SF Succeeds in Battling Gentrification

by on November 15, 2016

TNDC's long awaited Eddy/Taylor project breaks ground in 2017

Contrary to popular belief, San Francisco is making real progress in preserving economic diversity and resisting gentrification.  New developments in the Mission, Tenderloin, and HOPE SF’s public housing rebuild are all part of this success. Overall, the combination of nonprofit housing acquisition, increased housing supply and city-funded tenant legal protections has slowed a gentrification process that many still wrongly believe is “inevitable.”

New Tenderloin Projects

I’ll start with the Tenderloin, the neighborhood I know best. The Tenderloin’s gentrification was supposed to be “imminent” as far back as the early 1980’s.  It didn’t happen.  The Tenderloin avoided gentrification during the mid-1990’s dot-com boom, the subsequent housing bubble, and through the recent tech boom. Yet some continue to insist the neighborhood’s gentrification is just around the corner.

Opponents of the 2011 Mid-Market/Tenderloin tax break for new hires insisted that this would absolutely turn the Tenderloin into an upscale enclave. Instead, according to Rent Board stats, five years later displacement through “no fault” evictions in the Tenderloin has been nonexistent. No Tenderloin building has seen the mass displacement of low-income tenants and their replacement by “the gentry.”

As I describe in The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco, the Tenderloin avoided the inevitable fate of gentrification through a combination of regulation and nonprofit acquisition. This process continued in 2016.

In the last six months, nonprofits have acquired two corner sites previously entitled as market rate housing (101 Hyde and 180 Jones are in city hands awaiting nonprofit RFPs). An SRO half block from the Hilton on an allegedly “gentrifying” block (the Winton, 445 O’Farrell) opens this week as housing for homeless veterans and others.

TNDC recently acquired 500 Turk (at Larkin), the current Kahn & Keville garage. It will be a major new affordable housing development right on the Tenderloin’s border.

TNDC finally breaks ground on its Eddy/Taylor family housing project next summer. It’s been entitled since 2009.

With almost every buildable site now taken, those anxious over Tenderloin gentrification really need to focus on the neighborhood’s real problems.

The Tenderloin’s biggest challenge for decades has not been a risk of gentrification; to the contrary, the Tenderloin is a working-class neighborhood long suffering from a lack of investment, not an excess. In the past two years, the Tenderloin Museum, PianoFight, CounterPulse arts space, 826 Valencia Tenderloin Center, the Black Cat, Onsen Spa and Japanese restaurant and The Saratoga all opened. The stubborn reluctance to open businesses in the Tenderloin is gone, and the neighborhoods  low-income residents are on the verge of getting the safe and healthy neighborhood they have long deserved.

The Mission

With books, movies, and a deluge of media covering the Mission’s gentrification, it’s recent success creating new housing opportunities for the poor and working-class is overlooked. As with the Tenderloin and other communities facing gentrification across the nation, the Mission’s recent experience shows the power of activism to slow if not halt the upscale transformation of economically diverse neighborhoods.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing recently awarded a key site at 16th and South Van Ness to a nonprofit team of Mission Housing Development Corp. and Bridge Housing. This site was entitled by a for-profit developer who would have built market-rate condos. The city paid $18.8 million for the entitled site, which will now become affordable rental housing.

I don’t know if its a San Francisco first, but it’s the first time in my memory that an entitled condo project became nonprofit affordable housing. The $18.8 million acquisition cost is on top of the $50 million that Mayor Lee committed to spend in the Mission out of the November 2015 $310 million affordable housing bond.

490 South Van Ness is joined by other nonprofit housing slated for 16th and Folsom and 16th and Mission (1950 Mission, now a Navigation Center). In addition, the city has now added the Crown Hotel at 16th and Valencia to its master leasing program; the city has long funded hotels for the formerly homeless at 16th and Folsom, 16th and South Van Ness, and 15th and Valencia.

Collectively, San Francisco is ensuring the future economic diversity in the prized 16th Street corridor near BART.

The project once described as the “Beast on Bryant” ended up winning unanimous Supervisor approval after the developer dedicated a portion of the site for 136 units of nonprofit affordable housing. Housing whose construction the mayor’s office pledged to fund. New nonprofit developments are also moving forward at 17th and Folsom and 1296 Shotwell.

Mission activists have pretty much made 25% inclusionary the law of the neighborhood. That’s what Lennar has agreed to provide at 1515 South Van Ness, which is before the supervisors today.

Overall, we are talking about 750-800 new nonprofit apartment housing units coming to the Mission. That’s a dramatic contrast to the lack of affordable housing built in the Mission from 2000-2015. The revival of Mission Housing under Director Sam Moss has played a key role in getting more affordable housing built.

And there’s more. Mayor Lee’s Small Sites Acquisition Program has primarily benefited the Mission, stopping the displacement of dozens of longterm tenants. The program is permanently preserving buildings as rental housing that would otherwise have become ownership. Voter approval of Prop C last week will provide additional funding for this vital anti-gentrification strategy.

Like the rest of San Francisco, the Mission’s single family home prices and rents on vacant apartments remain unregulated. That ensures that new Mission residents will continue to be more affluent than their predecessors. But in terms of what actually can legally be done to slow gentrification, Mission activists have made enormous progress in recent years.

Thanks to support from Mayor Lee, David Campos can leave office next month knowing that the engine of nonprofit housing development returned to the Mission on his watch.


San Francisco has gotten national attention for its out-migration of African-American residents, but little spotlight has been placed on the city’s rebuilding its largest supply of African-American family housing: public housing via HOPE SF. No city has devoted the resources San Francisco has done to secure the longterm future of this vital affordable housing supply.

We’re talking about over 2400 newly built public housing units and 3,380 newly renovated homes through the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program.  Quite remarkable and a legacy for Mayor Lee, who grew up in public housing.

Mayor Lee’s HOPE SF program likely gets less attention for two reasons. First, by protecting African-Americans from displacement it conflicts with the city’s urban renewal narrative. Second, projects like Sunnydale, Hunters View and Alice Griffith are outside the “ring” neighborhoods where the city’s gentrification is most visible.

Preserving the city’s largest supply of affordable family housing is a huge step toward ensuring San Francisco’s future economic diversity. And with the incoming Trump Administration unlikely to increase federal affordable housing funds, Mayor Lee secured the necessary resources just in time.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.


Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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