at 16th and Mission Street.
As Mission Local reported earlier, the housing development, which was proposed by Maximus Real Estate Partners, would build 351 housing units and 32,000 square feet of retail space at 1979 Mission Street and could replace several existing storefronts; including Walgreens, Hwa Lei Market, City Club Bar and Burger King. The project is at a preliminary stage and has not yet been approved by the Planning Department.
At the rally, members of the new La Plaza 16 Coalición/ The Plaza 16 Coalition (consisting of a wide range of local member organizations including the Mission Economic Development Agency, Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, and PODER), gathered to also advocate for affordable alternatives. The 16th Street and Mission Street area, they argued, has the highest concentration of Single Room Occupancy Hotels in the Mission and it is unclear how the proposed development will accommodate the city’s affordable housing requirements.
Maria Zamudio, the San Francisco Housing Rights Organizer with Causa Justicia: Just Cause, said the coalition was created after members first heard about the market-rate housing development, which will mainly consist of two to four unit apartments renting at $3,500 to $5,000 per month.
“That’s a level that folks that live in this intersection would never be able to afford,” she said. “If building market rate housing was going be what solved the housing crisis then we would have seen it happen.”
Zamudio said that more than 300 units of market rate housing have been built, or proposed, in 2013. “And they haven’t lessened the housing crisis in the Mission,” she remarked. “Rents are still going up, evictions are still going up, folks are still getting harassed by their landlords to leave.”
For Christopher Harris, a recent San Francisco transplant from Los Angeles, the lack of Mission-based affordable housing has gotten in the way of getting off the streets. “I’m currently homeless at the time, and I’m out here for equal housing opportunity,” he said. “It’s so hard to get a place, The rent’s so expensive. I’ve been trying to get on every list that I can get. I’ve filled out 10 applications in the last month and I’m still here.”
Harris said that San Francisco offers better services for the homeless than Los Angeles but falls short when it comes to affordable housing. “It’s 700, 800, 900 dollars a month. I can’t afford it.”
In addition to housing affordability, protestors voiced concerns about the shuttering of local businesses and other neighborhood institutions. Paula Tejada, the owner and founder of the empanada cafe Chile Lindo, said she thinks the proposed 10-story structure would crowd out or shut down local businesses.
“There needs to be consideration for low and medium income people so that the business owners are not displaced and this construction is not so invasive,” she said. “If I have construction going on outside of my business, I’d want to close and open up when they’re done. It is so invasive. If there’s tons of construction and cranes and noise, who is going to want to come here?”
Tejada added that residents are also concerned about construction impeding student learning at Marshall Elementary School, which sits behind the proposed development. “When you have that amount of construction work, how are the children going to study?” she wondered.
With a looming eviction notice and small business in the heart of the construction battleground, Tejada has become a vocal spokeswoman for The Plaza 16 Coalition and the focus of recent media attention. A Mission resident of over two decades, Tejada worries that if the development crowds out longtime local businesses the neighborhood may lose some of its flavor – concern that several other advocates voiced at Saturday’s protest.
“Often times there’s a false choice that gets talked about in working class neighborhoods of color,” said Zamudio. “You either let gentrification happen and people get pushed out but that’s the loss for cleaner neighborhoods, safer neighborhoods. Or, you do not allow gentrification to happen and you get urban slums. We need to center communities, existing residents, and folks that use these public spaces in the conversation and have them sit at the table to get real solutions. Otherwise the problems are just going to be moved out and there’s never going to be a real solution. Instead of the problem being at 16th and Mission, it’s just going to be somewhere else.”