Debate on Senior Housing Gets Personal, Project Prevails in Appeal

The Board of Supervisors. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

San Francisco Supervisors sent a planned nine-story affordable senior housing project onward toward construction, unanimously rejecting an appeal of its prior approval.

The appeal, represented at Tuesday’s hearing by Shotwell Street resident Craig Weber through the Inner Mission Neighborhood Association, raised concerns about adding 94 units of housing without additional parking, about failing to promote mixed-income housing and about crime increases in areas dense in low-income housing.

“This is not about opposing low-income housing, this is about overall impacts in the Mission,”  Weber said.

“There is heavy crime in this area and there is an upsurge in crime,” he added. “To continue to build low-income housing in a dense area like Shotwell and 26th street is going to create even more problems for the neighborhood.”

Supervisor Hillary Ronen sharply criticized Weber’s concerns before moving to uphold previous planning department determinations allowing the project to move forward.

“I really really found it offensive to equate affordable housing projects, and just equating people who are poor and low-income, with vagrancy, blight, vandalism and crime,” she said. “It could not be more inaccurate and wrong.”

Other supporters of the project had harsher and more personal words.

“I want these chambers to echo multiple rebukes of not only their argument, but of the filthy and despicable ideology from which it stems,” said Chirag Bhakta, a community organizer who works for Mission Housing Development Corporation who added that it was not about height or the environment. “This is a tantrum, a personal dilemma being played out in the public which in the end only seeks deny housing to low-income seniors.”

He also accused the appellants of having “reprehensible hatred for the poor.”

Laura Clark, a frequent speaker at the Board and Planning commission on behalf of the pro-development YIMBY party, called the delays “ridiculous,”  and added “We are wasting the community’s time…There should not be an opportunity to hold a one hundred percent affordable project hostage.”

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Weber and others who spoke in favor of the appeal maintained that they were not opposed to low-income or senior housing, but rather to the particulars of this project.

“We want to make it very clear that this association is not opposed to low-income senior housing. We are opposed to lack of environmental review,” Weber said.

“I have no problem with that building going up except for the size of it. It is way too high, way too dense,” said Jane Ramirez Perry, a longtime Shotwell Street resident.  “Let them build their building, that’s fine, but please do not go with the density. Just [imagine] putting a nine story building on the corner of your block, with no parking, no access for ambulances or bringing in oxygen tanks or any kind of medical supplies other than a very small white zone in front of the building.”

The appeal largely mirrored a similar one that the Board upheld against a project at 1515 South Van Ness Avenue in November of last year, which Weber referred to as a sort of precedent.

“I hope that you vote on a continuance of this development, particularly in light of the appeal of 1515 South Van Ness and the legal grounds that was put forth by Calle 24,” Weber said. “We’re simply replicating that same appeal.”

The similarities between the appeals were not lost on the project’s proponents.

“I have worked on some of these appeals on the other side, and I recognize a lot of the words and phrases in this document that they’ve filed. Huh, interesting,” said Rick Hall, a resident who has opposed market-rate projects and restaurant conversions in the neighborhood.

Supporters of the project, however, rejected the idea that the projects were similar, primarily on the basis that the units are all below-market-rate and being developed by nonprofits, the Mission Economic Development Agency and Chinatown Community Development Center. 

“The [prior appeals], that was specifically to look at gentrification and displacement impacts.That is specifically not a problem here,” said Peter Papadopoulos of the Cultural Action Network. “What we see is, this is a neighborhood stabilization project.”

Parking, several commenters said, should not be considered the same way for seniors as for general market-rate housing, as low-income populations and senior populations are statistically less likely to own cars or drive much. The neighborhood is also transit-rich, they argued, and the nonprofit services on site would include shuttles to and from grocery shopping and medical appointments. The fact that the project would demolish an auto repair shop, Papadopoulos said, is mitigated by an ongoing effort by the nonprofit developers to relocate that business within the Mission.

But most of all, the dozens of people who came to speak in favor of the housing being built were there to underscore the dire need for affordable housing, for seniors in particular.

“Someone who comes to our office regularly, Don Fernando, He has something wrong with his liver, he has neuroses, he has diabetes. The doctor told him that the only way he could really get better was to stabilize his housing. Now we have an opportunity to stabilize the health and the well being of seniors in our community,” said Marilyn Duran, an organizer with the nonprofit PODER. “I wish I knew it was like to oppose a project for the inconvenience of parking when people’s lives are on the line here.”

One woman, Iris Merriouns, cited the example of her recently evicted 100-year-old aunt, Iris Canada.

“Please do something while you have time for your senior population,” she told the Supervisors.

Patricia Kerman, a senior living in the Mission, said she is fighting her second Ellis Act eviction and has few options if she is indeed forced out.

“We’re under threat for our lives, because when we lose our homes, where can we go? You try to find a place that even has a listing that is open to get on a waiting list. They don’t exist” she said. “I’m looking at a tent on the street. And I’m not alone.”

This story has been corrected: 94, not 96, units are planned at 1296 Shotwell St. 

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One Comment

  1. Craig Weber was trying to organize the opposition to this development on Nextdoor. Happy to see that his and his group’s arguments -a neighborhood group I’ve never heard of, by the way, except on Nextdoor, were rebutted..
    If you are discomfited by density, you are living in the wrong city.

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