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Affordable Housing Beats Out Historic Preservation in S.F. Neighborhood

(Photo by Tony Webster)

In San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, a historic business may be traded for 108 units of affordable housing — and given the city’s ongoing housing crisis, members of the Historic Preservation Commission, the mayor’s office and even the shop’s owners appear to be onboard.

The housing development was proposed by the nonprofit Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, and would replace an auto repair shop on Turk Street, the SF Examiner reports. The shop was constructed in 1935 and designed by architect Henry A. Minton. Its marquee — on which its owners like to post quotes — is something of a local landmark. The proposed housing development went before the Historic Preservation Commission’s Architectural Review Committee Wednesday. It advanced, but an environmental impact report is now required under the California Environmental Quality Act to assess preservation alternatives.

From the paper:

Aaron Hyland, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission’s Architectural Review Committee, said he was “a bit torn” given the ongoing tension between “providing amenities that we need — affordable housing — and protecting not only the building that’s important … but also a business that’s really important.”

While he said he may be “sad” to see the business go, “some things need to be let go of in order to deal with things that are more important. And affordable housing in this particular context is certainly more important.”

Joan McNamara with the mayor’s Office of Housing echoed Hyland, telling the paper that “San Francisco is in the midst of a housing crisis. … The mayor has pledged to create 30,000 affordable units by 2020. This site helps toward that goal.”

While historic preservation is often viewed as a way to curb gentrification, research has shown that the majority of luxury housing sales in San Francisco have come from existing stock — meaning the cranes aren’t always to blame for skyrocketing rents. In an area where the economic boom has wildly outpaced existing housing supply, the city has a demand problem (although insidious eviction policies also share some of the blame).

But that doesn’t mean that the city should lose all its historic assets. As Next City has previously covered, neighborhoods with a mixture of new and old development tend to help promote entrepreneurial activity, density and diversity.