Historic building classifications further SF housing crisis

Diego Lopez, EIC of Online

San Francisco is in the midst of a housing crisis, and community organizations are making it worse. Rents are skyrocketing from already high highs to astronomic levels. Last month, the median price for a home in San Francisco hit an all-time high of $1.6 million, according to the Paragon Real Estate Group.

Many factors have contributed to the rising prices of housing, including, but not limited to, an increase in demand, a lack of supply, and community groups who exacerbate these problems by blocking new housing. Since 2012, there has been a 40 percent decrease in the available supply of housing. Many new housing projects are protested by community groups claiming the buildings being torn down are historically significant. These claims, while occasionally rooted in fact, are often overblown.

The best example of how inflated these claims are is the situation at 2918 Mission Street. Robert Tillman, the owner of the building, wants to tear his building down and build rental units on the property and adjacent parking lot. The project is awaiting an appeal by Calle 24, a community organization based in the Mission with a focus on preserving the Mission District’s historically Latino community. They claim that, because between 1973 and 1985, Latino community organizers worked inside the building it should be preserved as a historic site.

Scott Weaver, Calle 24’s attorney, claims that the building deserves to be preserved because it represents “the first time that the Latino community came into the mainstream of San Francisco politics,” said Weaver. These organizations also claim, according to the Calle 24 website, to advocate for “genuinely affordable and low-income housing” but they are blocking the building at 2918 Mission, even though it would provide more housing. The 11% or 8 units of below market rate housing proposed for the building already provides more housing than is presently available at 2918 Mission.

Similarly to Calle 24’s actions, the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association also blocked the conversion of an old auto body shop on 16th Street into housing. According to Mission Local, Peter Lewis, the president of the group, convinced the San Francisco Historic Preservation Department that the garage was a “key element” of the history of the neighborhood. The body shop is now being considered for another development but this time with 85% less housing as not to harm the facade of the building.

In Oakland, the Oakland Heritage Alliance, a group similar to Calle 24 and the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association, blocked a former General Electric factory from being torn down halfway through 2017. They believed, despite the fact that it had been vacant for 30 years and had fallen into disrepair, it could provide jobs. The factory is still vacant with no further plans from General Electric announced.

I am not arguing against any buildings classified as historical, as some building are significant to San Francisco and its architectural history. However, the unnecessary use of historical classifications is preventing opportunities to aid communities in addressing the rising price of housing.

Calle 24 did not respond to a request for an interview.