San Francisco Chronicle, July 14, 2021
By J.K. Dineen
The city’s contentious push to build affordable housing on San Francisco’s west side got a significant boost Wednesday when a Board of Supervisors committee approved the acquisition of a Sunset District parcel slated for 98 low-income family apartments.
Despite concerns from immediate neighbors about potential toxic substances in the soil, the lack of parking spots and the proposed seven-story building’s sun-blotting impact on the neighboring homes, the three-member committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full board approve a $14.3 million loan to buy 2550 Irving St., currently a San Francisco Police Credit Union branch. The parcel itself will cost $9 million, with the rest of the money going toward pre-development costs.
Supervisor Gordon Mar, who represents the Sunset, initially sought to delay the vote to give the state Department of Toxic Substances Control time to finalize a plan to clean up soil contaminated during the parcel’s previous incarnation as a dry cleaner. But he withdrew the motion to delay the vote after it became clear that the other two committee members, supervisors Matt Haney and Ahsha Safaí, would not support it.
Public comment took more than three hours as more than 100 residents — overwhelmingly supporters of the development — dissected the benefits and potential pitfalls of injecting nearly 100 low-income units in a predominantly single-family neighborhood that has added just 18 affordable units over the past decade.
Backing the project was a well-organized coalition made up of two groups that often don’t see eye-to-eye: the Yes In My Back Yard pro-density groups, or YIMBYs, and the affordable housing advocacy group, the Council of Community Housing Organizations. The Westside Community Coalition, a network of organizations in the Sunset and Richmond districts, had more than two dozen members advocating for the housing.
“As an immediate neighbor to this proposed development, I find it hard to believe that any of my neighbors would be opposed to providing such an important resource to families in need of affordable housing,” said Sunset resident Aloe Lai, a member of the coalition. “At the heart of this is our vision of a community that welcomes neighbors of all backgrounds.”
Mar said the project is about preserving the Sunset’s role as a “beacon” for working-class families who are needed to make the city function — teachers and nursing assistants, janitors and construction workers. While middle- and lower-class families could have bought or rented in the neighborhood 20 or 30 years ago, those days are gone, with homes today averaging $1.8 million, he said.
He acknowledged that the project had “deeply divided the neighborhood” and that neighbors had understandable reservations about the project’s “height, scale and who it will serve.”
Haney called the project “a powerful, overdue opportunity that we should be celebrating.” He pointed out that his district, which includes the Tenderloin and South of Market, has produced 4,000 affordable units during the stretch of time the Sunset saw 18.
“It’s completely unsustainable for us to only build affordable housing in one corner of the city,” he said.
The $14.2 million will be funded with money from the Proposition A affordable housing bond, which passed with 71% of the vote. Of that money, $30 million was specifically set aside for buying sites in parts of the city that have not traditionally built low-income housing.
Some opponents objected to the project’s 11 parking spots and said the project’s residents would further crowd an already packed N-Judah streetcar line. Outer Sunset resident Steve Ward of the Playa Park Coalition said he was worried the project would be the first of many mid-rises that would destroy his enclave’s current low-slung beach-town vibe.
“We’ll see the wrecking ball coming toward our neighborhood next,” he said.
But far more of the 100 residents who spoke at the meeting said the project was much needed.
“Having grown up here, it means a lot to us to be raising our daughters in the city,” said Alex Campbell, an attorney. “I want to see my daughters to not only grow up here but perhaps have the opportunity to live here and have their own families here.”