The site of the proposed park and affordable housing development. Photo by Alan Sanchez.

A new fully affordable housing development scheduled to be built at the corner of 17th and Folsom renewed longstanding fears about parking availability at a community meeting held yesterday, though most residents welcomed the 101-unit project for its affordability.

“The street’s going to be impacted unless there’s more parking,” said Kian Alavi, a resident of the block across from the parking lot. Alavi said he is by no means “pro-car” and welcomed the housing, but wanted developers to realize that parking is a dwindling resource in the area. “It’s a reality. If you don’t plan for it, it’s going to be an issue.”

The seven-story housing development and the planned park next door will be built on the site of a 220-space parking lot. The addition of some 70 families and 30 single tenants will put additional pressure for parking in an industrial area in which employees and businesses have previously protested the planned conversion of the parking lot.

Testimony at the community meeting, however, was less divisive than in the past. Most acknowledged the need for housing in the Mission District, though no specific solutions were offered for the parking shortfall.

“How wonderful to take a parking lot and make it into a park and make it into housing. But we’ve got a parking lot that’s going to go away,” said Andy Thornley, a senior analyst with the Municipal Transportation Agency. Thornley referenced the years-long conversations about parking in the area and said that the agency has not “come to a good place” regarding a solution. 

The use of surface land for parking lots is an under-utilization in the current housing market, Thornley said. Neither the city nor a private developer would build an underground lot in the neighborhood either, however, because of frequent flooding.

“It’s like building a submarine,” he said. The expense of either armor-coating the parking lot or installing technical workarounds would be prohibitively expensive to any party, Thornley said. “You would have to have pumps running constantly.”

For the presenters, the solution was to take public transit. While project sponsors emphasized that tenants of below-market-rate units typically own fewer cars than other residents, Thornley said walking, biking, and riding BART or MUNI is a must in the transit-rich neighborhood.

“You’ve got a really great fabric here to get along without a car,” he said.

Thornley acknowledged that “some people need to make some trips, sometimes, by car” and that industrial employees of the area arriving early in the morning before transit opens would likely be unsatisfied with the lack of parking. The new housing project has no dedicated parking space, however, so the dozens of drivers who currently use the parking lot will have to find spaces on the street or begin commuting by bus or rail. 

Thornley said this was not a solution per se and that the transportation agency would continue searching for options, but added that he does not envision a magic bullet and believes the housing project a victory.

“As we take housing for cars and turn it into housing for people — I personally think that’s a good reinvestment,” he said.

After a presentation by project sponsors, attendees broke off into small groups to discuss questions they had about the housing development. Though some centered on parking, most spoke on other issues, like the need for more of the units to be dedicated to the formerly homeless.

“Do you know how many homeless are out there?” said Nina Ticzon, who works for the Mission SRO Collaborative, a non-profit that advocates for tenants of single-room occupancy hotels.

Currently, the project reserves 20 percent — all one-bedroom studios — of its units for youth aged 18-24 transitioning from foster or state care, with an additional 10 percent for non-youth formerly homeless. The remaining 70 percent will go to families earning up to $55,000 for a three-person household.

“I think that it should have been 20-20,” Ticzon said, hoping to bump up the homeless allotment to 40 percent. Ticzon, who lives in an SRO, emphasized the difficulty of finding such a unit in the city. “It took me 20 years to get into the SRO I’m in.”

Dairo Romero speaking to a group of locals about the new affordable housing project. Photo: Joe Rivano Barros / Mission Local.

Others asked whether the project could involve local artists, pondered the environmental certification of the building, and wanted to know whether the planned public bathrooms for a ground-floor cafe might be open at all times.

“Folks have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night,” said one man.

Specific incorporations from community input would be made at later meetings, project sponsors said. This first gathering was an attempt to get feedback from all involved.

“Our goal is not to answer questions today, but to try to get down as many as possible,” Feng said. Community meetings are planned through the spring of 2016. The development should begin construction in 2018 — though the next door park will break ground early next year — and residents can expect to move in by 2019 or 2020, according to project sponsors.

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