1515 South Van Ness. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

After the homeless Navigation Center located at 1515 South Van Ness vacated in June 2018, the building sat inactive, waiting to be demolished and transformed into a mostly market-rate development.

Only, nothing happened. For a year.

Today, Mayor London Breed announced that the city will be purchasing the site in order to build a 100-percent affordable housing development — “potentially 150 new family units,” as Breed put it on Tuesday morning.   

“We know that this community has a goal of getting to 2,500” affordable units, Breed said to about 30 community members gathered at the site. “This is a step in the right direction.”

A source said the city would be paying Lennar Multifamily Properties around $18.5 million for the 32,000-square-foot site. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the same figure. The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development would not confirm the purchase price.  

The mayor’s office of housing did say that the city will purchase the site using the so-called “windfall” cash from booming property tax returns, as well as money from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s JumpStart fund. Breed cautioned, however, “We have the money to buy the site, but we don’t have money to build it.”

Some of the money could come from Breed’s $600 million housing bond if it passes in November, the mayor said. Only after the Board of Supervisors approves the purchase and the city finds construction funding will the city select a developer.

Mission Housing Development Corporation is ready. “Without a doubt, Mission Housing is interested and has already been working on putting together the best community development team that we can,” said executive director Sam Moss in a telephone interview. “It is imperative the eventual project that is built there accurately reflects the community struggle and community efforts that went into getting us here.”

The Mission Economic Development Agency, which has five projects in the pipeline — including a 94-unit project in construction next door to the site — will be lining up as well. “We are eagerly anticipating bidding on 1515 South Van Ness when available, as part of our cultural place-keeping strategy for the Mission,” said Karoleen Feng, the nonprofit’s director of community real estate.

For community activists like Roberto Hernadez, it was a moment of reckoning. “On this land, we fought Lennar — and this is a happy ending,” he said.

Lennar Multifamily Communities, which bought the property in December 2015 for $12.8 million, had initially proposed the 157-unit project in 2014. The proposal was met with forceful community resistance — and the nickname “Titanic Mess on South Van Ness.” The city finally approved the project after Lennar struck a deal in March 2017 with neighborhood leaders, with the help of Supervisor Hillary Ronen.

That included a 25 percent affordable housing percentage, $1 million paid to a neighborhood group, affordable ground-floor space, and for the site to be used as a homeless Navigation Center for nine months.

Despite playing a heavy role in helping the strike that deal, Ronen on Tuesday said she was happy with the outcome. “The deal we had made with Lennar was an excellent deal for a market-rate project,” she said. “But market-rate projects are never as good as affordable projects.”

Ronen noted also that she is working to have Mission-based arts organizations who have been pushed out of their spaces, like Galería de la Raza and Carnaval, to utilize the now-vacant building, formerly the site of McMillan Electric Company. “While this sits vacant and derelict, let’s activate it use it for that purpose until we break ground and demolish the building,” she said.

It’s unclear whether Lennar’s city-approved site plan will be used for the would-be affordable project. Kate Hartley, the director of the mayor’s office of housing, said affordable projects have different requirements than market-rate developments. Some of the financing used on affordable projects, for example, requires a community room and other similar amenities.

“So we have to look at [Lennar’s] entitlements, look at how we can adapt it to meet our requirements, and then do the best design in the fastest way possible,” she said.

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. I’m concerned by how plans to remedy our housing crisis always and only focus on “families”. Many single adults and childless couples have been displaced and/or cannot access housing in the Bay Area.

  2. As usual, politicians are making it harder for those that need housing. All they do is delay development. And what if this bond fails to pass in November? The city will have stopped a private development with nothing else to show for it.

    Without the city council, there would be much more housing available at a much lower cost.

  3. This is good news and a example of how tech industry money, in the form of increased property valuations and taxes, is helping SF to renovate its infrastructure. The electrical supply company sold out because the lot was more valuable than the profit being made from its use. Before tech, much of SF’s East side had deteriorating and crumbling warehouses, quite a few abandoned, with little industrial use demand and no funds(public or private) available to repurpose them.

    But there were always poor people, un-housed or in in substandard housing. At one time redevelopment could address the mismatch between needs and obsolete infrastructure. But Republicans defunded redevelopment nationally along with other programs(pro-union laws and minimum wages increases) that created opportunities for poor people. Republican policies were designed to ensure a ample cheap labor by maintaining a pool of desperate poor people. SF is very fortunate that increased property taxes are there to back fill the programs that make cities good places to live. The alternative might be SF becoming more like Youngstown, Flint, or Detroit.

  4. “But market-rate projects are never as good as affordable projects.” This statement shows how stupid Hilary Ronen really is. To say the word “never” is the problem.

    The “market rate project” included about 40 affordable housing units and an extra $1 million cash to non profits all paid for by the developer.

    The new 100% affordable project is paid for by the city which currently has no funds to actually build this project.

    So, is 40 units that would have been built for free a worse deal than non-guaranteed taxpayer funded 150 units?

    I’d rather have the free 40 units that would have actually been built than the taxpayer funded pipe dream that will take decades to fulfill…

  5. ‘“We know that this community has a goal of getting to 2,500” affordable units, Breed said to around 30 community members gathered at the site. “This is a step in the right direction.”’

    How many families have been displaced from The Mission between the last two censuses? How many more will be revealed to have been evicted in the 2020 census? 2500 units is too little, too late.

    “The Community” is nothing of the sort, it is a facade behind which the city funded poverty non-proftis operate and has been completely coopted. So long as they do nothing to threaten the fundamental premise of neoliberal corporate dominance, they remain in the good graces of the economic conservatives and get their funding to build affordable housing at a rate of pennies of affordable on the luxury dollar.

    This neoliberal capitulation is masked with radical language.

    “Progressive” poverty nonprofiteers took our volunteer work in campaigns over the decades and used our sweat as chits to set themselves up with sinecures. As Johnny Rotten said at the last Sex Pistols show at the Winterland here in SF: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Ah ha ha ha ha.”

    These projects are more than a decade too late to stabilize displaced families. These dollars would be better spent buying up rent control units at risk of eviction and displacement. But that is not CCHO’s traditional business model. When it comes to ideal policy or keeping the lights on at CCHO’s member nonprofits, the needs of the agencies are always paramount.

    Thus, the “progressives” have been completely coopted and collapsed as a viable political force capable of contesting neoliberal dominance. Today’s Board of Supervisors are liberals tightly constrained by having to not offend neoliberals who are running the show.

    Game over, dude.

  6. Great victory for La Raza. Anyway to make it 100% Mexican? Also needs a Cesar Chavez address. Would be nice to honor the great man.

  7. Did the community group get the $1 million bucks or did that fall through since there’s no market rate deal?

    Will be interesting to see the final per unit cost on this project once it’s complete. Going to bet at least 10 years and over 800K per unit. Anyone want to get a pool going?