A clear housing choice in the Mission

Why bring another Walgreen's in?
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OPINION On April 19 the San Francisco Planning Department approved a market-rate condo development with a 24-hour Walgreens store at the northwest corner of César Chávez and Mission. The project features 60 expensive ownership units and 67 residential parking spaces. To support the Walgreens, the developer is also including 24 customer parking spaces, 12 spaces for employees, and one car-share space.

The development as proposed is not in compliance with the city's General Plan, the recent Eastern Neighborhoods planning requirements, or the January Board of Supervisors resolution calling for 64 percent of all new housing to be available at below-market rates — and there's an alternative that offers true low-income family housing and community space. If the supervisors are serious about preserving affordable housing, they'll reject this ill-conceived plan.

The developer, Seven Hills Properties, told the Planning Commission that families would be able to afford these simple, unadorned condos through the first-time home buyers services offered by the Down Payment Assistance Loan Program in the Mayor's Office of Housing. The truth is that the developer is offering only nine below-market units affordable to working- and middle-class families. All of the other units will be priced at close to $550,000 for a studio and as much as $700,000 for a three-bedroom unit.

Think about those prices. A person or family making as much as $63,850 a year could qualify for the down-payment assistance. Such a person or family would have to come up with a $27,500 share of the down payment and would be paying about $3,000 a month for a mortgage — 55 percent of their income.

It doesn't have to be this way. Back in December 2006, Seven Hills told the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition that it would be interested in selling the development rights at the site to MAC if MAC could come up with a development proposal. MAC then worked with us at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, and together we created a viable offer — which Seven Hills dismissed as unrealistic.

Our proposal was to develop between 60 and 70 units of affordable housing, with community-service space below. Across the street, in 2001, the BHNC opened its Bernal Gateway development, 55 affordable family units with on-site community services that subsequently won two highly coveted national awards, with a financing strategy similar to the one we suggested for the Seven Hills property.

MAC has appealed to the Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to hear its appeal July 17. This is a neighborhood issue that has citywide implications.

The arguments couldn't be more clear or compelling: The project doesn't comply with the Planning Department's own guidelines. It brings pricey housing and a chain store to a neighborhood that needs neither. And there's a credible alternative that ought to be given a chance. *

Joseph Smooke

Joseph Smooke is the executive director of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. If you are interested in this issue, please contact Jane Martin, BHNC community organizer, at jmartin@bhnc.org.

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