A seven-story, fully-affordable housing development at 490 South Van Ness broke ground two weeks ago and another at 1950 Mission is on the way. But more than anything, these projects are a groundbreaking moment for Mission Housing Development Corporation, which has not built a single unit for more than a decade.

Breaking ground on two affordable housing sites is a tangible culmination of the hard work and the in-depth soul-searching that Mission Housing and its current leadership has done to make it into the development corporations it was meant to be,” said Sam Moss, the executive director of Mission Housing, which was founded in the Mission in 1971.

The project at 490 South Van Ness, the former site of a gas station the city purchased for $18.5 million in 2015, will bring to the city’s housing stock 89 units for low- and moderate-income families — 35 of which will be reserved for District 9 residents living within a mile of the site.

Mission Housing, which currently manages around 1,600 apartments, is building the project in partnership with BRIDGE Housing. The estimated project cost is $45 million.

This follows a 94-unit project for seniors at Shotwell and Cesar Chavez that broke ground in June to be erected by the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), which has a total of 557 units and five projects in the pipeline.

Mission Housing’s last Mission development was Valencia Gardens, a 260-unit structure completed in 2006. It also built Rich Sorro Commons, a 100-unit building in Mission Bay, in 2002.

Now, more than a decade later, the nonprofit developer is hopeful to follow up on October’s groundbreaking with another: the planned December kickoff of a 165-unit affordable project at 1950 Mission Street. Moss said Mission Housing has secured all the funding commitments needed to begin construction, and hopes it will get the shovels out within the next month.

The homeless Navigation Center at 1950 Mission Street, where 165 new affordable housing units will be constructed. Image from Google Maps.

Mission Housing was thrown into turmoil in 2005 during a city audit that resulted a loss of all its city funding as well as other grant money — roughly a third of its operating budget.

The audit was a result of bitter infighting between the nonprofit’s staff and its board of directors, leaving the institution crippled financially, unable to win contracts, and out of the graces of neighborhood groups.

Not long after, it ventured elsewhere for development: Fresno. But the low-income development it had tried to develop there stalled as the nonprofit failed to secure funding. The project ultimately went kaput in 2014.

Enter Moss and Mission Housing’s deputy executive director Marcia Contreras. “The biggest thing we tried to do was to establish trust,” Moss said.

That meant a number of things: refinancing its existing housing stock, paying off bad debt, and taking on renovation projects of old buildings for low-income seniors. It also backed the proposed Mission market-rate housing moratorium, which won it back some credibility among neighborhood groups.

“We now have 30 employees,” Moss said. “We were at 7 when we took over (in 2013).”

Moreover, in 2013 the nonprofit’s revenue nearly doubled, according to its tax filings. And it saw a 163-percent spike in revenue between 2014 and 2015.  

Now the nonprofit developer has more than 1,000 affordable units in the pipeline. Aside from its Mission District projects, it has partnered with BRIDGE to build around between 1,100 and 1,500 units of housing near City College of San Francisco, 50 percent of which are affordable units.

“I’m really proud,” Moss said. “I’m looking back seven years ago and how far we’ve gone, and I still need to convince myself every once and a while that it’s actually real.”