In the sanctuary of St. John’s Church last night, the coalition of activists called Plaza 16 held a community meeting to campaign against the large-scale housing development proposed for the 16th Street BART Plaza. Given the location of said meeting (and the overall tone of the night), it’s an apt metaphor to say they were mostly preaching to the choir—but really, they were rallying the troops.
“We are opposed to all market-rate projects until there is an adequate amount of deeply affordable units,” said housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca to the gathered crowd. “We are not going to compromise on this until there is adequate affordable housing.”
The room of about 80 people cheered enthusiastically. If there were any supporters of Maximus Real Estate’s proposal to build its 10-storied, glass-towered, mixed-use development with about 350-units above the BART Plaza, they didn’t speak up.
This is the fifth event held by the Plaza 16 Coalition, which consists of a collection of several different nonprofits and activist organizations. At a meeting held at the Victoria Theater in May, more than 200 people from the neighborhood gathered to hear about the proposed project, but Thursday evening’s event had a more specific target audience: nonprofits and social service agencies.
In a presentation about the proposed housing project, Gabriel Medina, policy manager of Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), spoke frankly about recruiting more neighborhood nonprofits to the fight against the developer. The coalition, he said, had to get there before the developer won them over.
“Historically, developers trying to build things in the Mission have always approached nonprofits to get their support, but this project is different,” Medina said. “This is the largest project in the Mission’s history, and it’s right on 16th Street.”
Medina explained that this 16th Street location is especially troublesome given the scale and inevitable high price of the market-rate units (which the developer has said will be for rent).
“The largest cluster of social services are right here around 16th Street,” Medina said. “It has the most SROs, the most social services, the most below-market affordable housing.”
Given a future rental price, which Medina said the developer put at between $3,500 to $5,000 a unit, and the large low-income community that uses the BART plaza, Medina asked the crowd: “Does this sound like the kind of development for the existing Mission community?”
“No!” the crowd shouted back.
While the project’s developer could elect to build about 40 units of on-site affordable housing, Avicoli-Mecca said this isn’t enough, that the city’s definition of “affordable housing” leaves many low-income people out. Furthermore, Medina says that, in terms of affordable housing, “nothing has been promised.”
Even when promises are made, getting affordable housing built here or anywhere in the city proves to be a slow and arduous process and even many promised projects remain unbuilt.
Medina also explained that Plaza 16 wants projects to follow the “People’s Plan,” which was developed in 2006 by the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition. He says that according to the Mayor’s Office of Housing, only 12 percent of the housing in the Mission has been affordable. The People’s Plan calls for 45 percent affordability for the neighborhood, with its high percentage of low-income families.
After the meeting’s main presentation, Maria Zamudio, an organizer with Causa Justa, asked everyone in the crowd who represented a nonprofit to raise their hand. Most of the room’s hands went up.
“Do you feel your nonprofit’s clients are especially impacted by gentrification and displacement,” Zamudio asked.
Several responses of “yes” floated around the room.
Zamudio again: “Are you disappointed by some of our nonprofit colleagues that aren’t here?”
A few more hesitant yeses.
“A project like this will use nonprofits to gain credibility,” said Zamudio, referencing letters of support frequently passed along to the Planning Department when projects are seeking approval. “We need to be unified and make it very clear that this isn’t something we want.”
At this point in the evening, organizers passed out colored cards to those gathered. Zamudio asked those whose organizations were strongly opposed to the 16th Street project to raise red cards, those with organizations in favor hold up green ones, yellow cards for the undecided, and those seeking to be neutral to raise orange ones.
No green cards. About two orange. A handful of yellow cards. A sea of red.
At this point, the room split up into their respective categories. Organizers of Plaza 16 worked with those strongly opposed to the project in strategizing a campaign against it—including a march coming in October and the circulation of a petition. Those few people from organizations that hadn’t picked a side sat with Zamudio to figure out how they can get their nonprofit on board with Plaza 16’s campaign.
One woman who works at a neighborhood nonprofit said that representatives from Maximus had actually met with her supervisors, but management was being very “hush-hush” about whether anything came out of that meeting. Zamudio acknowledged that developers can promise contributions to struggling nonprofits and the politics can be dicey, but she encouraged the woman to speak to her manager and make it known that she opposed the development.
At previous meetings, representatives from Maximus have said that they’re willing to work with the community and respond to some of their requests. Given the tenure of Plaza 16’s meeting, they’re unlikely to find much common ground.
“If there’s any time for us as organizations to stand together, it’s now,” said Zamudio during the break-out session. “No one likes this project.”
As the evening was dying down, Medina said that from the list they’ve compiled of Mission nonprofits, they already had about two-thirds involved in the campaign. Maximus Real Estate’s project has some time to go before it reaches the Planning Commission for approval, but, if Thursday night was any indication, it’s not going to be smooth sailing.