MEDA to San Francisco Business Times: Yes, We Do “Get It.” “It” is called Fair Housing.

Some of the 24 tenants of 3229 20th St., who fought eviction, with MEDA buying their building via the Small Sites Program.
Photo by Beatriz Ordonez.

The San Francisco Business Times’ recently published story, “The Mission Economic Development Agency Still Doesn’t Get It,” questions our community-based organization’s role in the real estate dynamics of the Mission District — a role mischaracterized as lacking foresight.

Contrary to what is suggested in the piece, MEDA’s strategies are indeed thoughtful, and are meant to ensure that the Mission remains a cultural hub and generations of Latino families can continue to call San Francisco their permanent home. We seek to do this by ensuring that families are financially thriving and have affordable and stable housing, children and youth succeed in school, San Francisco Latinos are decision-makers in the institutions and political systems that affect their lives, and the Mission is a strong and supportive community for Latino residents, businesses and institutions.    

The reporter also justifies recent challenges to MEDA’s projects, erroneously equating affordable housing with market-rate developments. In this housing-starved city, we don’t build enough housing for low- to moderate-income residents; conversely, we do not have a problem providing housing for high-income earners, as evidenced by the housing glut in the Financial District. It is worth noting that the project that triggered this San Francisco Business Times story (MEDA’s request that the Planning Commission exercise “discretionary review” over a market-rate housing development at 1900 Mission St.) resulted in the Commission voting unanimously to send the project back to be redesigned, as a means to bring the building into code compliance and make it more suitable to Mission Street, the Latino community’s central family corridor. Does the San Francisco Business Times believe that all seven Planning Commission members also “still don’t get it?” And what about Mayor Lee and the Board of Supervisors, who have backed MEDA’s positions around affordable housing?

What is essential to any housing discussion
MEDA’s strategies are grounded in an urgent reality. Over the past 15 years, 8,000 Latinos have been displaced from the Mission District — that’s over 25 percent of our community. Additionally, numerous Latino-owned businesses and family-serving community groups have had to shutter their doors in the neighborhood. The City’s Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office forecast in an October 2015 report that if current trends continue the Mission would lose an additional 8,000 Latinos by 2025.

More than almost any other neighborhood in San Francisco or the Bay Area, the Mission is beyond the tipping point of being the diverse, working-class, immigrant community it has always been to becoming the most costly and segregated. A neighborhood that realtors and developers alike tout as culturally distinct by 2020 will drop to just 30 percent Latino, thereby lacking the very residents who brought that cultural life. This irony translates to a community to which nobody earning less than $75,000 a year could afford to move.

MEDA heard from our constituents about their stressors around stable housing. The community was ready to have its voice be heard, which has occurred at numerous rallies and meeting at City Hall. This grassroots advocacy has led to policy change.

In addressing the Mission’s housing needs, it is imperative to see the bigger picture as it relates to development.

  • It is essential to distinguish between affordable and market-rate housing. It’s simple economics: Who lives in housing is determined by the level of affordability of that housing. For MEDA, we seek to bring back the low-income Latino population we have lost, which can be accomplished only by having more affordable housing in the Mission’s overall development pipeline, so that our constituents can remain in the neighborhood they have created.  
  • It is essential to differentiate between the local, stabilizing effects of a new affordable-housing development, and the impact new market-rate housing development has in displacement of Latinos and working-class families. While brand-new, market-rate housing may contribute in a very small way to regional housing, these high-end complexes directly contribute to Latino displacement on a local, neighborhood-specific level.
  • It is essential to connect a building to the residents who will be occupying it. A brand-new building that is unaffordable to low-income and working-class families is less valuable to our community than an older building containing affordable units (see photo, top), or which houses a local-serving business. No building exists in a vacuum: That new, shiny building will invariably house a consumer base that will shop at high-end boutiques and cafes, continuing to fuel the displacement of family-serving businesses that cannot pay escalating commercial rents. Just take a walk along Valencia Street to see such a transformation.
  • It is essential to understand that one building can tell a much larger story. The article focuses on MEDA’s concern with one market-rate building; however, it neither addresses the cumulative impact of the far-too-many similar projects that have been approved in the Mission District in the last 15 years, nor the many more to come. The fact is that there are more than 40 market-rate buildings in the Mission pipeline, with nearly one dozen market-rate projects proposed for Mission Street alone. These 40 new buildings — geared to residents who can afford a rent of $4,000+ or a purchase price of over $1 million for a one-bedroom —  threaten the commercial viability of the surrounding businesses, enticing long-term property owners to sell their apartment buildings to speculators looking for what realtors like to call the “huge upside potential.” Block by block, the impact of these developments will accelerate the wiping out of what remains of the Mission’s low-income community, save the few family-oriented businesses or working-class families who happen to own or who live in permanently affordable housing.

Our Mission community demands fairness and equity
As an affordable-housing developer, anchor institution, service provider, intermediary and small-business lender, MEDA is cognizant of the pivotal role we play in this community at this critical time, as we diligently address the housing needs of the Mission. It should be noted that MEDA is only one of the entities engaged in this advocacy. There are countless individuals and community-based organizations that stand against displacement, are working to support our Latinos families, seek to create more affordable housing and understand the displacement impacts of market-rate housing on low-income residents.

MEDA’s approach to this work is focused, strategic and intended to support our Latino families. A case in point is the neighborhood’s longtime effort that led to a community benefit of land for 681 Florida St. (formerly 2070 Bryant St.) affordable housing next to 2000 Bryant St.’s market-rate housing. MEDA and Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Center will co-develop 681 Florida St., 130 homes for families that would not be in the pipeline if it weren’t for our community’s standing up for what is fair, demanding a balanced approach to development in the Mission.

We have a difficult road ahead of us: There is limited land, a paucity of financial resources and, especially now, a challenging political environment. Despite the obstacles, we remain true to our core values, addressing the displacement impact of market-rate developments of all sizes — an inherently important part of our responsibility to ensure that we stem the wave of displacement of our families.  

So to the San Francisco Business Times, MEDA says, “ Yes, we do get it.” 

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