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Mayor London Breed announces acquisition and preservation of housing and the El Rio bar through the City's Small Sites Program

Eight residential homes in the Mission-Bernal Heights neighborhood will remain permanently affordable as part of this effort.

Mayor London N. Breed today announced the acquisition and preservation of 3156-3158 Mission Street as part of the City’s Small Sites Program. The acquired properties are two mixed-use buildings with eight apartments and two commercial spaces occupied by El Rio, which is a bar and cornerstone business that has served the local Latino and LGBTQ communities since 1978. The bar and patio occupy one commercial space, and a community meeting space occupies the other.

“As we work to build more housing, we also have to use programs like Small Sites to keep tenants stable in their neighborhoods,” said Mayor Breed. “The fact that this acquisition also comes with the preservation of El Rio, which is an incredible part of our City’s LGBTQ and Latino nightlife, makes it even more special. We know the challenges that many bars and restaurants face to stay open, but it is places like El Rio that draw people together and make our communities and our City unique. I’m proud that we have found a solution to support El Rio, as well as the tenants who live in the building.”

The apartments at 3156-3158 Mission St. currently serve low- to moderate-income households with a building-wide average of 55% of Area Median Income. Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) moved expeditiously to acquire the property and preserve it as permanently affordable housing. The acquisition was financed with an $8.6 million loan provided by the San Francisco Housing Accelerator Fund (SFHAF). The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) expects to provide MEDA with permanent financing for the building in December 2020 following the completion of critical repairs and upgrades. 

“We don’t need more evictions, and the Small Sites acquisition program is an incredibly effective way of keeping people in their homes,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “Ensuring that El Rio can continue to exist is a big win for the LGBTQ and Latino communities and for our city’s cultural heart. Today’s move is a big win for San Francisco.”

“I am a huge fan of our affordable Small Sites program. With the addition of the apartments over El Rio, we have been able to protect over 200 households in my District that were facing eviction, but are now safe and stable in affordable homes,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “This particular purchase by MEDA, though, is an extra-special win, because we’ve been able to pair small sites with our Legacy Business program to protect the much-beloved El Rio dive bar. Cannot wait to celebrate with my community!”

“Bars and clubs like El Rio are sacred spaces for queer people,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. “They’re places where we come together with chosen family, raise funds for important organizations and create a stronger and more vibrant LGBTQ community. I’ve been to dozens of fundraisers, dance parties and drag shows at El Rio and am looking forward to many more community events to come thanks to this purchase through the City’s Small Sites Program.”

The rehabilitation plan includes approximately $800,000 in crucial repairs to the building including seismic retrofitting and strengthening, updating electrical and building systems and additional exterior renovations and improvements.

“Preserving affordable housing and a key cultural landmark simultaneously represents a major accomplishment in our efforts to prevent displacement and maintain neighborhood vibrancy,” said Dan Adams, Acting Director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. “Thank you to the SFHAF and MEDA for your continued partnership in helping to expand our acquisition programs to serve more low and moderate income households in neighborhoods throughout San Francisco.”

“We’re proud to partner with MEDA on another critical small sites acquisition in the Mission, protecting affordability for the building’s residents and a legacy business in El Rio, an important asset for the neighborhood and the LGBT community,” said Rebecca Foster, CEO of the SFHAF. “The Housing Accelerator Fund was created to make important projects exactly like this a reality.”  

The San Francisco Housing Accelerator Fund innovates smart approaches that put public, private, and philanthropic money to work to expand the supply of affordable housing in San Francisco. SFHAF was incubated in the Mayor’s Office to address gaps in and complement the public sector’s funding mechanisms. The fund was kick-started with investments from the City, Citi Community Development, Dignity Health, and The San Francisco Foundation. In less than three years of operation, SFHAF has raised and deployed over $109 million to fund the preservation and construction of 433 permanently affordable units in San Francisco.

“El Rio is a legacy business, so this Small Sites Program purchase aligns with MEDA’s cultural placekeeping strategy for the Mission/Bernal Heights,” said Johnny Oliver, MEDA Associate Director of Community Real Estate. “El Rio promotes diversity, which is a value that San Francisco has long touted, and remains a communal meeting ground. This purchase will also keep in place the longtime tenants in the apartments above El Rio—tenants vulnerable to displacement.”

“El Rio would like to thank MEDA, their staff and board for their willingness to invest in our business and buildings as one of their commercial spaces serving the community,” said Dawn Huston, owner of El Rio. “We are humbled and immensely grateful for this opportunity.”

Through the City’s acquisition programs, 34 buildings consisting of 278 units have been acquired, and another 12 buildings with 110 total units are in the pipeline. Over $83 million of City funds have been committed for acquisition and preservation programs, and over 500 households have been stabilized to date. Last month, MOHCD issued a $40.5 million Notice of Funding Availability for future Small Sites Program acquisitions and capacity building grants, which is part of Mayor Breed’s strategy to prevent displacement and expand the City’s affordable housing preservation pipeline.