Firstly, we’d like to say a mournful goodbye to Amabel, but also commend her on her bravery to take care of herself and not stretch herself too thin. In happier news, however, we’d also like to give a warm welcome to the newest member of our team: Paul! We all had an exciting chance to get to know each other on our first excursion together to the Tenderloin this afternoon.
In the Tenderloin (TL), we met with community leaders in a small group setting. The four of us first met with five community leaders, all Tenderloin residents, who work with the TNDC. The group was racially diverse: three African Americans, one Hispanic, and one Caucasian, who have lived in the TL for different amounts of time. Some live in single room occupancy housing (SROs) and some live in affordable housing units run by the TNDC. Each of these community leaders have had significant struggles in their life but were able to recover from those challenges and are doing all they can to give back to the community.
After our meeting with the community leaders, we went to a community meeting with a developer. All community members were welcome to come and ask questions about the proposed building. About ten community members came to the meeting and five or six asked questions or expressed concerns. The community members in attendance were racially diverse--Caucasian, Asian, and African American, and it seemed like people of all of the represented ethnic backgrounds were able to express their thoughts.
What We Observed and Learned
In our first meeting, we were introduced to 5 community leaders within the Tenderloin: Jesse and Sherry, members of the Tenderloin People’s Congress, Don and Steve, Tenderloin Food Justice Leaders, and Darrell, an organizer for a community homeless coalition. After hearing a little from each of these leaders about their lives and how they came to the Tenderloin, we provided more pointed questions about their experiences with services and retail within the TL. When asked about which services were available in the neighborhood and which services were only available outside it became clear that the TL was lacking in many services that went beyond the realm of healthful food access. Some of the services listed were laundry, cleaners, notaries, women specific services, and office supplies. Yet despite the range of lacking services, when asked what kind of service/retail would be most beneficial to the TL, the resounding answer was stores selling healthy, affordable food. It is clear that the proliferation of corner stores in the TL not only exacerbates issues surrounding poor nutrition and associated health problems. For some residents, it’s possible to take public transportation to the nearest supermarket; however, for a community in which many people are elderly and/or disabled it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to reach those same supermarkets.
During the community development meeting, a construction company presented on and answered questions about 1 of the 14 new proposed developments occurring in the Tenderloin area. This confirmed project would be a conversion of the existing parking lot on the 400 block of Eddy street into a residential unit. The new one story building would host 24 units on a 700 square ft plot land and include 9 stalls of parking. The limited parking spaces are an effort by the developer to appeal to residents with no cars and thereby increase public transportation usage. The building would be in accordance with San Francisco’s 12% inclusion ordinance, with low-income defined as a total income of ninety thousands dollars a year per unit of two individuals. Concerns brought up by the attendees of the meeting revolved around the impact the building would have on the outside community and the need for a community space. Comments were made how the building might interfere with sunlight entering residential units where the walls run parallel to the neighboring buildings; the representative responded to those concerns with assurance that a light well would be installed. The community members had a lot of logistical questions that the representative redirected to people he has been working including Claire, Lorenzo, and Dan. Lorenzo stressed that the community desperately needed a communal space for events and meetings, expressing frustration with the current state of existing communal spaces being limited and often times used for storage. Overall the meeting was pretty tense, but most community members left seeming to feel resigned but not angry.
Critical Analysis / Moving Forward
It was an extremely important step for us to visit and actually connect with community members and leaders in the neighborhood after the conceptual research work that we’ve been pouring our time into until this point. The community leaders were full of energy and offered us an abundance of information stemming from their personal backgrounds and lived experiences in this neighborhood both as residents and community activist leaders. Our notes from the meeting are still fairly messy since we just met this afternoon, but we will have them organized for our post next week.
One of the largest take-aways from these meetings, however, were identifying two specific areas of need within the community and thus potential recommendations for newly developed retail space: the need to address food justice issues and the need for more community space. Throughout our meeting with the community leaders, we kept coming back to the lack of a large grocery store and the plethora of liquor/candy stores in the area. Groceries at corner stores are significantly more expensive than groceries at larger grocery stores, but since many Tenderloin residents often have limited funds and disabilities, they can’t afford to travel to larger grocery stores and stock up. The space where the developer meeting was held is currently the only real “community space” and it was a particularly small, poorly-lit space that appeared mostly to be used for storage.
Next week we plan to attend the food justice coalition meeting with the TNDC and some of the community leaders we met with this Friday. We also got the phone numbers for Sherry, with the Tenderloin People’s Congress, and Steve, a food justice leader with the TNDC and will be following up with specific community needs around retail development.
In the meantime, we have reached out to our community partners Lorenzo and Ryan about survey data that will be of use to us in our continued research and analysis of the needs and opportunities around community-serving commercial businesses in the TL; when we first met with Lorenzo and Ryan, they encouraged us to focus mostly on pre-existing surveys and data because there have already been a myriad conducted and in these cases, not having to reinvent the wheel is of much benefit both to this project and to the community. Once we have this data, we will then also be better equipped to delve deeper into renewed first-hand research and overall analysis.