The Examiner - October 31, 2010
Several years ago, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton wrote a book whose thesis statement posited that it "takes a village" to raise a child. Since then, it has become popular to apply "it takes a village" to other tasks. It "takes a village" to successfully operate an elementary school, to run a business, to do almost anything requiring the cooperation of two or more parties.
Though they've only just broken ground, the team(s) behind the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency's Fillmore Park project in the city's Western Addition neighborhood understand very clearly that "it takes a village" to complete a medium-scale Below Market Rate (BMR) housing development. While it might seem that such an endeavor requires only some land, money and shovels, Fillmore Park's path to completion has had many twists and turns.
The genesis of Fillmore Park stretches back almost to World War II, the founding of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. Flush with the passage of the 1949 Housing Act and drunk on post-war optimism, American cities began a period of "urban renewal" following the war. In San Francisco, "modernization" came with a price: the almost complete razing of an existing neighborhood known as The Fillmore.
By 1970, San Francisco had completed phases A-1 and A-2 of the Western Addition Redevelopment Plan. Some 60 blocks of businesses and residences had been leveled. Fifteen more years would pass before The Fillmore Center, a large complex of apartments, condominiums and businesses, was completed on the cleared land. Unfortunately (and ironically), "old" Fillmore residents were priced out of the "new" Fillmore Center.
However lofty their original intentions, the Redevelopment Agency recognizes the historic oversights of the Western Addition Plan. For the past decade, they've been taking positive steps to revitalize the neighborhood, ones local Fillmore leaders think they should have been taking all along.
Enter Fillmore Park, the ﬁnal piece of the redevelopment puzzle and the culmination of 60 years of hard lessons. Financed by the Redevelopment Agency, Wells Fargo, CALReUSE and the Center for Creative Land Recycling and developed by Michael Simmons' MSPDI Turk, LLC group, the project is the result of a cooperative effort by many parties.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, the team behind Fillmore Park joined local leaders for a joyous groundbreaking ceremony. Among the speakers at the event were Supervisor Ross Murkarimi, who called the project, "An uplifting note for us to commemorate the conclusion of the Redevelopment Agency's jurisdiction in this area," and Redevelopment Agency Commissioner Francee Covington, who said, "32 units; that's 110 happy people. This will make a big impact."Simmons, the builder, is a veteran of several affordable housing projects. Fillmore Park, when it is complete, will be offered to San Franciscans making 70-100% of the city's median income, and to certiﬁcate holders - original Fillmore residents who lost their homes to urban renewal.
"The challenge is to get the word out early," Simmons said at the ground-breaking. "A lot of low- and moderate-income people don't think they can buy."
To that end, the Fillmore Park team (including Realtor Linda Harrison of Sotheby's) has already begun holding community workshops and informational meetings, which will continue as the project is built. Buyers will be chosen by lottery, tentatively scheduled for summer, 2011. The building's estimated completion date is December, 2011, with move-ins slated for January to March, 2012.
"The most difficult task lies ahead," said Reverend Arnold Townsend, a longtime neighborhood activist, minutes before he joined Simmons, Murkarimi, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Fred Blackwell and others in donning hard hats and turning over shovelfuls of ground-breaking dirt, "to see that the people who are most deserving get these homes."
Covington cited community meetings as a "wakeup call" during the planning phase of this project. Murkarimi lauded "families coming back" to the neighborhood. Blackwell stated that "Certiﬁcate of Preference holders" would get the ﬁrst opportunity to buy at Fillmore Park - if they can be found.
"We're not through building our community," said Townsend, and he makes a valid point. Fillmore Park may be the Redevelopment Agency's "swan song" in The Fillmore, but it could signal a new era of cooperation and optimism in the Western Addition - which may prove a bigger impact over time than any number of new housing units.