"I am not a monster. I am a market owner. New housing at 16th and Mission is not a monster either and will ensure I can live in the community I serve."

The talk of the town

Given its excess air time, I wasn’t going to talk about the notorious development on 469 Stevenson St. Then the debate crossed into Mission territory. So, here goes. 

The 495-unit project slated for a Nordstrom’s parking lot sought to build 73 below-market-rate units on site. It also requested to take advantage of the state’s density bonus, forcing the developer to donate a parcel earmarked for extra off-site affordable housing. All in all, a 24 percent affordability deal. 

But community members said the location would trigger gentrification in and around Stevenson, specifically for Single Room Occupancy and Filipino members. John Elberling, a leader of the Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, the main group appealing the project, called it “The Monster on Sixth Street.” 

You know the rest: Eight supervisors voted to delay it for environmental concerns, causing backlash and necessitating Twitter and media damage control. The proposal at 469 Stevenson quickly ballooned from a scorned project into a symbol of which side of a housing debate one supported.

Several of the eight supervisors who delayed it — Supervisors Connie Chan, Hillary Ronen, Myrna Melgar, Gordon Mar, Aaron Peskin, Dean Preston, Rafael Mandelman, and Shamann Walton — repeatedly said they were not anti-housing, but rather preferred developments with higher affordability ratios to mitigate the displacement of  marginalized residents. Not all were convinced. 

So, what if they highlighted a model project that checked all the boxes: hundreds of units, maximum affordability, and overwhelming community support?

Days after the Stevenson vote, news of the Marvel in the Mission, a hard-fought 100 percent affordable housing building, surfaced. Suddenly, berated supervisors embraced it as the antithesis of Stevenson.

“Perhaps BIPOC community groups know better than YIMBY Twitter what’s good for their communities,” Supervisor Dean Preston tweeted

Supervisor Matt Haney, however, shot back a reality that Preston and others ignored: The Marvel would not happen without the land dedication connected to a 900-plus-unit “almost entirely market rate development” at 10 South Van Ness Ave., about a mile from the Stevenson project, and less than a mile from the Marvel. 

The Marvel in the Mission

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone against the Marvel in the Mission; it’s a 331-unit 100-percent affordable housing project slated for 1979 Mission St., near 16th Street. With no displacements and lots of units, it’s pretty much the perfect deal, but it came at a cost that politicians and the Internet overlooked. 

As Haney tweeted, the deal was cemented, thanks to the market rate development at 10 South Van Ness. Developer Crescent Heights eyed a 966-unit market rate housing there, but needed to satisfy its end of the city’s inclusionary housing deal. After negotiating with community groups headed by Elberling, they agreed to buy the land at 16th and Mission streets for 100 percent affordable housing in exchange for full support of the deal, and bonuses on height and units. 

In other words, the Marvel was an unlikely gift without the approval of another market-rate building. The project there, first proposed in October, 2013, was dropped by the developer in February, 2020, and put up for sale. 

“I want to be clear, the [Marvel] in the Mission is a great outcome. But the unintended consequences is it creates this false hope,” said Todd David, executive director of San Francisco Housing Action Coalition. 

That hope is that building affordable housing is quick or easy. “We’ve made affordable housing a neoliberal hellscape,” said Sam Moss, executive director of Mission Housing. He’d love for San Francisco to build only 100-percent affordable housing. However, that’s not financially sustainable: Most of the present funds are spoken for, and there’s a backlog of projects. 

“I would love [to build] only 100 percent affordable housing. I also would love a pony and to drink rainbow-juice every day,” Moss said. “We only have so much money.”

He said Mission Housing will make a bid to develop the Marvel. At present, there is no developer, nor financing.

When that’s secured, time will be lost. Certainly, the Marvel’s development was complicated by a family battle and dodgy developer advertisements, which the community passionately and successfully fought. Nevertheless, it’s taken eight years to make development progress. Who has been pushed out in the meantime?

“It’s a legitimate policy question. Is a 10- or 15-year delay worth going from a mixed-income to a 100 percent affordable project, when there’s no guarantee when you’ll get a 100 percent affordable project?” David said. “Is the bird in the hand better than two in a bush?”

100 percent affordable, or mixed income? That is the question

According to Ronen’s tweet praising the Marvel, the wait was worth it. It would be the eighth affordable development approved in the Mission in recent years and would house “families & workers who would otherwise be pushed out.” 

Eight affordable housing projects in the Mission is a win. It keeps people who need to live here, home; already, 9,000 Latinxs left the Mission between 2000 and 2019. Yet, harm could arrive in an alternate form. Numerous studies show that concentrating affordable housing units in one area leads to more segregated neighborhoods, and prevents underserved populations from accessing better socioeconomic opportunities. 

That’s a major reason why, in the early 2000s, the city introduced the Inclusionary Affordable Housing Program. It requires developers to offset market-rate units by pitching into affordable housing development through building on-site affordable units or by paying a fee to develop 100 percent affordable units elsewhere.


read context:

A key “concept of inclusionary was integrating folks from segregated communities,” said Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations. 

Despite the “menu” of options, historically the Board of Supervisors encourages developers to build on site. This method not only reduces segregation, but completes projects at least a year faster than in-lieu-fee projects, primarily because affordable units go up at the same time as the market-rate ones. 

About 75 percent of the developers built units on site until 2010, when the inclusionary program was revised and incentivized developers to pay in-lieu fees. By 2011, about 55 percent of developers paid fees and 27 percent built on-site units. (Supervisors noted and criticized this anew at an October committee meeting.)

But, while fees may take longer, developers like Moss and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development argue that they allow the city to maximize funds and create more affordable units. A 2012 city performance audit also suggested that fees target more very low-income residents than on site, thus roping in more vulnerable communities. 

And, in Moss’s view, the addition of a community space in 100-percent affordable housing buildings unites the community more than slapping a single low-income floor on a 12-story, market-rate apartment. 

Although the Marvel got created via land dedication and not an in-lieu fee, the same concepts apply. With 331 below-market-rate units, it will offer hundreds more affordable units compared to the original 46 in the mixed-income plan. The Marvel certainly won over the community, and may mitigate displacement.

Stevenson, on the other hand, could’ve had the best of both worlds. It would’ve included 73 on-site units, AKA leasing some units quicker, and integrating segregated communities within the building. It also had to contribute a parcel for off-site development, leaving funds for future 100 percent affordable housing, rounding the project to 118 affordable total units.

No matter. The vote pushed it back at least another year. Right now, both it and the Marvel in the Mission remain under-utilized lots. 

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. The 469 Stevenson proposal provided zero units affordable to people who use section 8 vouchers or the working poor. Every new sf development should add some housing that addresses the homelessness crisis directly. I take issue Sam Moss’s statement that the city can’t afford to develop property on its own. The city has plenty of money and could easily budget 100 million a year or more to acquire and develop new properties. Moss is a developer and a self proclaimed YIMBY. He is not a reliable source for information concerning the city’s budget.

  2. The “Marvel in the Mission” was a project of the usual nonprofiteer suspects aided by successive supervisors that extorted developers to stop the project. There’s nothing wrong with screwing market racist housing developers to my mind.

    But then disgraced nonprofiteer Jon Jacobo led the deal to beggar our Western SOMA neighbors by hijacking the in-lieu fees from a market racist housing tower in what was dubbed by a real estate friendly Planning Department as “The Hub” neighborhood.

    I’d prefer to see developers screwed according to the law, in public process based on land use policies that do not shift the downsides from profitable market racist development onto existing residents rather than a privatized backroom deal by city connected nonprofits.

    The nonprofiteers from the 16th Plaza coalition pointedly excluded any North Mission neighbors from their Wednesday noontime meetings which were attended by a series of itinerant interns and staffers doing their rounds. This was an inside job to direct public resources at private nonprofit firms.

    Not a word was said by the Plaza 16 Coalition or any of the nonprofiteers when Walgreens closed 2 years ago, depriving our community of proximate health supplies, meds and the paramedical advice of the long term pharmacy staff. This was seen as necessary in accelerating the project to direct resources into the nonprofits.

    The outcomes are indeed better than Maximus. But San Franciscans deserve an honest open public process that is not ethically tainted when those who receive city funding are determining how those dollars will be spent–with them!

    What the Mission needs is a serious land use rezoning that comprehensively plans for the community’s future without servicing developers, for-profit and non-profit first and foremost, leaving Mission residents to our own devices.

  3. Well done article — it helps explain some the realities surrounding the creation of housing in San Francisco. The net takeaway is that we need to be doing “all of the above”.

  4. So, at the end, the Marvel in the Mission created 25.5% affordable housing since it had to approve 966 market rate units to get 331 that are affordable.

    In 2017, the “Monster in the Mission” was slated to be 290 units with 41 affordable and another 49 affordable offsite. This would have created 26.5% affordable homes that people would already be living in.

  5. Ronen used to broker deals between developers and ‘activists’ but now seems dead set on turning the Mission into Tenderloin ll by insisting on 100% bmr. Time for the board to start forcing 100% bmr in the Sunset, Haight, etc.