Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Letters to the Editor 

Letters from November 8, 2000

The High Cost of Low-Cost Housing

Have Mercy: Irresponsible journalism not only harms the "target" but the community which it is trying to help.

So was the case in your recently misguided article on affordable housing ("The Affordable Housing Disaster," Oct. 25). The inaccuracies and innuendoes give me reason to wonder just what your paper's agenda is. As supposed professionals, you had the responsibility and duty to be objective and honest. In my view, neither trait was evident.

So that all of my cards are on the table, I am the chairperson of the Mercy Housing California board of directors. Your article was mean and hurtful to a group of people who have worked very hard -- with very little pay -- to try to help those who are suffering in this terrible housing crisis. Your conclusions are way off base and reflect a lack of understanding of the real situation. Despite the significant amount of time Mercy spent with your reporter, none of the information that was supplied was used in the article, nor were any of Mercy's personnel quoted. If you had taken the time to listen you would have heard that:

  • Mercy has diligently followed its mission: More than 3,750 units of affordable housing in California have been developed by Mercy, supporting over 7,700 people. We have over 4,000 more units in the planning stage.
  • At Heritage Homes, Mercy leveraged a $1.5 million investment by the city into affordable housing for 500 people.
And why did you compare the cost of a work-loft unit to a three-bedroom town house -- do you really think that's a fair comparison? Come on!

I could go on and on -- but I think you get the point. You should be ashamed of yourselves for stooping so low for (presumably) higher circulation.

Franz L. Cristiani
San Carlos

Unfair comparisons: Your story was really appalling for both its factual errors and mean-spirited tone. But let me reply to the overall point of the article -- that the cost of building affordable housing is more expensive than the cost of building live-work lofts.

The point is correct, but not for reasons stated by the author. First, they are not comparing apples with apples. Most of the affordable housing units in the article are two-bedroom or larger housing for families. Thus they are more expensive to build, with more floor space, walls, bathrooms, more durable finishes, and more landscaping than live-work lofts.

Housing such as Britton Court and Heritage Homes provides amenities such as computer networking, washers and dryers, community spaces, parking, and child care. Live-work lofts were meant to be a cheap form of housing for artists. As such they are exempt from many zoning and building regulations that add cost. For-profit developers have taken advantage of the laws to build cheap units with open floor plans and few amenities and to pay few city fees.

We need more family housing like Heritage Homes and Britton Courts, and fewer neighborhood-inappropriate live-work lofts.

Blair Miller

Peter Byrne replies: The cost per square foot for labor and materials ("hard" costs) for a luxury live-work loft and a two-bedroom apartment at Heritage Homes/Britton Court (approximately 1,000 square feet on average) is roughly the same. Mercy Housing's extra cost (about 25 percent) comes from "soft" costs: financing and interest, developer fees, consultant fees, excessive architectural fees, and so on. Affordable housing experts readily acknowledge that it costs nonprofit developers about 20 percent more to build the same unit as a for-profit developer, due to the burden of soft costs. Mercy exacerbated its "normal" differential by going over budget and off schedule.

Feel better now?: When so many nonprofits and activists are doing a good job of advocating for low-income people and working to stem the tide of gentrification in San Francisco, why does the Weakly [sic] run articles attacking them week after week? This piece in particular was a disgrace: a laundry list of minor boo-boos gleaned from government documents, without context or interaction with the actual people who were involved. Your writer was so slanted in his attack on Mercy Housing that one has to wonder what his true agenda is. What a sad comment on the state of "alternative" journalism in San Francisco today.

Steven Black
Mission District

At this point, we'll take qualified praise: Your story did a fine job of identifying a troubled process as related to public housing. However, it would have been nice to hear some solutions posed to remedy the problem areas you described.

Richard Montgomery
Financial District

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

Go ahead, just say "stealing": Normally I love the satire of Dog Bites, but there was a nip to one week's nibble ("... and Looking for the New Bohemia," Oct. 25). After a recent supervisorial debate, where I aired my activities in relocating the displaced nonprofits to District 11, candidate Gerardo Sandoval contacted newspapers, outlining the concept as his own. When he was reproached at a subsequent debate for "borrowing" other candidates' ideas without giving credit, his response was, "Gee, I didn't know you held ownership."

If Mr. Sandoval had any knowledge of the district, he would know that nonprofits are already locating here. Habitat for Humanity just opened in a new building at Ocean and Alemany, Coleman Advocates for Youth and Children are on Vienna Street, and the Children's Psychiatric Clinic has moved back to the Excelsior after an unsuccessful hiatus in the Inner Mission.

If Mr. Sandoval had ever spoken to the Excelsior Business Association, of which I am an officer, he would have learned that the empty vintage storefront he mentioned will soon be a sandwich shop, through the efforts of the association. And the owner of the empty firehouse plans to live there after completion of a costly renovation.

Rebecca Silverberg


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"