Keeping the Mission District's Neighborhood Economy in the Face of Displacement

Gentrification and displacement are generally associated with the residents who are compelled to leave a neighborhood. Such is the case of the Mission District of San Francisco, which for decades has been a hub for Latino as an initial place to lay down roots in the United States; however, the Mission is also a place where these immigrants start small businesses as a way to access economic opportunity. To truly turn the tide on the displacement of low-income Latinos from what had once been a welcoming neighborhood to immigrants, MEDA has been focusing on how we integrate our community real estate solutions into the work we have been doing since the late 1970s in  keeping cultural and economic assets in the place these newcomers call home.

Since the year 2000, there have been 8.000 Latinos forced from their homes in the Mission District — that’s over 25 percent of the community. In 2014, MEDA began preserving and producing affordable housing to address the crisis. We set ourselves the ambitious 2020 goal of 2,000 homes in and around the Mission via new construction (four sites), rehabilitating RAD public housing (five sites) and purchasing Small Sites Program properties with tenants vulnerable to eviction (15 buildings; 93 households). In just our first three years, we are at 1000+ homes.

Framing the problem: Commercial-tenant displacement
In the last three years, while MEDA kept the focus on the loss of families, we have known that displacement of residents translates to commercial tenants — from small business to nonprofits to cultural institutions — also being forced from the community. Part of MEDA’s proactive response is shifting the conversation to include the impact of displacing commercial tenants, and to encourage commercial tenants to run their businesses beyond survival mode. We have lost over 30 percent of the Mission small businesses specifically targeting local families’ needs. These include grocery stores, auto body shops, hair salons, and Central and South American restaurants. These small ventures are a vital part of the ecosystem that make the Mission a neighborhood of opportunity for all, meaning consumers and employees are not turned away because of their skin color or the language they speak.  

There are two main reasons.

First, the decline in a customer base, as those 8,000 Latinos were displaced, has meant many of these family-serving businesses had to shutter their doors. Second, there is no commercial rent control in San Francisco, so once a lease expires the landlord can raise the monthly rent to market rate. As six-figure tech earners have overwhelmingly chosen the Mission as their neighborhood of choice, commercial-property owners now look to maximize profits in a hyper-capitalist trend that ends up with longtime businesses displaced. The same factors lead to displacement of nonprofits, which provide vital services to strengthen families.

As we respond to commercial displacement, it is imperative to stop displacement of arts and cultural institutions, important to the fabric of the Mission. A loss of creativity translates to a loss of San Francisco’s longtime identity.  Our cultural and creative placekeeping approach leverages our community real estate efforts, which includes the development and preservation of affordable residential and commercial spaces, to enhance and strengthen an existing, robust arts and culture infrastructure in the Mission. The goal? To prevent the loss of culture we see daily, and to keep communities creative by stemming displacement and no-fault evictions.

We want to keep the Mission a strong and supportive community for Latino residents, businesses, and institutions.

Strategies to stop commercial-tenant displacement
The main strategies that need immediate implementation to keep the Mission a welcoming place for commercial tenants are:

  • Corridor-Focused Strategies. Mission Street is the commercial lifeline for the Mission District, stretching from 13th Street to 26th Street/Cesar Chavez. We are targeting corners and legacy businesses to anchor the street and keep the corridor family-oriented.  MEDA’s Business Development team has done mapping of vulnerable commercial spaces, along with the plotting of the many proposed high-end shops and restaurants; this mapping will create the means for analysis to identify the needs of specific small businesses. With metrics now in place to track trends, a quick pivot can be made to meet changes in demand. Business Development staff supports neighborhood small ventures through intensive technical assistance, free workshops and coaching, focusing on maintaining the Mission Street commercial corridor as a supportive place for family-serving businesses to create generational assets, especially for newcomers. MEDA also offers solutions to keep nonprofits and cultural institutions in permanent, affordable spaces in the Mission by planning for their real estate sustainability alongside their organizational sustainability.
    We are acquiring the critical corner buildings along Mission Street, including our own  neighborhood center, Plaza Adelante, at 19th and Mission, which features a microbusiness incubator and rents commercial space to nonprofits. By early 2018, we expect to have three to five major corner buildings along Mission Street, and the alleys abutting Mission Street, in our portfolio or in contract.
  • Produce and preserve 200,000 square feet of community-based arts and cultural, services and small business space by 2020.  This real estate strategy translates to small businesses, nonprofits and arts organizations being able to remain, and thrive, in the Mission.  
    To date, we have been intentional about dedicating 30,000 square feet of child development centers, arts spaces and small retail spaces in MEDA’s four new, nine-story, 100+-apartments affordable-housing buildings. We have also preserved 20,000 square feet for existing nonprofits (Precita Eyes Muralists, Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth) and small mom-and-pop businesses in our small buildings throughout the Mission. 
  • Community Capital. Through its CDFI lending arm, Adelante Fund, MEDA offers capital to invest in small businesses and real estate in the Mission. This fosters community ownership, creates jobs and stabilizes small businesses.  
    Since launched in October 2015, Adelante Fund has already disbursed 52 loans for $1.6 million, with over 80 percent of these loans going to immigrant-owned businesses. These loans, geared toward entrepreneurs who cannot access capital at traditional lenders, range from $5,000 to $100,000, at low interest rates of 7 to 9 percent 
  • Planning and Policy Development. MEDA takes an active role in neighborhood planning efforts and advocates for policies that support not just Latino residents, but also commercial tenants. Such policy work includes closing loopholes that allow nonprofit and arts spaces to be converted to tech offices or limiting new restaurants on Mission Street to stop the encroachment of high-end eateries. Engaging with community groups, City departments and developers, MEDA continues to ensure that commercial spaces in Mission projects are equitable — that they maximize their benefits to the community, while minimizing their potential gentrification and displacement impacts.
    MEDA initiated a city-community collaboration since 2015 to ensure a community-responsive neighborhood plan, Mission Action Plan 2020, going beyond housing access and production to job pathways and business retention. MEDA is working with the City to designate a Special-Use District (SUD) along the Mission Street commercial corridor.

The goal is keeping the Mission a neighborhood of opportunity for low-income households of color.

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