The first volleys were fired in a renewed Mission District housing battle on Thursday, as dozens of activists rallied at City Hall against a recently-resurrected housing project at 16th and Mission that would be the largest planned for the neighborhood.
It’s been just a week since the last pitched battle over housing in the neighborhood — a months-long affair concerning a 335-unit housing project on Bryant Street — ended in a loss for activists when the project was approved by the Planning Commission, though not without significant concessions from the developer.
But activists are back on the offensive, with some of the same opponents to the Bryant Street project vocal on Thursday in a fight against the so-called “Monster in the Mission,” a 380-unit development at 16th and Mission at 1979 Mission St.
The project — developed by Maximus Real Estate Partners — would also create a ground-floor market-place and house other businesses in three mixed-use buildings rising around the northeast Bart plaza on the corner.
Ostensibly there to address the environmental impact of the project, speaker after speaker chose instead to speak of gentrification, displacement, and shadow in a bid to convince commissioners to kill the project when it eventually goes for approval.
“The environmental impact report doesn’t talk about the effects of displacement, specifically [single-room occupancy] tenants,” said Chirag Bhakta, a principal opponent of the project and member of the Mission SRO Collaborative.
Bhakta said several SROs in the area of 16th and Mission have been renovated and now use some of their rooms for high-end tourists, which he fears could lead to the displacement of the low-income and rent-controlled tenants in those hotels.
Such hotels are allowed to keep a portion of their units for tourist rooms, but Bhakta fears the demand for the tourist rooms will lead SROs to illegally convert their non-tourist residential rooms — usually occupied by low-income tenants.
“This is an impact, it’s a socioeconomic impact caused by luxury development,” he said.
Larry Del Carlo, the community liaison for Maximus, fought back against attempts to characterize the project as a displacement bomb and echoed praise for the transit-rich location.
“This particular project is not displacing any residents,” he said. “This project is very much needed in San Francisco, because of the amount of housing it provides in a transit rich area.”
And Jonathan Bonato, a San Francisco resident who said he was homeless for years and used to live a few blocks from the project site, said he welcomed the new development and thought it might transform a crime-heavy area.
“I didn’t appreciate the crime [when I lived in the Mission]. Just this week there was a murder at 16th and Mission,” he said, referring to a fatal stabbing on Sunday. “I think we need to not be afraid of change, otherwise we’re going to be left behind as a third world country in San Francisco.”
That was met with boos and hisses from audience members, many of whom belonged to the Mission SRO Collaborative.
Some 50 opponents to the project held a press conference on the City Hall steps ahead of the hearing, saying the development would exacerbate gentrification in the Mission District, particularly in an area near single-room occupancy hotels, a homeless shelter, and cheap grocery and liquor stores.
Latonya Jones, a member of the Mission SRO Collaborative and an SRO tenant herself, said market-rate housing in the Mission District would first affect “the poor, the working class community” in the area.
She said rooms in SROs around 16th and Mission are disappearing rapidly to home sharing platforms like Airbnb. She said a new market-rate development could spur tourism interest in the area and accelerate the illegal conversion of residential rooms into tourist rooms.
At least one SRO hotel in the area — the Hotel Tropica at 663 Valencia St. — advertises several listings on Airbnb going from $198 a night for a one-bedroom to $298 a night for a two-bedroom. Several more — like the Hotel Sunrise at 447 Valencia St. and the Union Hotel at 2030 Mission St. — can be found on other hotel rental sites for about $100 a night.
“This city is disappearing and it’s not for us,” said Jones. “It’s for Google, it’s for the big people.”
“We will be gone if that monster gets built,” said Laura Guzman, the director of homeless services at the Mission Neighborhood Health Center three blocks from the project site. Guzman said she was particularly concerned with the number of homeless people who convene in the area, saying gentrification would pose a mortal threat.
“Our homeless community will be displaced, will be gone, will be killed,” she said.
“El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” at “Monster in the Mission” protest for 100% affordable housing on-site pic.twitter.com/hlgV33t6Vq
— Joe Rivano Barros (@jrivanob) June 9, 2016
Don’t Cast a Shadow
Mirroring a move made in the Bryant Street case, activists on Thursday proposed an alternative for the site at 16th and Mission and called the fully affordable project — which would also transform the 16th Street Bart Plaza into a park — the “Marvel in the Mission.”
The idea of towering complexes in the middle of the Mission District — two of the buildings in the current proposal will be 10 stories and another five stories — is concerning for opponents because of a shadow that would be cast on the playground of Marshall Elementary School nearby.
The developer has agreed to raise the school’s playground by 15 feet to mitigate the impact, but opponents are still resistant.
“In reality it’s a big monster that’s going to affect the health of our kids,” said Guillermina Castellanos, a grandmother of students at the elementary school. “It’s not just my grandchildren, it’s the kids of many families that are going to be affected by this monster.”
The alternative proposal — presented to the Planning Commission after the rally outside City Hall — was true to those concerns and suggested that two of the buildings be lowered to eight stories and that a third go to two stories. That would likely shave off dozens of units from the total, though activists did not give a unit count for their proposal.
“Over here, we have a community center, we have open space, we have a plaza where the needs of the existing residents and people who already hang out there are recognized,” said Maria Zamudio, a principal opponent of the project with Causa Justa. “And importantly, no shadow impact on Marshall School.”
The project still needs final approval from the Planning Commission, but few expect this to go quickly or smoothly.