By Ed Diokno
An artist’s rendering of what the open space in the 5M Project might look like.
Like the fight for the International Hotel, home to Filipino and Chinese elders, came to symbolize the fight for tenants rights in San Francisco, working class Filipinos find themselves in the center of another struggle for affordable housing in the South of Market.
Last Tuesday (Nov. 17), the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the 5M Project
that – depending on who you believe – could provide jobs, open space and housing for low and middle-income city residents in the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood, or it could be another blow leading to the eventual demise of another Filipino neighborhood.
The meeting, which lasted hours, pitted developers vs. housing advocates, Tenderloin housing advocates vs. SoMa activists, city planners vs. neighborhood activists, and Filipinos vs. Filipinos. Little children read their arguments. Elderly Filipinos testified. Eventually, the project was approved 8-3, with Supervisors John Avalos, Eric Mar and David Campos voting against it.
“It’s a Filipino heritage zone but if we are going to get Filipinos displaced out of the community then it’s a graveyard,” said West Bay Pilipino Multi Service Center Executive Director Vivian Zalvidea Araullo.
“There’s nothing to compare with 40 percent housing,” countered Ray Balberan of United Playaz, a SoMa youth group. “There’s nothing to compare with $10 million going directly into the community, into direct community services. There’s nothing like that and jobs for the community. We want it to go forward and we will fight for it to go forward.”
Earlier negotiations between 5M executives and Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents SoMa, was able to gain more open space, less parking, less office space and increased the affordable housing to at least 40% of the new housing. In addition, millions would be given to maintain and improve Victoria Manalo Draves
park, Bessie Carmichael School and the yet to open Filipino Cultural Center.
“It’s not about tearing down buildings, it’s about rezoning an area and what the impact that is going to be on the people already there,” Avalos told the San Francisco Chronicle.
“I want to stand on the right side of history.”
A rendering looking down 5th Street, the office buildings will tower over the Chronicle Building.
San Francisco has some of the highest real estate prices in the nation caused by the high demand/low supply dynamic and is seeing most of its neighborhoods that have traditionally provided housing for the working class fall victim to gentrification. What’s happening is that a lot of highly-paid tech workers brought in by all the high-tech companies wanting to locate in San Francisco. Silicon City is competing with Silicon Valley.
Developers and landowners, taking advantage of the market, want to fill that need by building new projects or raising rents, driving out the low-wage workers and their families to the outlying cities and suburbs. Most big cities would kill to have San Francisco’s problem.The direction the city is moving now would eventually choke the diversity and energy that makes San Francisco unique and so attractive to tourists and 21st century companies.
The 5M Project is huge and its right smack in the middle of SoMa, which planners would like to turn into a Filipino Heritage District. What critics fear is that the project would raise the value of the land surrounding it, causing landlords to find ways to evict tenants to raise rents and landowners to consider more profitable projects.
Sure, it may bring in construction jobs in the short term but what about after the project is built? Will they provide job-training to the remaining residents so that they can work in the financial and high-tech sector? Will they donate laptops to the students at Bessie Carmichael to inspire the children to loftier goals? Will there be any Filipinos left in 10 or 15 years?
Construction of the 5M Project should begin within a year. When the construction dust clears, there will be 400 luxury units and 241 below-market-rate units, most of it blocks away from the project site.
Once again, Filipinos are being forced to become the source of housing so the rich can live in San Francisco. Will SoMa suffer the same fate as Manilatown?