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San Francisco's effort to pause new luxury housing units in Mission District fails

A street sign hangs outside a new apartment building on Mission Street, Tuesday, June 2, 2015, in San Francisco. Finding a place to live has become so expensive and emotional that city supervisors are considering a 45-day moratorium on luxury housing in the Mission District, which has long been one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

A street sign hangs outside a new apartment building on Mission Street, Tuesday, June 2, 2015, in San Francisco. Finding a place to live has become so expensive and emotional that city supervisors are considering a 45-day moratorium on luxury housing in the Mission District, which has long been one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Check out rental sites for San Francisco, especially the trendier parts: Well over $3,000 a month for a one-bedroom flat and nearly $5,000 for two bedrooms.

Finding a place to live in the city has become so expensive and emotional that city supervisors considered a 45-day moratorium on luxury housing construction in the Mission District, traditionally one of the most diverse, working-class neighborhoods in San Francisco.

But the plan failed on a vote that came at the end of a marathon session shortly before midnight Tuesday.

The Supervisors voted 7-4 in favor of the moratorium, but the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the measure required nine votes to pass as an "interim emergency ordinance."

The paper said disappointed supporters vowed to put the proposed moratorium on the November ballot.

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The area in question — long home to modest taquerias and corner markets — is now teeming with Silicon Valley workers and the pricey restaurants that cater to them.

Fancy high-rises are planned to take over dilapidated street corners, including one development that tenant activists have dubbed the "Monster in the Mission," a building with more than 300 units and rents projected to start at $3,500.

The growth is pushing out longtime tenants, said hundreds of people who crowded San Francisco City Hall last month to support the moratorium and urge a time-out on evictions.

They say that working families, especially Latinos, are being forced out by housing developers and that city officials have a responsibility to fight back. "It's a working class environment. I have family here, and at the rate it's going, we're not going to have anyone we know close by," Hugo Vargas said.

The 16-year-old Vargas shares a small room with his parents and two younger sisters. Their space in a single-room occupancy hotel goes for about $900 a month, and his parents, who earn about $45,000 combined, have applied unsuccessfully for years for a rent-controlled apartment that would give them more space.

A moratorium would have given the city time to buy some of the land available in the Mission District in order to develop hundreds of affordable housing units for lower-income and middle-income families, activists said before the vote. Otherwise, they fear developers will snap up the property for even more high-priced units.

The district has lost lower-income and middle-income households, according to a recent study by the nonprofit Council of Community Housing Organizations.

Families earning $50,000 to $75,000 made up a quarter of Mission households in 2000; today that number is 13 percent. Households with incomes of at least $100,000, meanwhile, have increased.

"It's trending into something that's not a working-class neighborhood," says Gabriel Medina, president of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club.

The vote by the city's Board of Supervisors on the moratorium showed how officials are desperate to do something about housing in a city where the prices are among the nation's highest.

Dozens of moratorium opponents gathered at a City Hall rally early Tuesday afternoon. Organizer Derek Remski said officials should focus on growth, rather than attempts to artificially cap prices.

"We can't freeze the city in a block of amber," he says. "I don't want to fossilize San Francisco."

Three hours into the hearing, dozens were still waiting for their chance to speak. Most of those who took the podium were overwhelmingly in support of preserving lots in a city they called a safe haven for immigrants and the poor, the working class and artists.

"I hope, I pray, I yearn that San Francisco really becomes the city of St Francis," said the Rev. Amos Brown of the Third Baptist Church.  

According to the city, more than two dozen projects would have been affected by the ordinance, including the "Monster," formally named for its address, 1979 Mission.

Most of the development's units would be for rent, with a few dozen priced for sale to households earning roughly $60,000 to $145,000 a year, according to spokesman Joe Arellano.

A moratorium wouldn't solve anything, Arellano said.

"If you limit the supply of new housing, demand is still high. And rent and home prices will continue to go through the roof," he said.

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