The developer of an almost block-long housing complex on Bryant Street between 18th and 19th that has drawn the ire of Mission activists for the last 10 months has now agreed to dedicate one-third of its land to the city for affordable housing, giving up 22,750 square feet where the city can build an estimated 129 units for low and moderate-income tenants.
But despite the land dedication, some community members remain in bitter opposition to what they see as an imperfect solution for more affordable housing and a process with little community input.
“He is delusional if he thinks that having the city build his affordable housing requirement is going to fly with the community,” said Spike Kahn, founder of the arts space the Pacific Felt Factory, who has been involved against the so-called “Beast on Bryant” since its proposal.
“The community is still opposed to this for the very reason that it will destroy our neighborhood,” she said, saying market-rate developments have a “domino effect” of increasing rents throughout the neighborhood. “It’s better to not build any market-rate in the Mission if you’re not going to build 100 percent affordable… No housing is better than gentrified housing.”
“There was very little enthusiasm, that’s putting it kindly,” said Scott Weaver, a tenants rights attorney. He first learned of the plan at a biweekly meeting of Mission organizations — including Our Mission No Eviction, Causa Justa, the Mission Economic Development Agency, and Plaza 16 Coalition, among others — and said groups were united in their opposition. “Everybody was disappointed that it was as it was.”
“There is no support for the project, and because it’s such a large scale project, it makes it even more important to not put it forward until we have a comprehensive policy [for the neighborhood],” added Gabriel Medina, a policy director with MEDA.
The development, a block-long housing complex at 2000-2070 Bryant St. was previously slated to have 17 percent of its former 276 units be affordable. Developers of market-rate housing in San Francisco must build either 12 percent affordable housing on-site, 20 percent off-site, or pay an in-lieu fee.
Those building in areas affected by the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan — which includes the Mission — can also choose a rarely-used land dedication option, in which a piece of land equivalent to 35-40 percent of the site is given to the city. The city then uses its own money — as well as state, federal, and tax-credit funds — to pay for the site, which would be built by a non-profit developer.
Nick Podell, the site’s developer, chose the third route and dedicated 35 percent of his land to the city for affordable housing, resulting in an increase from 44 affordable units to a possible 129 units. Those units will be affordable to those making less than 60 percent of area median income, or $61,150 for a family of four, while the rest of the site will house 186 market-rate units and three rent-controlled ones.
“It’s a dramatically different project than the one we initially proposed,” said Evette Davis, a spokesperson for Podell. The move means, however, that the city will have to pay for the housing itself and that it may take time before the project breaks ground — a move some saw as shifting the responsibility for affordable housing to the city.
“We would certainly like to see some changes on [the project] on multiple levels, starting with knowing that there’s funding available,” said Peter Papadopoulos from the Cultural Action Network, a group formed out of the opposition to this project. Though not opposed to the project per se, Papadopoulos said his group and others would get together soon to study its impacts and were already concerned with the loss of businesses and arts space on the block. “This was a major artistic hub in the Mission for decades.”
Davis acknowledged concerns with the project, but said the land dedication ultimately provided the city with a shovel-ready project that would yield more affordable units than otherwise.
“Here’s a chance to give the city a piece of property,” she said. “I hope we’re not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development also prefers the land dedication option, saying the cost of land in the Mission District is so expensive it will allow them to build more units than they would by purchasing a parcel on their own.
“The cost of land in the Mission is so high that if you just go out today and buy a parcel and build on it, you’d pay $400,000 per unit,” said Kate Hartley, deputy director at the housing office. “For a land dedication, you can build your unit for $250,000, so you would essentially double the value.”
Using that estimate, the 130 units on Bryant Street would cost $31 million, though Hartley said there’s no telling how long it might take to finance the project. Only two other sites in San Francisco have been developed with a land dedication — 801 Brannan St. and 1296 Shotwell St. — and while the Shotwell site was awarded to a non-profit developer some three years after dedication, the Brannan site has still not been awarded. After that, construction can still take another three to four years.
The development would join four other Mission projects — 490 South Van Ness, 1950 Mission, 2070 Folsom, and 1296 Shotwell — slated for fully affordable housing in the last seven months, bringing the total number of affordable units coming to the neighborhood in the next few years to some 571.
And that does not include the 8 units recently purchased in the Mission through the city’s Small Sites Program, nor the housing the neighborhood will get with its $50 million of Proposition A funds. Community groups are currently working with the housing office to hammer out the details, but voted last month to prioritize the purchase of two to three sites in the neighborhood for an additional 200 units.
Podell has faced strong opposition to the project for months, though that opposition split last summer when he began working with tenants on their relocation. The remaining resistance compelled Podell to delay the project last September, however, and that pushback is sure to continue.
“I could see Nick Podell partnering with the community and sitting down with us and having conversations about how we can both building affordable housing in the Mission,” said Kahn. “[But] any offer he imposes on us will be rejected. We demand to be in the room. We have already demonstrated we can mobilize against this.”
Disclosure: Nick Podell is a reader member of Mission Local.