Concerns Over Gentrification Spark Protest in the Excelsior

Community organizations protest lack of affordable housing at proposal for 65 Ocean
Han Li | 08/14/2019
Demands for affordable housing at 65 Ocean
Photo Credit
Han Li

A neighborhood at risk of being gentrified in San Francisco reacts forcefully against a housing project promising 25% affordable units, while the real estate developer insists it “never intended to be a luxury housing project”.

Excelsior neighborhood groups and residents walked through the streets protesting a proposed nearby 193-unit housing project on August 11th. The major concerns include the potential gentrification and rent increase in the region because of the alleged insufficient affordable units and luxurious pricing market-rate condo.

“To develop housing is a welcome opportunity, we are really interested in making sure the development and housing is affordable to the residents and the neighborhood,” said Jessie Fernandez, the lead organizer of Communities United for Health and Justice (CUHJ), a coalition of advocacy groups in the Excelsior which initiated the protest. He criticized that only a quarter of the units being affordable is far too few for the project to be of benefit to local residents.

Fernandez also believes the wealthy tenants brought by this condo housing into Excelsior, would lead to and accelerate gentrification, causing “inflated, unjust rent increases.” 

“As higher-income earners move into the neighborhood, they change the neighborhood character,” he said, and “the increase of the market rate rent will add pressure to the surrounding housing”.

The housing planned at 65 Ocean Avenue consists of 193 units, among them 75% are proposed to be market-rate and 25% would be affordable. The developer, Presidio Bay Ventures, issued a statement denying the “luxury housing” rhetoric, claiming that “it is intended to serve students, roommates, families,” and “1 in 4 of whom will be sourced from qualified low-income applicants,” referring to the 25% affordable units.

But the protesters presented the numbers that show this project would be unaffordable for the Excelsior working class. According to CUHJ, the housing proposed for 65 Ocean in the Excelsior is “advertising 1,300 square foot apartments at a monthly rent of $5,550”. 

“The median household income of this community is about $68,000 for a family of four,” said Charlie Sciammas, a Community Organizer of the People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Justice (PODER). Based on the federal standard of “affordable” being that households pay no more than 30% of their income toward rent, this would mean that a family of four would need to pay no more than $1,700 a month. The proposed rents at 65 Ocean are more than three times more expensive than what would be affordable for an Excelsior family with a median income.

Sciammas described that current Excelsior residents are already under pressure in their over-crowded living spaces, and the newly proposed housing would only worsen the situation by setting the rent price at a level affordable to families earning over $199,800.

“So the only way they could afford it, is if they work three jobs”. 

Despite the community’s pushback based on what affordability looks like for real Excelsior families, the 65 Ocean Avenue project’s 25% affordable percentage has met the City’s “bonus” requirement. The City passed the Home-SF law in 2018 by loosening the density controls for the developer in exchange for providing more affordable units than the 19% required in Section 415.6 and 415.6(a)(5) of the Planning Code.

This project is scheduled to be heard at the Planning Commission on October 24, 2019.