Affordable housing complex, 626 Mission Bay Boulevard North, sports a gleaming S-shaped facade, the curves a counterpoint to the nearby Chase Center. With bright white shiny chrome stylings, the building matches with other structures sprouting up in newly upscale and futuristic-looking Mission Bay.
Yet according to some reports, the polished exterior masks incompetent and mean-spirited residential managers.
“My sister lived here and while she was in the hospital the management went into her apt. and robbed her of her belongings and money out of her bank she is now deceased. This is the worst apt building in San Francisco. Avoid at all costs.” reads an apartmentratings.com comment posted in February.
A November 2019 comment alleges management retaliation and eviction threats against tenants for complaining about problems.
626 Mission Bay offers 143 residential units, housing about 450 people, including many families. Last month a diversity of folks perambulated in and outside the building’s small, staffed, lobby, including an Asian-American woman pushing a stroller occupied by a young child, a Hispanic couple with a school-age kid, a multi-generational Caucasian family conversing out front, and an African-American woman collecting food delivery from an idling car. Across the street are “Spark Social,” an outdoor food court and beer garden, and “Parklab,” which features artificial turf athletic fields and community gardens.
Built in 2018, 626 Mission Bay is owned and managed by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC), a nonprofit that operates 43 residential buildings throughout San Francisco, collectively housing 5,800 people with low incomes. TNDC is funded, in part, by the City, overseen by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD).
626 Mission Bay Boulevard represents a “public-private partnership,” a model of urban development popular among municipalities nationwide. To be eligible to live there, residents’ incomes must be less than 50 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). According to TNDC’s website, 20 percent of the units are “set aside for formerly homeless families” while previously displaced people have priority to be placed there through the MOHCD lottery, a clearinghouse for below-market-rate housing
“Our tenants are our first priority,” said TNDC Communications Manager Melinda Noack, when asked to respond to comments on apartmentratings.com. “We take complaints seriously and welcome tenants to use their voice, which in turn helps us better serve them and continually improve our work. We handle complaints internally, making sure to track issues against our other buildings as well, to reflect on any significant patterns to improve our work and systems.”
An anonymous letter sent to the View in February alleged that, “If tenants speak up they are called troublemakers by the staff and social workers and are evicted…tenants are grateful to have a place to live but [sic] no to be treated like third class citizens.”
Prompted by the correspondence, the View spoke with several people outside 626 Mission Bay, asking them how life is for residents, whether they’d experienced any problems.
“Seventy to eighty percent satisfied,” stated a gentleman who said he’s lived in the building since it opened. “Twenty percent not good.”
He reported that some residents “don’t care, leave messes,” noting that dogs often relieve themselves in the exterior courtyard. He said the staff is good, there’s been consistent cleaning during the public health emergency, and that the front door has 24-hour monitoring.
“Anywhere there will be problems,” he said in conclusion, “but 80 percent good.”
A man who said his sister is a building resident reported that she enjoys living there and finds the “big boss” to be “alright”. He related a past issue with lobby staff blocking entry to a person who had a “right to access” and questioned whether residents had been properly notified about a Covid-19 case in the building.
Taped to the exterior doors was a June 8 TNDC announcement stating that a positive case had been identified, that the person was safely isolating inside or elsewhere, and that the identity of the individual wouldn’t be released.
An 18-year-old man said he’d resided in the building for almost two years with his family, that every unit has its own kitchen, that he liked living there, and knew of no problems. He said that his neighbors are all quite nice.
Monique El-Amin, a resident for almost two years, spoke largely approvingly of the building and its management, saying that the new director was relatable, an improvement over the previous one. Ms. El-Amin stated that tenants are frequently notified of services available to them, and that children in the building have been provided with food during the pandemic.
“They’re always cleaning,” she said.
If anything, Ms. El-Amin reported, there’s too much maintenance, with fire alarm inspections one day, faucet inspections the next.
“Why can’t they do it all at once?” she questioned, noting that for people who have experienced trauma or have anxiety, there may be too much activity.
“We all come from different backgrounds, some residents have been previously displaced,” she said. She related a past instance when the water “wasn’t too warm”, which received a vocal complaint from a resident who is no longer there. “We all have issues,” she said, but “if you follow the lease there won’t be any problems.”
Manager Brenda Villarreal, who has worked at the building since December, said that all guests must sign in and out. Residents collect their mail at a bank of metal postal boxes that line the central hallway. Lighting is a soft, diffuse warm incandescence, with polished floors and wood paneled walls.
The lobby and “community room” ceilings are “industrial chic,” with bare concrete, exposed pipes and electrical conduits running in a maze overhead. The community room is accessed via key fob, which all residents have. The kitchen adjoining the space is locked, and, according to Ms. Villarreal, “rentable” for social occasions. Residents must pay a deposit, which is returned if the facilities are left in good order. Activities in the community room, which include support meetings, have been limited during shelter-in-place. 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. is quiet time for the building.
Ms. Villarreal described a supportive environment, in which residents are treated like family. She said that the units are all equal, regardless of rent amount.
“You wouldn’t be able to tell this is affordable housing,” she said.
Asked what could be improved, she replied, “Parking.”
There are just 29 spots in the garage for residents, reserved for people who need reasonable accommodation.