Thursday, March 30, 2006

Neighborhood meeting about the new Valencia Gardens

Slide image of a photo of new Valencia Gardens project.

Last night I attended a community meeting at which developers and managers tried to convince a skeptical public that the rebuilt Valencia Gardens housing project will make a positive contribution to our neighborhood. It was a hard sell.

e Housing Authority (SFHA) is proud of the design of the new project:

Located in San Francisco's Mission District, the new family development will replace 246 dilapidated and blighted public housing units with 260 new mixed income flats and townhouse units with multi-purpose facilities. The revitalization also includes a new ancillary senior housing site with 60 new apartments and a new senior center.

Defensible design features include front door off right of way, private back yards and decks, secured trash access areas and fenced-in play yards.

Sounds good -- and last night's meeting set out to turn the story away from the defensive and toward the good news.

Held in St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church down the block from the new buildings, the community partner Mission Housing Development Corporation (a much buffeted local agency) and the property manager, the John Stewart Company, explained their plans. The 260 apartments will house seniors and families. Fifty-two units will rent for low market rates to households making more than $36,000 a year; another 148 will go to former tenants, people on the SFHA wait list, and/or the Section Eight wait list, all after they've been vetted from criminal records, credit worthiness and rental histories. The place will offer a buzz of activities, with a senior center, a childcare center, and a computer lab on the premises.

Some thoughts and observations:
  • A Housing Authority speaker stressed that the new apartments and entrances will face the street; they understand that an inward looking design would isolate the residents from the community. And the units aren't shabby: all but the senior citizen ones will have their own washers and dryers, a true measure of family-friendliness.
  • Neighbors worry about "quality of life" makers: questions touched on graffiti, garbage, and play areas.
  • People are quite worried about the parking implications of 260 new units. They are right. The development provides only 80 new spaces; things are going to get even tighter in an already congested neighborhood. I tend to think that the only measure that will reduce our addiction to our cars is making it harder to own and use them in the city. But I'll probably grouse about this too.

  • The old Valencia Gardens was also mostly Black in a Latino and poor white neighborhood. Developers promise a more mixed population this time around. We'll see. Historically viable diversity has not been a hallmark of anything connected to the SFHA.
  • A significant fraction of what Mission Housing plans to offer residents seems to be about their encouraging micro-entrepreneurship. "We'll offer a hand up, not a hand out." Nice phrase. Does this have any reality in one of the richest, most yuppified cities in the country? Or does it merely play along with a current funder fad?
  • Above all, I was reminded of the extraordinary density of non-profit service organizations in our Mission neighborhood. A slew of them have some involvement with the new project. Their staffs, a significant number of people, make much of the neighborhood middle class. What does this mean about how we think poor people escape poverty? What does the non-profit density mean about our economy, our values, what we will struggle for? I do wonder.

1 comment:

*Christopher said...


Thanks for the update. I wish I could have attended, but it conflicted with exams.

I pray that the promise and potential will win out. I too am struck by the number of non-profits in this area of the Mission. As for cars, I think I may take BART from now on Sunday, which makes sense anyway.

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