Community Celebrates the Mission Marvel

SF Mission District celebrates slaying the Monster in the Mission
Sam Lew | 03/07/2020
Tere Almaguer, Reina Tello, and Araceli Lara lead the ceremony at the beginning of the celebration.
Photo Credit
all photos by Sam Lew

SAN FRANCISCO — Shouts of “the Monster is dead!” roared through the jubilant crowd at the 16th Street BART Plaza in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District on Thursday afternoon. Over a hundred people celebrated with music, dance and chants their defeat of a luxury housing development that Maximus Real Estate Partners had proposed to build at this location. 

Community members and organizations had coalesced into the Plaza 16 Coalition to fight Maximus’ development which the community dubbed as the “Monster in the Mission”.  After years of fighting for development at this site that would respect an adjacent Elementary School and provide badly needed affordable housing, having Maximus abandon its plans represented an incredible victory in the fight against displacement in one of San Francisco’s neighborhoods most heavily impacted by displacement and gentrification.

The fight against Maximus began in 2014 with conversations over pan y café (bread and coffee), for parents who became involved at Marshall Elementary School. The School’s administration had informed parents about the proposed project, which would have cast a shadow over the school for most of the school day for the entire school year. Parents were also concerned over the displacement that the high priced units would cause.

“As a Marshall parent, I remember Maximus offered money and an elevated playground so that we would change our demands,” said Juana Escamilla of the meetings. “They were trying to buy us with money.” 

Guillermina Castellanos addresses the crowd.
Guillermina Castellanos addresses the crowd.

According to advocates, over the course of six years, Maximus spent nearly a million dollars a year trying to move the project forward including purchasing BART advertisements featuring “every day Mission residents” with the slogan “I am not a Monster” to encourage the community to support their 10-story 330 unit development.

Despite the developer’s elaborate communications and PR strategies, the Plaza 16 coalition kept gathering momentum, mobilizing hundreds of community members to march through the neighborhood,  to attend meetings, take over San Francisco’s City Hall, and host days of celebration and service for the community at the 16th Street Plaza. Last February, hundreds of people testified at Mission High School in front of the Planning Commission about the negative impact the project would have on the neighborhood. 

Maria Zamudio, the first staff member of the Plaza 16 Coalition, says that the victory has created a blueprint to tackle gentrification and displacement on a city-wide level. 

“Don’t be afraid to have a strong vision. Sometimes we think we can’t be too left or we can’t alienate people, but our base knows what it needs — and in this case, it was deeply affordable housing,” Zamudio says of the six year struggle. She also notes that, in large part, the victory stemmed from the power of the community and strategic broad based coalition building. 

“Five people in a room on a Wednesday afternoon can’t make a decision. They can plan on how to make that decision, but the community needs to do that.” 

Growing up as the daughter of cultural artisans who owned a shop on 18th and Mission, defeating the Monster is significant for 19-year-old Inkza Angeles. Eight years ago, her family was forced to close their store because the rent was too expensive. 

“This feels surreal,” said Angeles, who works as youth coordinator at PODER. “As an organizer, you’re always asking what’s next. To get to bask in joy is beautiful.” 

The PODER youth group lead a chant.
The PODER youth group lead a chant.

The Plaza 16 Coalition already knows what’s next. 

“We’re only halfway there. We still want to see the Marvel,” said Areceli Lara, a longtime community organizer with the Mission SRO Collaborative. “If we stay together, we’re not only going to see the Marvel, we’re going to stop seeing displacement in the community.” 

The Marvel, or La Maravilla, is the community vision for 100% affordable housing with 200 to 250 units for low-income families at the same 1979 Mission St. location. Plaza 16 Coalition is leading the effort to figure out the specifics of the buildings, including things like unit size, rent, and subsidies. The community based planning process, says Zamudio, is based on communal councils in Venezuela. 

The Marvel may soon become a reality. Mission Housing Development Corporation, an affordable housing nonprofit, is already looking to purchase the property, which recently went on sale. 

Chirag Bhakta, senior community engagement coordinator with Mission Housing (and Board member for People Power Media), says that the nonprofit has already reached out to make an offer to Maximus investors, but the price tag isn’t cheap. Acquisition of the site would cost $35 to $40 million and building the affordable housing would take another $120 million. 

However, Bhakta is confident that the funding will be secured; over the next few months, Mission Housing will convene a group of nonprofits, philanthropy groups, and city agencies to develop a plan to purchase the site.

“The City, Mayor, and developers did not believe we could do this,” said Bhakta to the growing crowd. “But anything is possible. We don’t need luxury housing, we don’t need crumbs, we need solutions for and by the people. This victory embodies the resolve of the community.” 

Brass Liberation Orchestra celebrates the victory against the Monster in the Mission.
Brass Liberation Orchestra celebrates the victory against the Monster in the Mission.