Livable City Honors MEDA with "Livability Award" for Small Sites Program Work

Last night in front of an audience of 300 at the Mission’s Gray Area Theater, MEDA was honored by Livable City with a “Livability Award” for its affordable-housing work. Livability Award nominees work at the intersection of land-use, environment, public health and social equity in the Bay Area. 

Following is Director of Community Real Estate Karoleen Feng’s speech.

On behalf of the Mission Economic Development Agency, I am humbled to accept this Livability Award. It is quite an honor for MEDA to be recognized for our relatively new work around affordable housing. I think that we are most proud that we have changed the narrative in San Francisco’s Mission District in just four years. Many have written off our neighborhood, which has experienced unprecedented displacement due to an influx of six-figure earners. UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project classifies our neighborhood as “being in a state of advanced gentrification.”

Now residents know there are possibilities. Solutions. Options.

I remember four years ago when taking on affordable housing seemed like a somewhat daunting process for our nonprofit. After all, this was brand-new work for MEDA. Sadly, it had been a decade since any affordable housing has been built in the Mission — yet luxury housing has springing up block after block in our neighborhood. And as client after client told us of their housing insecurities and stories of impending eviction, MEDA knew we had to pivot. We had to build or keep 2000 homes by 2020. Last summer we reached over 1,000.

Today is an exciting day for MEDA. This morning, we celebrated the groundbreaking of Casa Adelante – 1296 Shotwell, the first of five “Casas” that will bring over 500 new affordable homes to the Mission. This just counters the luxury housing that’s been built.

To root our families in place, we helped launch the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development’s Small Sites Program in 2014 to finance the purchase of private market-rate housing and keep these properties affordable. Nonprofits, such as MEDA, target four- to 25-unit buildings with tenants vulnerable to no-fault eviction by speculators. We buy the buildings, keep residents in place and maintain their current rents.

Small Sites families now can call the Mission home for generations to come. These are day laborers. Single moms. Teachers. Artists. Our neighbors.

Once we become the owners, our job has actually only just begun. MEDA then rehabs the buildings as needed — even taking on soft-story retrofits — with additional Small Sites Program monies. It’s all about achieving our result of families having affordable and stable housing.

The result being achieved is best told by the numbers to date:

  • In just two years, MEDA owns 21 Small Sites Program buildings.
  • That equals 134 homes 17 commercial spaces for community-based organizations and small businesses to stay rooted in the Mission.

Such work takes partners. MEDA was excited to hear that The San Francisco Foundation is receiving the award with us this evening. This bold foundation has offered MEDA much-needed early acquisition funding to make these complex deals possible until the City’s Small Sites Program monies kick in. The San Francisco Foundation believes in our work, and we can’t imagine a better partnership.

Their Program Related Investment gave us early monies to purchase 13 of our 21 buildings. With the $875,000, we revolved it five times in the last year and half to over $5 million.

Let me sum up by giving a shout out to Johnny Oliver. His heart and dedication in heading up MEDA’s Small Sites team has kept our families in these 21 buildings. He knows the stories of each family and has the hard job of convincing our lenders that this is the right building to buy.

I also want to thank everyone in the Mission community who has believed in our work, whether you are a stakeholder, fellow community-based organization or resident. Your support is what has successfully moved our work forward. Tonight, we all share in this honor.

Now that you’ve learned about the power of this program, I urge you to reach out to advocate and vote for financing for affordable housing for our families. Using the Small Sites Program, MEDA could buy at least one building a month, and we can scale this program across San Francisco.

Remember: we’ve only just begun.



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