SFUSD gifts city 115 affordable housing units for the holidays

Advocate asks board to approve the land swap project.
Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

The San Francisco Board of Education last night (Tue/10) approved a land swap with city government, gifting San Francisco an empty lot that it will use to build new affordable housing. That’s 115 units of living space for low income San Francisco renters, wrapped in a bow for the holidays. 

The proposal was the brainchild of board members Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell and Sandra Lee Fewer, who worked on the measure with the Mayor’s Office of Housing for over two years. The district will trade a lot on 1950 Mission street and another on Connecticut in exchange for a property it currently rents from the city of San Francisco. The city will also pay SFUSD $4.5 million, according to district data.

Last night was the culmination of that work, which Fewer said was the right thing to do.

“Could we get more money from [selling] this property with a private developer? I’m sure. But would we get the value? No,” Fewer said at the meeting.

But it’s a mixed win for San Francisco, as the original intent was to pioneer ways to provide affordable housing for the school district’s employees. Project proponents said school district workers have been priced out of San Francisco in droves. The affordable housing project will be general use, with no specific provisions for teachers or other SFUSD workers. 

Though the teachers’ union supports the land swap, United Educators of San Francisco President Dennis Kelly warned that this would not help district workers directly.

"It’s more than an oversight, it’s an insult, felt very deeply, and very bitterly,” Kelly said at the podium. “Affordable housing will not house a single teacher, not a single one, because of where the dollar breaks are.”

Fewer told the Guardian that in the coming months the board will explore new ways to help fund housing for teachers, but Kelly told us that’s the same old song he’s heard for ten years. 

That said, the use of SFUSD’s abundant excess property for affordable housing could spark a new trend, and commissioners on the board said they may explore ventures like this in the future. And the need is stark. 

At an SFUSD meeting just a few weeks ago (covered here by Guardian News Editor Rebecca Bowe), the district asked families “what do you need?”

The answer wasn’t more field trips, school books, or even for better school lunches. Families cried loud and clear that they need one thing: affordable housing.

At last night’s board meeting, children and families echoed those sentiments.

“I lived downtown in the SoMa district and we were kicked out for a few months when I was in high school,” said San Francisco Youth Commissioner Luisa Sicairos, who is now 22 years old. “We had to live with my dad’s friends. I had no light to do homework. That’s the problem without affordable housing.”

Other students described living in SROs in horrible conditions, with families bunched together in spaces meant only for one. It impacts their homework, their school performance, and their lives.

Supporters of the measure packed the board room, and the public comment period went close to an hour. Supervisors John Avalos and Jane Kim showed up to back the measure, as well as aides from Sup. Norman Yee and Eric Mar’s office. The need for housing justice from those in attendance was palpable.

It was emotional for the commissioners as well. Mendoza-McDonnell seemed to be near tears. She and Fewer both said they felt lucky to be in a position to help families in need. 

When it passed, unanimously, the room erupted into cheers. Superintendent Richard Carranza rang a school bell with a smile on his face. 

Olson Lee, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing, told the Guardian that the use of the land now has to go through several Board of Supervisors committees, and construction would not start immediately. The 115 units is an initial estimate, he said, but if height limits were circumvented the number could grow. 

After the vote passed, Fewer had only one thing to say to Lee: “Build it quick.”