Three months ago, construction crews broke ground at Union Square as the start of the $1.6 billion Central Subway project, a vast undertaking that will extend Muni’s rail service from the SoMa district to Chinatown.
The controversial plan, in the works for two decades, has been praised by supporters as an essential project to improve the dismal transportation options in the Chinatown corridor, and assailed by critics as a wasteful boondoggle.
With the project scrutinized by local, state and federal officials, even the smallest details of the plan — like an effort to relocate displaced low-income residents — cannot escape criticism.
The Chinatown Community Development Center, one of the few low-income housing developers in the neighborhood, is getting an $8 million grant from The City to subsidize a $32 million development project at Sansome Street and Broadway, which will eventually house 19 families whose homes will be demolished by the Central Subway project. Critics of the Central Subway say that CCDC is getting the $8 million grant because of its high-profile advocacy for the project.
“Obviously, they stand to gain a lot from the Central Subway,” said Jerry Cauthen, a former Muni engineer and longtime critic of the train project. “Their constant presence in support of the plan tends to overshadow the fact that many people in neighborhood aren’t thrilled with the idea.”
But Malcolm Yeung, public policy manager at the CCDC, denies that the organization stands to benefit unduly from the Central Subway plan. He said the CCDC has been in support of the Central Subway project for decades — long before the relocation funding was available — and the organization sees the extension as a transit justice issue, in light of Chinatown’s notoriously crowded bus system.
He said the organization did make it a point to support the plan only if low-income residents displaced by construction were not negatively impacted.
“We think the Central Subway can be great for the neighborhood, but we want to make sure the low-income residents of Chinatown aren’t hurt in the long run by it,” Yeung said.
Under the terms of the displacement agreement, the Federal Transit Administration will pay rent for 42 months of temporary housing for the affected residents. After that, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has pledged to give $8 million to the CCDC to help build permanent affordable housing at Sansome Street and Broadway for those tenants.
SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said the decision to fund the CCDC was determined by the transit agency and the Mayor’s Office of Housing, and seen as the most equitable solution for the displaced residents, who are currently in the process of moving out of their homes.
But, of course, there are still skeptics. David Tse, a Chinatown native, said the CCDC is skewing popular perception that the Chinatown neighborhood is unanimously in support of the undertaking.
“They never talk to the real people here,” Tse said. “There are plenty of people I know from the neighborhood who think the Central Subway is a waste of money that won’t improve service.”
$1.578 billion: Cost of Central Subway Project
$8 million: Funding earmarked by SFMTA to relocate displaced residents
19: Families that must move because of the project
2019: Year service will start on Central Subway