Some 15 residents at 3544 Taraval St. will stay in their homes and their apartments will be permanently affordable, following the city's acquisition of the site.

Supervisor Gordon Mar’s wife is a Realtor, but it’s Mar who often finds himself poring over real estate listings. 

The sale of mid-sized apartment buildings, the emptying of their longtime tenants, and repurposing of the units into condos or tenancies-in-common — a ubiquitous Mission District practice — has found its way to the Outer Sunset, Mar’s district. As such, Mar perused Redfin et al. with more than a passing interest. And when he saw 3544 Taraval St., near 46th Ave., go up for sale, he figured this, too, might be its eventual fate. 

This, Mar notes, is a gentrifying area. The building just next door was razed and replaced with three market-rate condos. The businesses here, a stone’s throw from Ocean Beach, have grown less focused on serving a working-class largely Chinese-speaking community and more reflective of hipper, younger, wealthier arrivistes: Cafes, upscale restaurants, even a vinyl record store. 

But the 15 or so seniors residing at 3544 Taraval St. — mostly Chinese as well as a Latino and African American tenant — won’t be displaced. And their landlord will, improbably, be the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), which has made its first foray this far out of the Mission to obtain a small San Francisco site. 

“Preserving and expanding affordable housing in the Sunset is one of my top priorities. It was one of the main reasons I decided to run for office,” said Mar. “I’ve seen so many of my friends and even some of my family members pushed out of this city.” (For the record, Mar’s twin brother, Eric, a former supervisor, is not among them: “He’s still hanging on by a thread in the Outer Richmond.”)

This nondescript Sunset District building will, this afternoon, briefly become the nexus of San Francisco politics. Mayor London Breed is scheduled to be here, along with Mar, MEDA reps, and other community leaders, all celebrating the acquisition and preservation of these six 2-bedroom units, which will now be affordable for posterity. 

“These will be forever affordable,” said Johnny Oliver, a MEDA associate director. “The likelihood of these being converted to TICs or condos was high. There are a lot in this neighborhood.” 

This is the 23rd small site obtained by MEDA and the Mission nonprofit’s expertise led Mar to turn to it early in the process. There is no MEDA analog on the West side, and this is the organization’s first foray outside of the Mission, Bernal, or Excelsior. 

Supervisor Gordon Mar, seen here declaring victory in November 2018, personally scouted the Taraval site by scouring real estate listings.

After Mar read the real-estate listings, he talked to the Mayor’s Office of Housing about using small-site funds for this building. He dropped by and talked to the residents — Mar’s wife, Cecilia Wong, is a fluent Cantonese speaker. MEDA was brought into the fold and, along with the mayor’s office, negotiated a price and conditions with the building’s owners, who were the Chinese American children of a longtime owner. 

Some of the tenants have lived here for four decades, and the prior owners didn’t want them to have to move. “The children of the original owner wanted to do what their dad would’ve wanted to do and that’s protect the tenants,” said Oliver. 

The ownership of the building transferred to MEDA on Sept. 19; the price was $1.62 million. This, Oliver feels, is a number on par with what a private sector buyer would’ve offered. But where the prior owners were generous was in allowing for more time; the city requires several months to get its ducks in a row.

The purchase — and pending upgrades to the site — were underwritten by the San Francisco Housing Accelerator Fund, which provided a bridge loan to obtain the property. This nascent organization allows small-site acquisitions to close in 60 to 90 days, per Oliver — a process that used to take 120 to 180 days. 

The funds to purchase this building and bring it up to code will be backfilled by the city, which this year allocated an additional $40 million for small-sites acquisition. When a Sunset-based nonprofit capable of owning and running the property comes into existence, Oliver says MEDA will relinquish ownership here. He anticipates this occurring within the next two to five years. 

Mar sees this as a small but meaningful step toward righting the Sunset District’s woeful “housing balance” numbers. Since 2009, the district has created 21 new affordable units, but lost 479 — a “net housing balance” of negative 260 percent, which Mar admits is “by far the worst of any district.” 

The supervisor hopes for a Sunset District where chic restaurants and vinyl stores can coexist with longtime, rent-controlled tenants — a desire felt by many in the Mission and every other San Francisco neighborhood.

“There are new folks who want to be in the neighborhood, and that’s positive,” Mar says. “But we need some balance and we need to make sure that longtime, working-class residents aren’t driven out.”

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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