A mock up of the project at 1500 15th St. Design by Prime Design.

At a community meeting held Wednesday night, activists opposed to an eight-story, 184-unit Mission District housing project doubled down, insisting that making 25 percent of its units affordable was not enough.

“When you come to the Mission and say 25 percent is good, the answer is no it’s not,” said Rick Hall, a neighborhood activist, to applause from the eight or so other Mission activists who attended the 30-person meeting.

The new standard, he said, is 33 percent affordable for low income tenants. City law currently requires 15 percent low income affordability and 10 percent for middle income.

Chris Elsey, one of the developers of the project at 1500 15th St. on the corner with South Van Ness Avenue, said he would see if the financing pencils out, but that it would be “tough” to make his project profitable with a third of the units for low-income tenants. The 25 percent affordability level was already onerous, he said.

Plus, his project would lower rents by increasing the city’s supply, he added.

“I think everybody here would agree that high rent is a problem, right?” Elsey asked.

“Right but this causes neighborhood displacement, no question,” said Peter Papadopoulos, a frequent opponent of market-rate developments in the neighborhood with the Cultural Action Network.

Some of those attending the meeting, however, failed to accept his “no question” assertion.

“Who gets displaced by this project?” asked Sonja Trauss, the founder of the Bay Area Renters Federation, known as BARF, and part of the YIMBY (yes-in-my-back-yard) lobby that supports greater housing supply at all levels of affordability.

Trauss said the opposition’s fears were misplaced since the project would replace a car lot, not tenants.

“Displacement is happening right now and this project hasn’t been built,” she said. “How is this project going to reach back in time and cause the displacements happening now?”

The displacement effects, Papadopoulos countered, were indirect — wealthier tenants frequent expensive businesses, prompting landlords to evict existing shops. Current tenants, he said, would have their rents raised or be unable to afford shopping and dining in the neighborhood.

He acknowledged that the increased housing supply would decrease rents “on a regional scale,” but not in the Mission District. “I believe in macroeconomics,” he said, as the debate fizzled.

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

The development would rise to 75 feet and contain 184 units of studio rooms sized 200 square feet with a hot plate and fridge, bathroom, and Murphy bed. Each floor of 10 to 23 units would share a lounge and kitchen, and all tenants would have access to a gym, office space, and laundry room.

As planned, it would break the 58-foot height limit on the lot by using the state density bonus, a law that grants developers more housing space for including sufficient below-market-rate units.

It would be only the second market-rate project in the neighborhood to reach that threshold. The first, a 157-unit development at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. by 26th Street, faced challenges despite its high affordability level. It was appealed by neighborhood activists all the way to City Hall and sent back to the drawing board in a surprise decision by the Board of Supervisors earlier this month.

The project sponsors for the 1500 15th St. project discussed Wednesday are Chris and Brian Elsey, twin brothers who head the Kansas-based Elsey Partners, which has projects throughout the Midwest but none yet in California. The project is their first foray into San Francisco housing.

Both were at the meeting held at the Mission District police station — fresh from a 6 p.m. arrival at the airport and gearing up for an early morning departure back home — but Chris took the helm, Bryan opting instead to jot down notes and concerns.

Additional affordable units dominated the conversation, but there were many other complaints.

Too little parking, said some — the development will have no car parking, but has 44 bicycle spots inside. The design is hideous, said others. Will it use union labor? asked a carpenters union representative.

It will block my view and decrease my property values, said a next door neighbor, who was also concerned with the “type of people” tenants would be.

“Is this like the modernization of Section 8?” said Ramona Solano, a 61-year-old referring to the low-income voucher program. “What type of people do you think would be attracted to these units?”

Still, the crux of the opposition was the project’s affordability, which Elsey took pains to defend. Though market-rate, the development would be the cheapest non-subsidized housing available in San Francisco, he said, with rents near $1,500 a month for a studio.

“By design of these units, you’re building a market rate apartment that’s gonna be cheaper than any other project in the city that isn’t subsidized by something,” he said. “Are there any new developments where they have something like this where it’s for $1,500 dollars?”

Given their size, units would not rent for much more than $1,500, he said. He envisioned tenants being those who “don’t qualify for affordable housing but they can’t pay $3,000 a month for a studio apartment.”

“A lot of the people that would be attracted to these units are people that would be new to the city or working class people, people who would be interested in getting their foot in the door,” he said.

Asked by neighborhood activists whether Elsey would guarantee that rents be held at that price in a development agreement, he declined, and conceded that the units would be rented “at what the market can bear.”

But activists decided that even $1,500 was too high for the neighborhood.

“Maybe relative to other things it’s not expensive, but $1,500 means you have to make $4,500 a month in order to afford it, to get basically a jail cell with a Murphy bed,” said Eddie Stiel.

The meeting, Elsey said afterwards, went as expected. He has submitted preliminary plans to the city for the project, which will go before the Planning Commission before it can advance towards construction. He said earlier this month that he hoped to break ground by 2018.

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  1. This development makes a lot of sense. Lots of people just need a place to crash and are willing to sacrifice living space to have a roof over their head and lower rent. The city needs more of these for young single people, along with small family units. Gentrification of a parking lot – some people will object to anything..

  2. This project looks wonderful and is perfectly targeted for the needs of our vanishing middle class. The units seem pretty small, but would work well for young people just trying to get a foothold here, and would prevent displacement of people within our older housing stock. The housing activists seem like they are living in their own private fantasy world of 80’s prices, which the vast majority of San Franciscans could never dream of.

    1. “[They] would prevent displacement of people within our older housing stock.”

      Not convinced. But they do go along way toward filling in the space between the other new, generic Lego developments.

  3. 200 square feet with a murphy bed and a hotplate sounds like a tenement, not a home. You would have more privacy in an RV. Is this the best San Francisco has to offer the new hires moving here? 200 feet and a murphy bed? Sounds like a prison cell. Why don’t the tech companies just add floors of beds at the office? They are putting in showers. Just add a few bunk beds and be done with it. Or better still, designate trailer parking in the parking lot. Make it a real company town.

  4. Very cool to import the plans into the article ML! It’s an interesting concept (small space, shared kitchens, etc) If you believe in macroeconomics then you have to see that this project is responding to the demand for lower-cost housing.

  5. Weird framing that only one side is “activists”. Better title: “Activists Clash Over 184-Unit Building on 15th Street”.