MEDA Reaches 1,000 Homes Saved in Just Three Years, Sets New 2020 Goal

by Director of Community Real Estate Karoleen Feng

A few years ago, MEDA staff consistently started hearing a dire story: Our families were experiencing no-fault evictions or being priced out of the Mission as an influx of newcomers earning six figures moved in. Sadly, the paucity of affordable-housing options — with a decade of zero such units being constructed in the Mission — translated to an eviction notice seemingly being one’s passport out of San Francisco. Fear was pervasive in our low-income and immigrant Mission community.

This fear was most readily apparent at a March 2014 housing town hall convened at Bryant Elementary, one of a quartet of schools supported by the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MEDA is the lead agency of this education initiative.) Families sat in circles and empathetically shared their housing insecurities and the accompanying stressors. The ubiquitous questions ranged from “Do I move out of San Francisco, but uproot my kids from their school, friends and only place they’ve ever known?” to “Do I work even more so we can afford to stay in the Mission, but have less time to spend with my children?” Uncertainty filled the room. There was a strong realization that while they were not alone in their individual situations, the available solutions at the time barely addressed the overall crisis in the Mission. That realization was not a surprise, as 8,000 Latinos had been displaced from the Mission in 15 years — over 25 percent of this community.

MEDA decided it was time to act
After four decades of successfully providing long-term asset-building services to low-income families, it was time to leverage the community’s trust, and the relationships built over the years, as a means to creating stable and affordable housing in the Mission.

We created MEDA’s new Community Real Estate team. Our ambitious goal in 2014? To preserve or produce 1,000 affordable homes by 2020, coupled with 100,000 square feet of affordable commercial and nonprofit space.

I am excited to announce that on May 12 both of those goals were already achieved!

This would not have been possible without my indefatigable, 12-person team, the community’s support, organizing by tenants and a bevy of funders backing our innovative community-development strategies.

The four strategies
MEDA’s success to date has occurred by employing four critical strategies:
1. Preserving and improving existing affordable housing
a. Re-integrating public housing with neighborhood resources via Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), a HUD program, where MEDA is rebuilding and will own housing with years of deferred maintenance.

b. Removing affordable housing from prospective private-market speculation through the City of San Francisco’s Small Sites Program, which gives nonprofits the funds needed to purchase four- to 25-unit apartment buildings with tenants vulnerable to eviction — tenants ranging from artists to teachers to single moms.

2. New affordable-housing construction
MEDA will oversee new construction of affordable housing for families, children, transitional-aged youth and seniors (many formerly homeless). These developments will be home to low- to moderate-income households to counter the over 1,000 units of expected market-rate housing that will continue to house high-income Mission households.

3. Outreach around tenants’ rights and assistance with affordable-housing opportunities
Used to prevent families from being evicted or assist evictees with their options.

4. Land-use policy and financing
This ensures that we prioritize the diversity of this neighborhood and that we are not faced with a similar Mission affordable-housing crisis ever again.

Portfolio to date
The quick success has led to an ever-growing portfolio of 1,013 affordable homes:

  • Preservation and improvement: RAD (five sites being managed and renovated/439 units) and Small Sites Program (12 buildings purchased and being renovated, as needed/80 units).
  • Production: New construction (four developments in the pipeline/494 units). We have three buildings for families and one for seniors. Move-in dates for these affordable-housing developments are slated for 2019 through 2021.

Cultural placekeeping and longtime homes for small businesses and nonprofits
The Mission is a neighborhood of opportunity because of our small businesses and service organizations that ensure our families thrive. To reach our secondary goal of 100,000 square feet of affordable commercial and nonprofit space, my team sought inclusion of such spaces as part of our affordable-housing work.

This translates to the following: nonprofits Jamestown Community Center and PODER relocating and knowing they will have affordable rents in our new construction at 2060 Folsom; arts space planned as part of new construction at 681 Florida and 1990 Folsom, the latter an abandoned bakery slated in June to become Galería de la Raza’s temporary creative venue, Estudio16, until a permanent venue is available in the new building; and family-serving businesses and neighborhood institutions being saved via the Small Sites Program, including Precita Eyes Muralists’ longtime space at 348 Precita and HOMEY being the new tenant at 2721 Mission.

New goal for 2020
Having already met our 2020 goal does not mean MEDA’s Community Real Estate team is resting on its laurels. Far from it.

Having found the innovative strategies that work, we are ready to scale our work to showcase all-the-greater results by 2020.

An affordable-housing model has been created — a model that is poised to be replicated in other cities with gentrification issues.

I want to take this moment to thank everyone who has been part of this quick success. I look forward to working with you all as we move forward and collaboratively continue to rebuild the Mission as a neighborhood of opportunity.

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