McDonalds closing offers possibility of affordable housing

Vivien Manning

At an open meeting dedicated to the imminent closure of the McDonald’s on Haight Street, a panel of affordable housing experts detailed the plans and considerations for the new space, as well as the complexities of affordable housing in San Francisco. The panel, held in the Park Branch public library, consisted of three speakers from various independent organizations: Executive Director Dean Preston of Tenants Together, Co-Director Peter Cohen of the Council on Community Housing, and Executive Director Mary Howe of the Homeless Youth Alliance.

On September 8, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the city of San Francisco had confirmed plans to purchase the McDonald’s at Haight and Stanyan, long considered a problem site due to the high number of drug deals and shootings that occur there. Cohen explained that once the city has officially purchased the site, it will send out a request for proposals to various affordable housing organizations.

While Preston praised the city for acquiring the dangerous site, he expressed some concerns around the way that San Francisco has dealt with affordable housing in the past. Specifically, there has been a trend of publicly-owned housing with sections that have been made affordable for the targeted income level, while still being woven in with market rate housing. “I believe that the city needs to close these loopholes, it needs to be unambiguous, if developing on public land it needs to be affordable because of the great need for it,” Preston said.

Beneath the umbrella of affordable housing, there are additional decisions to be made, such as what income level this housing should target. Cohen asked, “Will the housing site target homeless? Families? Transitional youth? Middle income people?”

He also spoke to a main concern of the local community: the potential height of the building. Whatever the existing height allowance is in a given neighborhood, an affordable housing building receives 30 more feet. The existing height allowance is 50 feet, so this building could reach 80 feet. A man in the audience involved with the project asked the group present about their thoughts on their height, and a woman responded that a large height would be out of place, and would change neighborhood dynamics.

Mary Howe, Executive Director of Homeless Youth Alliance, highlighted the broader issue of the lack of homeless services in the Haight. She relayed her own organization’s struggle: unable to find a secure site for their organization, they work on the street. There is a high population of homeless youth in the Haight neighborhood, but the Haight lacks sufficient services. She would ideally have the ground floor of the building be a center for a variety of homeless services. Howe added the point that despite the failings of the McDonald’s, it remains one of the only affordable restaurants in the Haight neighborhood and its removal will inevitably impact the homeless community.

While it is early in the process and there are no definite plans as of now, all speakers emphasized the importance of community input. They implored those present at the meeting to be involved in the process and hold whatever organization to which the site is contracted accountable to the community’s desires.