More than 125 people crowded into a second-floor auditorium at 474 Valencia St. Wednesday night to vote on the use of the $50 million allocated to the Mission District in November’s election.
After two hours of presentation and deliberation, those in attendance opted to prioritize a “buy now, build now” strategy that would see those funds go towards acquiring two or three medium-sized plots and building some 200 units of fully affordable housing there in the next five to seven years.
“The number one priority is buy now, build now,” said Erick Arguello to loud applause, reading the tallies from the vote at the end of the night. Specific plots of land have not yet been decided but will likely be chosen in the next few weeks.
Regardless of the specifics, some remarked on how none of the options would make a significant dent in the neighborhood’s affordability crisis.
“It’s kind of shocking that $50 million doesn’t buy you much,” said Christina Olague, a former city supervisor.
The meeting was put together by a coalition of Mission organizations: Poder SF, Plaza 16, Causa Justa, Mission Housing, the Mission Economic Development Agency, and many others.
The city gave the group discretion over how to seek community input for the Mission’s Proposition A funds, and groups used their networks to reach out to as many people as possible for Wednesday’s vote, passing out flyers, contacting affordable housing residents, and creating an event on social media. The vote is advisory and the final decision of how to allocate funds will be made by the Mayor’s Office of Housing.
Dozens of members of these organizations were in charge of logistics, setting up posters, connecting projectors, and distributing burritos, tortilla chips, and pizza. They were also joined by Supervisor David Campos and two of his potential replacements, Hillary Ronen and Edwin Lindo.
“This is beautiful,” Campos said, adding that the meeting was entirely the work of the community organizations present and that his office was uninvolved.
Participants were initially separated into six groups — two of which were led in Spanish — ranging in size from 10 to more than 30. Facilitators explained the four different options before them: Buy larger properties now but build later, buy medium-sized properties now and build now, buy small sites and preserve existing tenants, or buy and renovate single-room occupancy hotels.
Most opted for the second choice because they saw it as a means to start building immediately.
“I voted for the second option because I am someone who doesn’t have somewhere to live,” said Erika Rodriguez. “The fastest is to get the land and build now.”
“I thought it would do the most benefit for the least amount of money,” said Veruschka Martin. Because participants were each given three votes, she also chose SRO rehab as an option, but believed building new affordable housing would make a longer-term impact. “You get more bang for your buck.”
Posters with clear costs and timelines associated with each option were tapped to the walls near each group, and “policy experts” like Sam Moss from Mission Housing were on hand to clear up detail when questions arose.
“If the city buys an SRO, does the city own it and a non-profit will manage it?” asked one man during the discussion.
“That’s a good question,” said Chirag Bhakta of the Mission SRO Collective, before waving down Moss to answer it.
The vote was not unanimous, however. The “buy now, build now” option just edged out “buy now, build later” — which would have acquired larger properties with more total units, but no finished buildings for some 10 years — at 123 votes to 111. Those in favor of acquiring and rehabbing SROs came in third with 69 votes, while the small sites option came last with 63.
“My number one was for the SROs, so we can get them out of the hands of the slumlords,” said Jubert Berrios. He opted for the strategy of buying and building medium-sized properties, but wanted to prioritize getting SROs away from private landlords. “They abuse everyone they can.”
Others knew the dangers of eviction first-hand and wanted to keep existing tenants in place. Sheila Hernandez said she was evicted and knew how difficult it was to return to the neighborhood.
“I think we need to hang on to all the units that we can, because once you’re kicked out it’s almost impossible to come back,” she said.
And still others seemed uncommitted to a particular stance, saying instead that they attended the meeting to push for more affordable housing in general.
“I’ve been trying for housing myself,” said Ronald Harris, a homeless man who spends his nights in a shelter. Harris has been living on the streets for seven years and said the search for housing was frustrating and slow. “I want some kind of hope that housing can come down to the regular people, the homeless people, so that the homeless people have a place to live.”
Proposition A was the $310 million housing bond passed in November that allocated $50 million specifically to the Mission District. The law required community involvement in deciding how those funds would be divided, and does not require that all $50 million be spent on one strategy.
The housing office will discuss the priorities decided on Wednesday in the next few days. Another meeting geared towards fine-tuning the use of the housing bond funds is scheduled for Monday, January 25, at 474 Valencia St. at 5:30 p.m.