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Mission Bay fire will cause a cascade of displacement
by Shawn Gaynor ( Shawn [at] TheOusiderNews.com )
Wednesday Mar 12th, 2014 12:08 PM
The following is a sample news item from The Outsider, the Bay Area's soon to be launched independent news and DIY culture publication hosted at http://www.TheOutsiderNews.com. Please follow us on Facebook at TheOutsiderNews or on Twitter @OutsiderEditors to keep up with the project in the lead up to our May 1st launch.
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Mission Bay fire will cause a cascade of displacement

By Shawn Gaynor

Though no official cause has been announced for yesterday's raging fire that destroyed a San Francisco luxury apartment complex under construction at 4th Street and Mission Bay, speculation among construction workers this morning in the still smoldering area was that welding work in the building yesterday must have ignited the blaze after workers left for the day.

The 172 empty units of the “MB360” project undertaken by real estate giant BRE Properties represented $227 million of new construction. To put the project in perspective, that is over $1.3 million per unit. The site has been declared a total loss and what remains of the building will be demolished.

BRE knows their market and the company's connection with the tech boom is mirrored in its heavy investment tech rich Seattle. The MB360 project's proximity to the Mid-Market neighborhood's tax-free tech zone and its prohibitive pricing are indications of who the Mission Bay neighborhood is being constructed for. Perhaps most telling is that these units sat just three blocks from the downtown Cal-train station -- the regions fastest and most comfortable public transit, known for shifting thousands of tech workers each day from emerging bedroom communities in San Francisco in a reverse commute to high paying jobs on the peninsula.

But this fire did not just burn 172 units in Mission Bay. The smoke was filling a duplex in the Excelsior. It forced out a family in Bernal Heights. This fire burnt in the Mission District, the Dog Patch, and the Bayview. This fire burnt everywhere that San Francisco renters will be displaced by 172 desperate and affluent home seekers toting around $1.3 million to solve their smoldering housing woes. But there will be no benefit event, no community relief, for the all the households forced out to shelter the would be new urbanites of Mission Bay as they seek new digs.

But this story has another connection to the tech boom and that is taxes. The San Francisco Fire Department has been under financial strains. A long standing hiring freeze has forced fire fighters into long overtime hours. While that overtime may sound good to individual firefighters looking at their paycheck, their faces this morning showed a department stretched thin. 150 fire fighters battled the Mission Bay blaze – literally everything the city could muster. One was injured with second degree burns. They battled the blaze for over 12 hours without relief.

Everyone living in San Francisco is aware that yesterday's fire, limited to roughly a square block of unoccupied structure, is not the worst disaster the SFFD could be called on to face. Let's not wait for a tech company to offer an altruistic donation to the SFFD before addressing the needs of city departments that San Francisco relies on. In a time of historic economic growth, of a second gold rush, it is fair to tax the tech companies who have made San Francisco their chosen home. Yesterday's fire was a prime example that the services of the city government are not simply charity and should not be funded by the piecemeal largesse of the tech sector giants, like Google's recent donation of free MUNI passes for youth. Paying your fair share to fund city services should not be an ethical choice or a charitable act for corporations, it should be an obligation. It's the job of our civic leaders to make this obligation clear to the gilded tech sector through action on taxes.
by Mike Novack
Wednesday Mar 12th, 2014 1:06 PM
What you describe, the displacement of poorer renters by those who have been displaced by a fire, is of a different scenario. A scenario in which a luxury rental complex that was already occupied was destroyed.

But this is something else. Each and every one of the potential renters for when this new construction were finished (and now it won't be soon) IS ALREADY HOUSED ELSEWHERE. Nor are they likely a source of pressure for gentrification because people who prefer old buildings, once fine homes but now tenements, reconverted to large expensive apartments would not have sought to live in a high rise. Well off people may be alike in that they don't have to worry about money but they are not all alike in their tastes and preferences.

Yes of course, were than another use for the site where this fire took place then there would be a risk of the replacement project taking place elsewhere. But I rather suspect that what you will see is that as soon as the debris has been cleared either this (or some other design) of high rise luxury apartments will be built.
by Shawn Gaynor
Wednesday Mar 12th, 2014 2:50 PM
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No they don't already have some place to live, they are new arrivals. There are 40,000 new tech workers in San Francisco in the past year. That means more than 100 arrive every day from somewhere else. More than the city has housing stock for. So they scramble and compete for every single available unit it the city because the vacancy rate is at the bottom and it being an "old building" does not matter. So the newly arrived, not yet housed, but well employed San Franciscans do things like offer a high than asked rent, or a years rent up front, which no landlord can refuse and no working class person can match. So landlords scramble to empty out units to get in on the bidding war action. Even the elite of the tech world are now willing to grab an old house and 100 percent gut it to make it luxury. Mark Zuckerberg did this recently and famously in Noe Valley. The loss of 172 units to be leased this spring will surely be felt around the city.
by Environmental Professional
Thursday Mar 13th, 2014 6:00 PM
This discussion is amusing in a way. About 15 years ago I read a report authored by one of the urban planning groups that there was a shortage of 20,000 affordable housing units in the Bay Area a year then. I can only imagine what that number is now.

The same report concluded the only way to eliminate the shortfall was to outlaw NIMBYism and gut the California Environmental Quality Act in such a way that it could not be used to block housing projects. The environmental community, at least some of whom complain on IndyBay about evictions, fiercely fought any and all changes to the laws that would've facilitated getting more housing built. The birds have come home to roost.