On Guard: Why the neighborhood is right to fear the 'Monster' in the Mission 

News flash: San Francisco rents are expensive.

If you're surprised by that, you must be living under a very affordable rock (need a roommate?). But what is surprising some San Franciscans is the perceived opposition to solving our housing crisis.

The fiscal conservative democrats in The City believe building more housing, more housing, and did we mention more housing, will ultimately bring down the cost of rent in San Francisco.

"Market-produced housing is essential to getting the job done," Supervisor Scott Wiener wrote in a recent Medium blog post, echoing the sentiment of many.

Similar supply-side true believers are bewildered by housing-construction opposition, like the anti-development Plaza 16 Coalition. Plaza 16 has long raged against a proposed apartment complex in their neighborhood.

"NO MONSTER IN THE MISSION!" some 300 protesters shouted at a town hall meeting Thursday. So many angry Mission citizens showed up, some were left staring in from outside, their faces pressed to the glass.

The town hall was about the so-called "Monster in the Mission," as some locals have nicknamed it, a 330-unit apartment complex proposed by developer Maximus Real Estate Partners that would sit on the current site of the plaza above 16th Street BART station. If built, the nearby Burger King would not be long for this world.

But community members had bigger burgers to fry on Thursday. The Mission protesters want Maximus to construct 100 percent affordable housing on the site. Period. End of discussion.

It's no understatement to say Maximus' newest try at satisfying the community's demands — 41 "middle-class" units for sale, priced between $280,000 and $350,000, available only to households making $61,000 to $145,000, as well as 49 low-income rental units off-site — isn't enough.

It never will be.

"Your propaganda won't fool us!" seas of protesters shouted to the Maximus developers as they tried to present a slideshow on their affordable-housing pitch.

Even now I can sense the supply-side believers shaking their heads in disbelief.

"Stopping development isn't the solution," these sooth-sayers wrote in countless online posts.

The problem is that building is a long-term solution, even if you believe it'll work. In the short term, construction sometimes causes nearby rents to soar, spurs gentrification (hello, Tacolicious!), and people lose their homes.

Peter Cohen is the co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, an affordable-housing group in The City. It has no formal position on the Maximus project, but Cohen has plenty to say about the housing market as a whole.

"The market prices in the housing in the area will fluctuate" with new development, he told me. "There'll be a tendency [for other units for rent] to want to come up and meet that new price."

That said, Cohen explained, it's still "a crapshoot" what'll actually happen. Sometimes prices go up nearby, sometimes prices stay flat. But any family renting a $2,500-a-month apartment near 16th Street has reason to fear the Maximus development will spike their rent even higher.

And the Mission is host to 38 proposed housing developments, while owners of single-family homes kick back in the westside of The City, largely unaffected.

"The amount of market-rate housing built in the Mission specifically is out of control," Maria Zamudio, a Plaza 16 organizer, told me. And Plaza 16 may yet stop the project, which may go before the Planning Commission and even the Board of Supervisors for approval.

If supply-side true-believers want buy-in from the community, they'll need to craft solutions to help protect tenants in the short term from the unintended consequences of new construction they say will help in the long term.

Otherwise, the sales pitch for building more housing sounds like this: "We have a solution to the rental crisis! All you have to do is lose all the culture of your neighborhood, watch you and your family get evicted, and let us make a profit. Then, 20 years down the road, the Mission might, maybe become affordable!"

Remind me again why these protesters don't like the Maximus deal?

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Born and raised in San Francisco, Fitzgerald Rodriguez was a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and now writes the S.F. Examiner's political column On Guard. He is also a transportation beat reporter covering pedestrians, Muni, BART, bikes, and anything with wheels.
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