Last December, San Francisco Supervisors Gordon Mar and Connie Chan took to Zoom with what they billed as a historic announcement: the first 100% affordable housing development in the Sunset neighborhood. One year, one lawsuit and a whole lot of controversy later, the project has emerged as a symbol of San Francisco's housing dysfunction.
On Tuesday, a community group called the Mid-Sunset Neighborhood Association filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court seeking to halt the seven-story, 90-unit development at 2550 Irving St., citing a lack of required community outreach to allay residents' concerns about the project’s height and scale. By Wednesday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charles Haines had ruled against the temporary restraining order requested by the group, allowing the project to go forward. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 7.
The project, which is being developed by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, has turned into a monthslong saga that, in addition to the pending suit, has involved protests, contentious community forums and an incident where “No Slums in the Sunset” fliers were mailed to neighbors and posted near the project site.
“It’s almost par for the course for the rhetoric around this project. People have wound themselves up so much that there’s a lot of unfounded fear. People are feeding into each other's fears in ways that are quite ugly,” said Laura Foote, the executive director of pro-housing group YIMBY Action.
“The problem with someone coming from a place of fear is that they say they want more outreach, but they just want more outreach as a way to stall the project. They did receive outreach, they just didn’t get their way,” Foote said of the neighborhood group's claims that the requirement for a “transparent community process” — part of a resolution passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in July — was not met.
The Standard reached out to the Mid-Sunset Neighborhood Association, which declined to comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.
Robert Ho, a board member of Mid-Sunset Neighborhood Association, published an op-ed for Sunset Beacon stating concerns that the project could downgrade the neighborhood’s quality of life. “Building a massive low-income development like the proposed 2550 Irving Street project would not resolve the huge income divide,” he wrote, “but the hard-working families who will live near the project will pay the price by seeing the livability of the surrounding neighborhood get dramatically reduced.”
Controversies around the project have been brewing since the project was announced a year ago. Neighbors have held several rallies and protests on the project site and even expressed their opposition with demonstrations in front of Supervisor Mar’s residence.
A contentious community meeting back in June highlighted many of the disagreements between the developer and neighbors, including questions about land soil contamination on the sites, which sparked potential further review.
Documents filed with the planning department show that even as the controversy continues to unfold, the developers plan to take advantage of SB 35, a state law meant to streamline the development of affordable housing and help speed the project through the entitlement process. Under the dictates of the law, San Francisco must approve a project the size of 2550 Irving in 60 days if it meets requirements. The project is also utilizing AB 1763, another state housing law that allows affordable developments to add up to three stories to their height.
Underscoring the need for affordable housing in the neighborhood is a recent city audit that found that District 4 has a -225% “cumulative housing balance” because of its failure to build new units of affordable housing while simultaneously removing hundreds of units from protected status.
Initially pitched as a 98-unit project servicing residents that earn between 30% and 80% of the area median income, the development was shrunk by eight units in the face of the community opposition. New plans filed this month with the Planning Department now call for a seven-story, 90-unit building split up across nine studios, 34 one-bedrooms, 23 two-bedrooms and 24 three-bedroom units.
Opponents, however, are seeking further concessions.
In its lawsuit, the Mid-Sunset Neighborhood Association argued that the height of the structure was out of character for the neighborhood and detailed efforts to further reduce the project size to just 80 units in a five-and-a-half story structure.
Mar, whose district includes the project site, has been one of the key figures spearheading the project. More recently, however, he came out in favor of the proposal to shrink the development to 80 units. The supervisor did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
“When we say things are out of scale, where are we starting from?” YIMBY Action’s Foote asked. “Neighborhoods that have successfully blocked development of housing for a generation are going to see housing projects proposed in neighborhoods larger than has previously been built because we have to end the exclusionary policies they have perpetuated for so long.”