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San Francisco Activists Demanded 100 Percent Affordable Housing From a Developer. Now They're Getting None.

Saddled with unaffordable requirements, Axis kills plans for a 117-unit apartment building.

Mrtwister/Dreamstime.comMrtwister/Dreamstime.comEven when housing developments win in San Francisco, they lose. Just look at a long-planned apartment building in the city's Mission District, which is now being scuttled a few months after the developer won permission to finally start construction.

For the last three years, the company Axis has been trying to get permission to put up a 117-unit apartment complex off Folsom Street. Any new building in notoriously anti-development San Francisco is bound to attract controversy, and the Folsom project was no exception.

When Axis first unveiled its designs at a 2015 public meeting, attendees went ballistic, unimpressed by the developer's offer to rent out 17 of the units at below-market rates. According to Curbed, activists with the city-recognized Calle 24 Latino Cultural District waved signs saying, "No more expensive Market Rate Housing! 100% Affordable Housing now!" Others shouted chants of "give Axis the axe" or banged on drums.

The objection from these activists—the same one raised against any market-rate development in the city—is that newer, more expensive housing stock would drive out the neighborhood's lower-income, predominantly Hispanic population. "Axis development's cultural impacts will negatively affect the character of adjacent Calle 24," project opponents wrote in a 2017 open letter, warning that the market-rate apartment building would attract a flood of wealthy white people who would form a new "gentry class" that would force out lower-income residents.

This anti-development coalition, which included the San Francisco Tenants Union and an affordable housing group known as the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) as well as Calle 24, demanded that the city conduct a more thorough environmental review of the Axis project, taking into account its cultural impact. As illustrated by the struggles of Robert Tillman, who has been trying to turn a nearby laundromat he owns into an apartment building for nearly five years over the objections of the same activists, these demands can gum up a project for years.

Eventually tiring of fighting activist demands and endless environmental appeals, Axis agreed in May 2018 to increase the number of below-market units from 17 to 31 (23 of them in the new apartment building on Folsom, the other eight elsewhere in the city), rent 5,200 square feet of what would have been commercial retail space to a community nonprofit for a $1 a year for 55 years (which represents a huge amount of forgone revenue), and use all union labor for construction. These concessions brought activists and local politicians around, and Axis got permission to build shortly afterward. But the conditions made the project uneconomical, and Axis found it was cheaper to just sell the land.

What will now happen with the site is up in the air. Mission Local reports that affordable housing developer Mission Housing is eyeing the land for a 100 percent below-market development. MEDA might also want to snatch up the Folsom site after having done its best to sabotage Axis' plans for it.

Either group would need some mix of city funding, publicly subsidized bonds, and tax credits to finance such a project, which could take a long time to pull together. Other market-rate developers might be interested in the site, but given local hostility they are apt to be wary.

The end result of this years-long process is that nothing gets built and no one gets what he wants. Axis will have to take a haircut on its investment. Local residents will get none of the affordable housing or community space promised them. Potential Folsom tenants will go back to competing over existing housing units, further driving up prices in one of America's most expensive cities.

I can't help but think that everyone in this story would be better off if we just let property owners build what they want on their own damned land.

Photo Credit: Mrtwister/Dreamstime.com

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  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The goal is not affordable housing, the goal is to chase out Capitalism. They are winning.

  • IceTrey||

    Then why is it one of the most expensive cities? They are losing, that's why they are losing their minds too.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    See my comments below. They make their living on chasing out the developers by snapping up the land themselves, then they can build 'below market' rate housing with subsidies from the city. This is a land-grabbing venture that's essentially bolstered by city rules using a fig-leaf of social justice. It's fucking creepy, but until media starts reporting it as it is, it will continue unabated.

  • gaoxiaen||

    "Let property owners build what they want on their own damned land." That's just crazy talk!

  • IceTrey||

    I don't think they even let them build that!

  • esteve7||

    This is like going back in time for the rise and fall of Detroit.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I don't know if you can compare cities like San Francisco to Detroit.

    Detroit was always a working city. People lived there because of work. Once the work dried up, people looked around at the 3' of grey snow and asked themselves, why am I still living here?

    Cities like San Francisco have some geographical advantages that Detroit doesn't. It attracts super-rich people who don't care about an extra $60,000 on a house to comply with the local regulations. So essentially, you can run the middle and even upper middle class out of town, and you're left with Barbra Streisand and a bunch of crazy homeless people crapping on the street. You know, San Francisco.

  • ||

    ^ This.

    SF doesn't have anything in particular other than being what it is geographically.

    It's the "Wall Street of the West," but other than that it relies to a great extent on tourism for its economy. Manufacturing in the Bay Area happens in the East Bay, where the Port of Oakland is. The tech stuff is centered around San Jose/Santa Clara in the South Bay. The wine is north, south, and inland, but not around the Bay. Ag products and Central Valley oil leave the country from Oakland, not SF.

    SF is geographically at the center of all of this, but participates economically in very little of it. It's just a nice place to live if you're rich.

  • CE||

    A lot of tech people live in SF now, and work in Silicon Valley. Either the dreaded Google type buses or telecommuting or taking the train. Companies are offering commuter credits and satellite offices to compete for them.

  • ||

    A lot of tech people live in SF now, and work in Silicon Valley.

    Exactly.

    There are still a lot of corporate HQs in SF, but that's back down to the people who get to choose where they want to be versus the people who don't.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I would love to live in San Franciso (or Seattle) with sweeping majestic views of the bay and watch the sun set over the pacific while I sit on my expansive Spanish-Modern deck and drink Mai Tais with a Ferrari and gull wing Mercedes in the garage. I would have my groceries delivered and a chauffeured limo to the Airport whenever I traveled. WTF do I care if a bunch of junkies are having a donnybrook downtown?

  • ||

    ^ This guy gets it.

  • IceTrey||

    But wouldn't it be even better if downtown was a cool place to go?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Downtown is always where the riff Raff is. Even if they're not shitting.

  • Eric T||

    I actually own such a home in San Francisco, complete with the sweeping view. Not only that, I own a two-bedroom apartment on the lower level of my house but which I refuse to rent-out even though it would easily fetch $3500 a month. Why? Because you would have to be a masochist to be a landlord in this city. It would immediately devalue my home were I to resell it and bad tenants are practically impossible to get rid of in San Francisco. It's just not worth it.

  • Consigliere of the Dark Ones||

    SF also has going for it that it's SF and living there signals certain things like wealthy and the right type of politics.

  • CE||

    It's almost as if they don't understand basic economics at all.

  • ||

    Economics is the science of oppression.

  • ScottM||

    It's tragic that there are ignorant people who truly believe that.

  • Dizzle||

    It's ironic to see these articles juxtaposed against the more open border immigration ones. Because largely the people crossing our southern border illegally share these same views and would exacerbate these problems, especially in the southwest u.s. I dont understand why that concept and its impact is lost in so many of these discussions.

  • Tamfang||

    What, Central American culture is hostile to the construction of market-rate housing? I did not know that.

  • vek||

    According to their voting records and how they answer survey questions it is!

  • macsnafu||

    Illegals also vote illegally, too? Somebody should tell the voting board, methinks!

  • Calidissident||

    Strictly limiting the supply of housing is a genius strategy for making sure housing is affordable.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I suppose that you have a bridge in SF that you want to sell.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    ent 5,200 square feet of what would have been commercial retail space to a community nonprofit for a $1 a year for 55 years (which represents a huge amount of forgone revenue), and use all union labor for construction.

    Jesus H. Christ!

  • IceTrey||

    I love it. Eating their own.

  • Longtobefree||

    So once again the racists trample the poor and deny them housing, and claim it is for their own good.
    Keep an eye on who winds up making money off that piece of land.

  • AustinRoth||

    This is what you get with socialism. I am truly enjoying watching California slowly morph into Venezuela, and San Francisco not so slowly.

  • IceTrey||

    SF is one of the richest cities on the planet.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It's also one of the most corrupt.

  • IceTrey||

    Imagine if it was capitalist.

  • esteve7||

    Yes it is also the highest grap between the rich and poor, like in all blue areas, they crush out those in the middle (or chase them away), so it's only the very wealthy or very poor in an area.

  • AustinRoth||

    The rich (ruling class) in Venezuela are filthy rich, too, skimming billions a year and sending it offshore. The proles starve. That is what I meant.

    If you don't make at least $250k, minimum, you cannot afford to live in SF.

  • IceTrey||

    Sure you can. You even get to take a shit anywhere you want!

  • Earth Skeptic||

    So was Caracas.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    What will now happen with the site is up in the air. Mission Local reports that affordable housing developer Mission Housing is eyeing the land for a 100 percent below-market development. MEDA might also want to snatch up the Folsom site after having done its best to sabotage Axis' plans for it.

    This is it, they didn't want concessions, they wanted the project closed so they could take the land for themselves and get 100% of what they want instead of 20%.

    Sam Moss, the executive director of Mission Housing, said the affordable developer is "definitely interested in purchasing it."

    "We're definitely talking to brokers and looking for partners," he said. But "it's very early."

    Bids on the property at 23rd and Folsom are due by October 29, Moss said, and he expects competition from other affordable developers and market-rate developers alike. But, Moss said, "As long as 100-percent affordable, I'll be happy."

    "I believe Mission Housing is the best developer for this project," he continued. "But if another developer can build 100-percent affordable and keep community benefits, that's what's best for the community — and that's what's important."

    This isn't activism, it's corruption.

  • jdd6y||

    If so then I hope the original developer rents an apartment nearby and brings a CEQA shakedown case against them. These organization need to have the wheel spun on them.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The developer is in the office trying to get the next development deal done, preferably in Oakland. They don't have time to wave signs and scream at city council meetings.

  • ScottM||

    But what they are so utterly clueless about is that there is no such thing as "affordable" with what they want. There are tremendous costs to build a project like that. They simply want to steal from others to prop up their plans to subsidize the poverty they've created with their policies.

  • Real American||

    the market-rate apartment building would attract a flood of wealthy white people who would form a new "gentry class" that would force out lower-income residents.

    There goes the neighborhood!

  • esteve7||

    The same lefty who will be aghast in anger if you say that unrestricted immigration can introduce problems, will then rally against 'gentrification'.

  • esteve7||

    You have no right to demand any private company provide you 'affordable housing'.

    You also have no right to live anywhere you want at some magical price you think is right. If you can't afford to live in San Fraicosco, fucking move.

    I commute 50 miles to Oakland everyday because of that, so grow up you lunatics.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    "But I voted for free stuff!"

  • JordanN||

    Unfortunately, that's where you're wrong. The lunatics do get housing wherever they want at magical prices. It's not "fair", but I'd rather be someone who works for things rather than a serf.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Am I the only one who's noticed that Michael Hihn's comments seem to have disappeared?

  • Happy Chandler||

    I'm wondering how BUCS move went.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Finally pursuing his dream of becoming a Namibian hunter-gatherer, huh?

  • Happy Chandler||

    Coloradan. So, most likely he's hunting and gathering twinkies.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Important practice for addressing logistical concerns in case of inclement VDV.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I made it. Drove 20 hours straight. Made it in. Car broke down first day here. But otherwise got everything set up. Listening to music and putting the house together now.

  • ||

    Congratulations! Welcome to Boulder! Hope your car's okay : /

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Listening to music and staying up at all hours of the night is exactly how my great-grandson got VDV.

  • Rich||

    I'm sure Michael Hihn has noticed as well.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Nah, he was all over the piece about Trump's screed on IDs and groceries.

  • Giant Realistic Flying Tiger||

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    By the way, I don't mean to be critical, but having your website be "www dot FormerlyFormerlyRedTony dot com" seems kind of redundant.

  • Giant Realistic Flying Tiger||

    Somebody pointed out that since my original account got banned (it involves the spam filter, don't ask), I shouldn't use "FormerlyRedTony dot com" as my website anymore; instead, it should be "Formerly Formerly Red Tony" because I was formerly formerly Red Tony. I thought it was a decent gag, so I took it and ran with it.

    And no, I don't remember who suggested it.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Whoever it was, he doesn't sound very funny. Or sexually adequate.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Not as of 8/2/2018 at 7:37 PM ET he wasn't.

  • ||

    Yeah, I'll third it - I just looked at that page and the Hihnfestation has been scrubbed out.

    Maybe he finally got banned? I wonder what the last straw was.

  • perlchpr||

    Wow. My plan was just to crack in to Reason's website DB and change all of its information and its password so it'd be logged out and never able to log back in again. Scrubbing it entirely is a much larger step. I approve entirely.

    Whoever built that robot for goat rape and shitposting ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  • perlchpr||

    It crashed again.

    Buggy software will do that.

  • macsnafu||

    So, somebody managed to stop the Hihnsanity??
    Hard to believe.

  • Happy Chandler||

    You know, I'm pretty much as YIMBY as it gets in the bay area. You want to put up a ten story apartment building on my block? Sure! But, in this case, I kind of see a little bit of the other side. This IS a unique neighborhood. I love the Mission. It's great, and we need more housing there. But, where's the development in Pacific Heights? How about in the Sunset? Any chance for a big building on Nob Hill?

    The solution to gentrification isn't to block housing in those neighborhoods, but we also need housing in the richer neighborhoods. Put a fucking thousand unit building at Broadway and Fillmore. Eminent domain Danielle Steele's mansion and put a hundred units there. If they could do it to the blacks in the Western Addition, they can do it to famous writers.

  • Social Justice is neither||

    So yes in your back yard except when it's actually proposed, then it needs to be anywhere else first?

    Maybe it's in this neighborhood because it's relatively cheap, sunny, centrally located and flat.

  • Bubba Jones||

    It's almost as if the land in some neighborhoods is more affordable than others.

  • John C. Randolph||

    Seems to me that anyone who wants to build in SF should forget about the city and state bureaucratic hoops altogether and go right to federal litigation.

    -jcr

  • CE||

    Or build in Houston instead.

  • Jerryskids||

    Saddled with unaffordable requirements, Axis kills plans for a 117-unit apartment building

    I wouldn't jump to any hasty conclusions - there's probably a lawsuit being filed as we speak to force them to build. If a business threatening to leave a city if the city didn't back off its plans to tax the shit out of them is "extortion", actually shutting down a project has got to be some sort of even worse crime.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    So, would state-run "capitalism" have to pursue and complete projects with negative profits?

  • Rich||

    The objection from these activists—the same one raised against any market-rate development in the city—is that newer, more expensive housing stock would drive out the neighborhood's lower-income, predominantly Hispanic population.

    *** scratches head ***

    Where does this population live *now*?

  • ||

    Where does this population live *now*?

    In the old, run-down shitholes that give the neighborhood its character.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    We really, really need another big earthquake in the Bay Area to clear some land (and minds--I would hope all the sensible people would relocate). Then SFC could revert to a home for wild speculators and winos.

  • CE||

    Hasn't it already?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Eventually tiring of fighting activist demands and endless environmental appeals, Axis agreed in May 2018 to increase the number of below-market units from 17 to 31 (23 of them in the new apartment building on Folsom, the other eight elsewhere in the city), rent 5,200 square feet of what would have been commercial retail space to a community nonprofit for a $1 a year for 55 years (which represents a huge amount of forgone revenue), and use all union labor for construction.

    I wonder why rents are so high in SF?

  • Longtobefree||

    "I wonder why rents are so high in SF?"
    Trump, of course.

  • esteve7||

    Capitalism?

    I'll take leftists failed policy excuses for $100

  • cc2||

    Just goes to prove if you can organize the crazy you can destroy a city.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    +1 Municipal Razor shaving close

  • LynchPin1477||

    San Francisco sounds like a silly place

  • ||

    It is the Camelot of the West.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    If only it were only a model.

  • creech||

    I wonder how the woke city would react to a builder who proposed 117 units to house illegal immigrants and their kids?

  • DesigNate||

    Sounds like they would demand that it be done below market cost.

  • ||

    ^ This. As long as no one is profiting, it's all good.

  • Tony||

    But the conditions made the project uneconomical, and Axis found it was cheaper to just sell the land.

    As long as we all appreciate that public will is simply another "condition" that markets have to contend with. Part of the environment, like the weather and terrible presidents.

  • sarcasmic||

    The majority of the public is too busy with their lives to get involved.

    The people you see shouting and waving signs are people with enough free time to demand free shit.

    So what you call public will is in reality just the will of a small mob of really loud losers.

  • Tony||

    Yep, much like gun nuts, who've achieved success beyond their wildest dreams despite their small numbers. It pays to get involved.

  • sarcasmic||

    There are a few differences between gun nuts and freeloaders. For one thing there is no part of the Constitution that says people have a right to free shit. For another there are millions and millions of Americans who give money to support gun nuts (whose numbers are much higher than you might think), who don't necessarily pick up signs and shout. Whereas the free shit brigade isn't well financed. After all, what they want is free shit. People don't pay money to get free shit. That's like common sense and stuff.

    So you do have a point. A very small one on the top of your head, but you do have a point.

  • sarcasmic||

    I can't help but think that everyone in this story would be better off if we just let property owners build what they want on their own damned land.

    Everyone in the story except the freeloaders. Then again, they are freeloaders. So fuck them.

  • Marilyn6||

  • Miter Broller||

    Is the state symbol of California a snake eating its own tail? Just curious.

  • Hoofddorp Haarlemmermeer||

    No but maybe one of the sports teams could change its name? The San Francisco Ouroboros has a nice ring to it.

  • Mark22||

    Why bother reporting about SF? It's an outlier, and we should be glad that they are willing to serve as a negative example to others.

  • Curly4||

    Cut the state and city income and property taxes and they are more likely to get what they wanted.

  • Tamfang||

    I can't help but think that everyone in this story would be better off if we just let property owners build what they want on their own damned land.

    But some poverty advocates could lose their jerbs!

  • vek||

    I really do hope California implodes in on itself sometime in my lifetime... I'd love to move back to the bay area near where I grew up, but there's no way that's happening until all the lunatics destroy it and it gets rebuilt by sane people, with sane laws.

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