A Kansas-based developer has set his sights on the Mission District with a proposal to build an eight-story shared living complex at on the corner of 15th Street and South Van Ness Avenue.

The 184-unit project at 1500 15th St., one of the largest planned for the neighborhood, would be only studios, with shared kitchens and lounges on each floor of 10 to 23 units. All 184 tenants would have access to storage space, a small office, a courtyard, a gym, and a basement laundry room.

The market-rate units could be rented at $1,500 a month each, the developer said, depending on the going rate when they are ready. The project will be 25 percent affordable, in accordance with city law, and would replace a parking lot on the site.

Its developer, who has built and runs several projects in the Midwest but is making his first foray into San Francisco housing, said the Mission District needs cheaper market-rate units.

“The market-rate housing is gonna be more affordable than anything else,” said Chris Elsey, who heads Elsey Partners LLC along with his twin brother. The firm is closing on a deal with the property owners to buy the site, he said.

Elsey envisioned the development targeting transit-friendly millennials — it is three blocks from the 16th Street BART Station. It will have no off-street parking spaces, in line with the city’s transit-oriented development strategy.

Neighborhood activists, however, worry that a market-rate single-room occupancy hotel will put pressure on low-income SRO tenants in the area. There are 30 SROs within a three-block radius of the project, according to a list kept by the Mission SRO Collaborative.

“The owners now feel as if there’s actually a demand out there for people who are willing to pay market-rate prices for SRO rooms,” said Chirag Bhakta, formerly at the Mission SRO Collaborative and now a community engagement coordinator with the non-profit housing developer Mission Housing.

“A dorm experience would not have sold. Now, it can sell,” he said. Studios in the Mission District can rent for upwards of $2,000 a month. 

The parking lot at 1500 15th St. that could become 184 units of group housing. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

The parking lot at 1500 15th St. that could become 184 units of group housing. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Organized opposition to the project is already mounting. Peter Papadopoulos, founder of the Cultural Action Network, a Mission-based group fighting market-rate projects in the neighborhood, said he and other activists learned of the project this morning.

The activists, part of a coalition called United to Save the Mission that fights market-rate housing in the neighborhood, will oppose it, he said, because that area of the neighborhood sees too much new development as is.

“This working class neighborhood already has around a dozen developments coming in, bringing more than a thousand wealthier new residents,” he said. Papadopoulos said the neighborhood needed more family housing, not housing for a “transient community” like tech workers.

Tim Colen, the executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, said group housing was a rarely-built style of housing essential to solving the city’s crisis. Access to small units would prevent young workers from taking larger ones off the market, he said, opening those units up to families who need them.

“It’s absolutely cheaper housing, entry-level housing,” he said. “The workforce, to the extent that they’re young and single, don’t need living quarters, but they do want good shared space.”

Sonja Trauss, the founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Foundation, a pro-development advocacy group, said she would defend the project against opposition. Such buildings help house the incoming worker population, she said, and help stem the loss of existing housing.

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This being the developer’s first project in development-averse San Francisco, Trauss said they would need the support.

“They’re gonna have a hard time,” she said. “They have no idea what they’re getting into.”

Northern Mission Transformed

In the next five years, the area near 16th Street will see more than a dozen new projects, including four fully affordable complexes. The projects promise to fill in the low-lying neighborhood with several seven and eight-story structure, bringing in hundreds of new units.

The 1500 15th Street group living project will be among the tallest, though a market-rate project at 1979 Mission St. at the corner with 16th Street will go to 10 stories. Several affordable housing projects will meet or beat its eight-story height in the coming years.

The 15th Street project with exceed the 58-foot height limit on the parcel and building to 75 feet by using the state density bonus, which gives developers extra stories for providing at least 20 percent affordable housing on-site.

Elsey said the extra height was needed to make the affordable units pencil out. Though his firm cuts costs by acting as its own general contractor and employing an in-house design team, having nine stories of housing

“If we don’t, that makes it really tough to make it work,” he said.

If built, it would be only the second project in the Mission District to reach the 25 percent affordable benchmark — approved by voters in June through Proposition C — following a 157-unit project at the corner of 26th Street and South Van Ness Avenue.

That project, however, was exempt from the requirement but sought to win city approval by increasing its below-market-rate units. Elsey’s complex is the first to be pitched in the neighborhood with the new requirements in place.

Elsey, for his part, hopes to start quickly. He submitted preliminary plans to the city last week and emailed neighbors with project details on Thursday, and would like to break ground by 2018.

“We’d like to start pushing dirt maybe a year from now,” he said. “That might be ambitious.”

1500 15th St. Project Plans by MissionLocal on Scribd