An encampment in the Mission in October 2016. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

As San Francisco struggles to find ways to shelter people living on the streets, District 9 supervisor Hillary Ronen recently alluded to a significant reduction in visible encampments on Mission District sidewalks — from 200 tents and structures to 50.

One of Ronen’s aides spends about 75 percent of her time working on homelessness. Mission Local got some updates on this and other neighborhood issues during a recent Q&A with the supervisor.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Mission Local: At a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, you said that encampment numbers in the Mission had dropped from 200 to 50. How did you assess this, and how do you evaluate the district’s progress on homelessness?

Hillary Ronen: Right before we opened 1515 South Van Ness, [it was by] literally going to the street and counting every single tent and structure. There were 200 tents and structures, counted by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

More recently, Carolina [Morales], from my office, has been going every single Friday with DPW and doing a count to see the progress. This last Friday, there were 51 or 52 tents and structures.

ML: In what area? Is that District 9 or the Mission, or … ?

HR: Not counting the Hairball — we treat that separately — Cesar Chavez to Division, Potrero to Valencia.  

My office has invested so many resources in addressing the homeless tent encampment. And that’s because we are dead-set on fixing it and making the conditions better for both homeless and housed residents of the Mission. [Carolina is] literally doing the count every single week.

That’s how we determine whether or not it’s working, and we’ve had a tremendous impact.

There are no longer large encampments. There’s one that’s a little larger in front of the PG&E yard, but other than that, the encampments that are left are one or two tents here and there, and we’re working really hard to figure out what’s going on with those individuals.

Most of those individuals have been offered an opportunity to go to a navigation center several times, so we’re doing our best to figure out what’s going on — is it mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment?

Some of those individuals are priority-one individuals, meaning they’re homeless more than 10 years, or have a disability or a [mental illness]. Those are being moved directly into housing.

And then those that are left on the street and other people are being told that if they choose not to go to a navigation center, they cannot continue to camp in the Mission.

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ML: What do you anticipate your role will be in the 1979 Mission St. approval process? (331 units, 41 of them affordable, proposed for 16th and Mission — with an additional 49 affordable units that would be built off-site at a later date.) Have you begun work on that?

HR: 1979 Mission is a very unique project. There’s literally only three BART stations in the city where development is possible on top of the BART station, and I’m not sure there’s any place that’s more transit-oriented and transit-rich as 16th Street and Mission. So it’s a unique project in that regard.

What I would love to see at the site is a project akin to what they accomplished in Oakland around the Fruitvale BART station, but even better, which is a large amount of affordable housing, neighborhood-serving retail and service organizations, and the most up-to-date green development techniques used to build the site.

Once we make a decision on development at that site, it will be that way for 50 to 100 years, and it is a very unique opportunity.

I’m open always to bringing the parties together to have a conversation. I will absolutely stay neutral on this project until and unless the project comes before me on appeal — which, given a project this big and with so many issues, is a distinct likelihood.

Having said that …We need the housing. We need the art and [production, distribution and repair] space. We need the affordable housing. And while some of that has to be done through 100 percent affordable projects that are city-funded, we are also gonna get a lot of that housing through development of market-rate housing.

But what I have found so important in being able to successfully mediate those projects is that there is a foundation of trust between the community and the developer, that both parties feel like the other will keep their word. And unfortunately, in the three years that this project has been out there, I know that there is not a lot of trust right now between the community and the developer, and that’s going to make it more difficult to mediate. But I’m always hopeful that things can change and trust can be developed and different relationships can form if people listen to one another and treat each other with respect and bring forward thoughtful projects.

ML: Is there a way to facilitate a nonprofit purchase of the 2918 Mission St. property? (Currently a laundromat stands on the site, on Mission near 25th Street. Property owner Bob Tillman has said he would sell the site to a nonprofit to build affordable housing, but so far no deal has been reached.)

Every single day, I’m trying to find opportunities and financing in the most creative way possible for the thousands of units of affordable housing I want to create while I’m in office. This is no different from any of the sites in my district.  

I would love to see a nonprofit obtain [it]. The problem is that we don’t currently have any un-earmarked funds available in the housing trust fund locally. And, to the extent a nonprofit could find financing that doesn’t rely on the city’s financing. Of course I would help in any way that I possibly could to make that come true. But what we really need, desperately, as a city, is more revenue.

Hopefully the voters of California will pass the measure [a $4 billion housing bond slated to go before California voters next year] that will be on the state budget that will add billions to the affordable housing fund statewide and that will be a new source. But locally, we also need to have a new source … I’m looking forward to seeing if we’re going to have a housing bond in 2018 or some other new measure that maybe taxes the incredible wealth coming into the city — the businesses that are accumulating enormous wealth — [to] mitigate the impact that they’re having on our housing market.

The bottom line is, absolutely I want a nonprofit to purchase that site, absolutely I want to help in any way shape or form that I can, but without revenue sources, I’m not sure how to do that.

ML: Now that Treasure Island is starting to move people out, will you be making any particular accommodations for the victims of the 22nd Street fire who are still housed there?

HR: The legislation that we passed a few months ago extended the amount of time that the city could provide subsidies … they will have additional time. We’re going to have to wait to see how long they can stay on Treasure Island. Through that program, we will work with them to find them other units.

I don’t know if they’re in the areas that are being moved right now, and so we have to find that out, but if they are, we’re going to work with the organizations that work with the tenants to use this program that we have in the city to help them find another space.

ML: In San Francisco?

HR: Hopefully; that’s always the first choice.

ML: Any update on plans for the Hairball?

We are working with the Homeless Outreach Team and the Homeless and Supportive Housing department and DPW and Caltrans and the police to address the situation. I’ve said many times that I’m urgently concerned about the safety of people camping in the Hairball, and worried that someone’s going to get killed. It could not be more urgent for me.

There’s already been about 19 people that have moved into the Navigation Center at 1515 South Van Ness from the Hairball, and the Homeless Outreach Team is planning on working over the next few weeks with the remaining homeless folks in the area to move everyone who wants to move into a navigation center. DPW is working with Caltrans to sort of block off the most dangerous areas of the Hairball so they can’t be re-encamped. So we’re paying close attention there.

We’re working to get more navigation center space so there is enough space for everyone who’s living in the Hairball.

In the next couple years [we’ll be] working with MTA to be included in their short-term capital plan to create protected bike lanes and improve crosswalk areas, widen some of the pedestrian and bike lanes, to make the entire area safer for pedestrians and bikers.

Then, in the very long term, we’re working on an area plan that will envision redesigning the entire area, up to and including undergrounding the entire mess.

ML: That’s a pretty long way off though, right?

We’re talking 20 years into the future. We have to start somewhere, and my whole goal is that one day when we have a change of administration in D.C., and a real investment in infrastructure, in cities, again — It’s the shovel-ready projects that are ready to go that are competitive to get that big influx of federal dollars. So I want us to be ready, hopefully, when that time comes.

ML: When will the new property crime units become active in police stations?

HR: We’re working with Chief Scott right now on the final language of the resolution, which we will hear next week in committee. Part of what that resolution will say is that, in 30 days, we want the Chief to come back to us with a very detailed plan for how he’s going to implement the agreement to open these units.

We wanted to give him some time to do that, and be in consultation the whole time. The day we actually vote on the legislation, we’ll be introducing a hearing request that same day, so that there’s time to implement it.

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  1. Wow, she really is a breath of fresh air from her predecessor David Campos. Instead of Moratorium in the Mission and blaming non-existent arsonist for the price of rents in an effort to get the base up in arms, Ronen is actually looking at difficult problems, making difficult decisions and seeming slow change.

    I’m sure it isn’t as satisfying as leading a 100 people march chanting negative slogans but it is nice seeing something positive being done.

  2. Supervisor Ronen’s office has been helpful in dealing with encampments on and adjacent to residential blocks.

    But nobody is well served playing whack-a-mole when what we need is to transition to permanent solutions. There are no permanent solutions on the horizon, the best we can hope for is whack-a-mole. And that means that legislators are consumed with cajoling the executive to do their job rather than legislating solutions.

    Supervisor Ronen is mistaken when she says she cannot get involved in development projects that might be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. Former Supervisor Daly was proactive in standing up for his constituents when bad development projects were moving through the approvals process in D6.

    And the characterization of the 1979 Mission developers as not “working with the community” is mistaken. What’s going on here is that Maximus refuses to pay the nonprofit toll to develop. The nonprofits are not, have never been and won’t ever be the Mission community. They are city contractors, by and large commuters from outside of the neighborhood and city, whose job it is to run interference between residents and the electeds, deflecting demands from below and to the left.

    Maximus is right to kick the poverty nonprofits to the curb. But what is Supervisor Ronen going to do to ensure that within the purview of City government, not the private nonprofits, this project will deliver for the benefit of the City and of residents? The only way that we get what we need is for the developer to see a credible threat from our representative of their project being rejected. Chris Daly knew how to do that. The Ammiano/Campos tradition of “progressives” steadfastly rejected taking risks to stand up for their constituents.

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