Roberto Hernandez at the corner of South Van Ness Avenue and 26th Street speaking out against the Lennar development at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

The next battle over market-rate housing in the Mission District took shape Thursday morning as activists met on the corner of South Van Ness Avenue and 26th Street to denounce a five-story housing project they have dubbed the “Titanic Mess on South Van Ness.”

Opponents demanded that its developer — Lennar Multifamily Communities, a subsidiary of the development giant Lennar Corporation — gift the land to the city for fully affordable housing. They also called on the city to delay its consideration of the project.

“Today we’re calling on Lennar to gift this site to the city for 100 percent affordable housing,” said Erick Arguello, a member of the merchants association Calle 24 and a principal opponent of the project.

Arguello said the market-rate building would fuel gentrification and displacement in the neighborhood. He pointed specifically to higher rents for commercial Mission businesses, saying a new clientele would bring upscale shops to a historically lower-income, culturally Latino district.

“When you get more luxury housing, you get people with a lot more money moving into the neighborhood, which creates a different demand for products,” he said.

The project at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. would bring 138 market-rate units and 19 below-market-rate units — fulfilling the city requirement that 12 percent of units on the site be affordable — to the Mission District, as well as six ground-floor retail shops.

The complex would raze and replace the McMillan Electrical building and abut a planned 96-unit fully affordable senior complex to be built by the Mission Economic Development Agency — a point of contention at a February community meeting where audience members wanted a merger of the two sites.

On Thursday, some 25 people gathered at the project site and vowed to fight the project to its death. Roberto Hernandez, founder of Our Mission No Eviction, said the project was out of place in the Mission District.

“It’s a titanic luxury development for the rich people,” he said through a bullhorn.

The Lennar project sits in the Latino Cultural District, a rectangle stretching from Mission Street to Potrero Avenue and Cesar Chavez Street to 22nd Street that the city recognized in May 2014 as a “Latino cultural and commercial district” in San Francisco.

The project “doesn’t fit the vision” of the Latino Cultural District, Arguello said. He said barring an outright donation by Lennar, the city should pony up for the land so it could develop fully affordable housing on-site.

He pointed to the city’s purchase of 490 South Van Ness Ave. — a site slated for market-rate housing that will now become affordable housing — for $18.5 million as evidence that the city could negotiate for the land.

“High-end developments like Lennar do not meet the needs of the Latino Cultural District,” he said. “Lennar does not belong.”

Annabelle Bolanos, who lives near the project site, said a market-rate project on the block would displace those currently in the area, like day laborers who spend time on the corner and “houseless folks around here.”

“If we allow the Titanic Mess on South Van Ness, the floodgates will have opened and it’ll be hard to stop it,” she said.

For its part, Lennar responded to the gentrification charge. A spokesperson wrote in an email that “a full spectrum of housing options” is needed in the Mission District “to prevent rising rents and continued displacement.”

“We believe that building a wall around the Mission is the wrong approach to preventing displacement and gentrification,” the spokesperson wrote.

He also said the firm had no comment on whether it would sell the land to the city, but that it is planning on proceeding with a “well-thought-out development.”

The “Titanic Mess on South Van Ness” is the latest of several monikers for market-rate housing in the neighborhood. The first project to be nicknamed by opponents — the 331-unit “Monster in the Mission” development at 16th and Mission streets — was delayed by a lawsuit last summer and has seen little movement since. The 328-unit “Beast on Bryant” has faced renewed opposition despite a change to the project by its developer that would result in more affordable housing on-site.

Another planned development at 2750 19th St. — across from the Bryant Street development — has been dubbed the “Baby Beast” and would replace a furniture shop with a six-story, 60-unit market-rate housing complex.

That joins the “Fright on Folsom” — a planned 117-unit project at Folsom and 23rd streets — on a slate of several dozen projects to be opposed by Mission District activists in upcoming months.

Not all market-rate developments are on opponents’ chopping blocks, however. For the Bryant Street development, activists who have been opposed from the get-go are pushing for higher levels of affordability on-site but many say they would settle for less than 100 percent affordable.

That is not the case for the project on 16th and Mission streets or the Lennar project on South Van Ness Avenue. Because the former sits next to a BART station and the latter is in the cultural district, Arguello and Hernandez are adamant that those two sites become fully affordable housing or no housing at all.

“Just like the Monster, all the little actions [help] delay, delay, delay,” Hernandez said. “That’s why we’re here today, because we’re going to delay, delay, delay until we kill it.”

Delayed it they have. The Lennar project is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission next Thursday, April 21, but will likely be delayed to June 16, according to a spokesperson for the Planning Department.

Dozens of emails written in opposition to the project — as well as a phone call by Supervisor David Campos — were behind the delay, according to Arguello.

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Joe Rivano BarrosSenior Editor

Senior Editor. Joe was born in Sweden and spent his early childhood in Chile, before moving to Oakland when he was eight. He attended Stanford University for political science and worked at Mission Local as a reporter after graduating, before spending time as a partner for the strategic communications firm The Worker Agency. He rejoined Mission Local as an editor in 2023.

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  1. That 490 South Van Ness site they are talking about as their precedent? The city will end up paying about $900k per unit to develop “affordable housing” there, requiring $600k+ subsidy per household. I’m all for affordable housing, but it’s clear this solution wont scale. It would cost over $2 billion per year just to house the kids being born here (1% population growth=10k people = 3.5k households/units). That is if we could find a way to keep anyone new from moving here. And what about everyone who makes more than $50k a year? What we need is more of everything. Market rate that subsidizes a percentage of affordable housing can scale. Demanding people give their expensive land to your local non-profit mafia doesn’t.

    1. Not sure what you’re saying in your post, but anyone making $50,000 a year CAN’T afford to live in SF. It’s a cryin’ ass shame.

  2. What a joke Calle 24 is. They’re their own worst enemy. Not building will only quicken displacement.

  3. Bob, Glad there is no disagreement that rent control is there for America’s most desirable cities. The empirical evidence is clear that it works, people want to move to cities with rent control, even if they have to pay $3,500 for an apartment. But sure there are some academic economic models that can’t explain why it has been so successful.

    Rent control works in the real world.

    In conceptually parallel economic markets, society also fixes that people have to buy insurance for the future, e.g. drivers must buy insurance. Rent control is insurance, and its immoral to break the contract for people who paid their premiums up front in terms of expensive rent/ or now let the landlord break out of the contract without full compensation to the renter.

    1. Renting is temporary …. look up the definition and to compare it to insurance is simply ridiculous.

      1. What planet did you come from? Housing needs to be seen as a basic human right, and therefore all the Randian selfish screw everyone policies are out the door. Perhaps we should just keep on with your dogma and then eventually we’ll need to seize all the housing. It’s ridiculous that we should allow someone to profit at such a level off of a basic human need.

  4. Wrong, rent controlled housing is not subsidized housing, Rent controlled housing exists because the renters paid a premium for a community stabilization provision in the lease. And community stabilization provisions in leases works, – Most of the great US cities – San Francisco, Manhattan, Brooklyn have rent control. These cities are great because of rent control, they would suck as bad as other cities if they didn’t have rent control. Keep rent control, expand rent control to other cities, if you want to make America …. jk

    Rent Control is housing with an attached insurance policy. Many people are aware of the first 2 minutes of the market economy 101 lesson, – At the start of the contract – rent control drives up prices for the person looking to rent – & the landlord wins with higher rental income. The community gets a better deal, because the people will tend to put down great roots. People want to come to San Francisco to be around the people who are already here.

    The people with the favorable rent controlled units, paid extra at the beginning of their contract to live in an area with a community stabilization policy. And the landlord was compensated with higher rents upfront.

    1. best quote of article, “Annabelle Bolanos, who lives near the project site, said a market-rate project on the block would displace those currently in the area, like day laborers who spend time on the corner and “houseless folks around here.”

      So people who don’t pay rent or live in the area are who is most important???
      People loidering in the neighborhood is not a good thing. Displacing loiterers is what most people want so please build as fast as possible and just ignore the greedy folks at Calle 24.

    2. Price fixing fixing for a special few is why new renters pay $3,500 for a one bedroom apartment now. Sure rent control price fixing work for the lucky, I was here first, winners of the game. But everyone else gets screwed to pay for those lucky few. it’s economic segregation and segregation is evil.

    3. Nichole that is the best economic explanation of rent control I’ve ever heard: a lease with an attached insurance policy that encourages long-term renters and more stable communities. Very nice – makes you realize not only the community benefits but also the market benefits of rent control. To those who say “why does one person pay $3500 and another $400 just because one was here first,” the answer could be: for the same reason I pay $300 a year for the term life insurance I purchased 15 years ago when it would cost me thousands per year at my age now.

  5. We should be demanding that the Board of Supervisors do SOMETHING about affordable housing. Maybe a moritoium on market rate housing until enough affordable units are built. It’s a crisis, no different than a post-quake situation, or other disaster, and since Mayor Lee doesn’t give a damn, pressure your supervisor to do the right thing.

      1. If at first you don’t succeed…… Let’s just keep letting builders build luxury condos and see what the city looks like in 10 years…of course that may be what you want.

        1. All housing is “luxury” in SF now… even the subsidized at almost a million dollars a unit !!!

  6. What’s the point of Roberto Hernandez wearing a tee shirt promoting the huge failure of the Mission Moratorium via Prop I? Speaking of which, what became of Plaza 16 and all the nonprofit social workers co-opting that effort?

    Their FB page is rarely updated, their White Boy With a Savior Complex, Andy Blue, seems to have split this crazy scene and don’t hear a peep about whatever is happening with the Maximus project.

    Well, at least the 16th Street plaza are still filthy, signage about disabled access to the BART station still is seriously lacking, the piss stench is a bit less thanks to the DPW running a Pit Stop at the kiosk toilet (a rare success for the plazas that Plaza 16 had _nothing_ to do with, and the down escalator at the Walgreen’s plaza has been outta service for about a month.

    I’m just saying, what’s improved at the plazas or the Mission thanks to Plaza 16 and is the group officially closed or just dormant?

  7. And how’s the progress on that affordable project at 490 south Van ness coming along? There could’ve been a handful of affordable units mixed in with other units and now that opportunity remains a dilapidated gas station. For heavens sake build SOMETHING!

    1. 940 South Van Ness is not “affordable”. It will be very expensive subsidized luxury housing, at nine hundred forty eight thousand dollars per unit ! Nothing is “affordable about nearly a million dollars a unit. Do you see how ridiculously unsustainable subsidized housing is ?

  8. The flood gates already happened in the Mission 30 years ago regarding housing. We need to make up for lost time. There is hundreds of underutilized lots in the Mission. Let’s not lie to ourselves and call it affordable housing. It’s really really expensive subsidized housing. We need to get the revenue somehow. I recommend these two ways (both not just one). We should raise the sales tax in the Calle 24 district to 15%. We should also charge a 10% renters tax on everyone in the Calle 24 district. If you pay $1000 a month in rent, you’ll pay an additional $100 to fund subsidized housing. If you pay more in rent, you’ll pay more for Calle 24 subsidized housing. We call need to shoulder the weight. Problem could be solved…. also please do not vote for Trump or Grump as my abuela calls him.