SAN FRANCISCO—There's an unfamiliar scene in San Francisco's Bayview- Hunters Point neighborhood. It's the sight of a construction crew at one of the city's most distressed public housing developments.
After years of planning, The John Stewart Co., Devine &
Gong, Inc., and Ridgepoint Non-Profit Housing Corp. have begun
rebuilding Hunters View, a 22-acre site consisting of 267 public
housing units built in 1956. Hunters View is just the first chapter
in what is hoped will be an epic tale of renewal.
It's the lead project in a bold initiative
known as HOPE SF that aims to transform eight isolated and
neglected public housing projects into thriving mixed-income
communities. The other projects are Alice Griffith, Sunnydale,
Potrero Annex and Terrace, Westside Courts, Hunters Point, and
Westbrook/ Hunters Point East.
In all, 2,500 dilapidated public housing units will be rebuilt
in brandnew mixed-income communities featuring some 6,000 new
A who's who of affordable housing developers
will play a role in the overall plan, including McCormack Baron
Salazar, Mercy Housing, Related California, and BRIDGE Housing.
The effort may sound an awful lot like the work
that's been done under the federal HOPE VI
program, but there are major differences.
For one, city officials did not wait around for elusive HOPE VI
funding. Instead, they turned to other resources, including a city
bond issue and philanthropic sources. They've
also pledged a one-for-one replacement of all the public housing
units without mass displacement of current residents.
They've committed to meeting ambitious hiring
goals that call for using local contractors and employing public
housing residents. Developers will also use green building products
“It's being done with that
San Francisco flair,” says Jack Gardner, president and
CEO of The John Stewart Co.
People can spend a lifetime in the city and never step foot in
the Bayview neighborhood. Isolated in the southeast section of
town, it's only a few miles from the heart of
San Francisco but a world away from the bustle of the financial
district or the clanking of cable cars in tony Nob Hill.
The average household in the HOPE SF sites earns less than
$15,000 a year. One in six children has asthma, a rate
that's twice the national average, and the sites
also have the highest rate of families in crisis in the city,
according to those behind the revitalization effort.
It would have been easy to keep ignoring Bayview and its litany
of problems. However, when a new mayor blew into office in 2004,
the hard-luck neighborhood began to feel the wind at its back.
At his first department heads meeting after taking office, Gavin
Newsom had everyone put down their cell phones and board two buses
that were waiting outside City Hall. He kept the destination secret
because he didn't want anyone tipping off their
staffs so a team could rush to Bayview ahead of them to try to hide
some of the poor conditions.
This unexpected field trip drove home the point that Newsom was
committed to improving the neighborhood. It turned out it
wasn't his department chiefs who needed
convincing but skeptical residents who had been promised so much
but received so little over the years.
”The most challenging thing was trying to convince
people up here that we not only meant business but we were going to
do business differently, that we were going to respect the
residents, respect the neighborhood, respect a process of inclusion
and engagement, and that our promises would be kept," Newsom said
at the Hunters View groundbreaking last year.
During a speech in which he recalled bullet holes in the
basketball backboards, Newsom bluntly said the work was 50 years
“There are no other cities that we know of,
and we have traveled the country and we have looked at best
practices, that are engaging in this type of effort at this
level,” he said. “This is federal
housing. This is the federal government's
responsibility. This is the responsibility of folks in Washington,
D.C. This is the manifestation of their neglect over half a
century. It's no longer good enough to just
point fingers and talk about the way the world should be. ...
We've got to take responsibility ourselves."
Lottie Titus is among the residents counting on the
redevelopment to provide a better environment for her family,
including the grandchildren she is helping raise.
“For a fact I know it will create a diverse
community,” she says.
“I'm hoping that it will
bring unity to the residents who already reside here, but more than
anything I'm looking forward to new
opportunities for my family and other residents."
Titus has lived in Hunters View for 17 years. This is her
neighborhood. “I'm not going
anywhere,” she says.
“I'm going to be here
”˜til it's over."
Hunters View leads the way
HOPE SF is on a similar scale as the massive transformation
that's happened in Atlanta and Chicago, says
Henry Alvarez III, executive director of the San Francisco Housing
Authority, who estimates the initiative will add up to more than $1
billion in development.
“I don't think I ever
dreamed I would be involved in something like this,” he
The effort starts with Hunters View, which will be done in
several phases and has the potential to bring 800 new housing units
to the site. That would be roughly 350 affordable apartments, 50
affordable for-sale units, and another 400 market-rate for-sale
homes. In addition, there will be two parks and all new
Costing roughly $62 million, the first phase will provide 107
units, including 80 public housing replacement units and 27
straight low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) apartments.
Developers attribute the price tag to several factors, including
creating large units, paying prevailing wages, working with
difficult topography, and the overall high costs of building in
expensive San Francisco.
The funding for this first step includes a $41 million
construction loan from Citi Community Capital and $29.2 million in
LIHTC equity from syndicator Enterprise and investor Bank of
America. The city is providing a $12.6 million loan
that's coming from a $95 million bond issue and
another $9.8 million from the redevelopment agency. The state
Department of Housing and Community Development is also a key
partner, contributing nearly $18 million from different
“The city's initial $95
million com mitment was critical and very unusual," says Rich
Gross, vice president and market leader in Northern California for
Enterprise, a key partner in the effort. “In
addition, the combination of development financing that included
federal, state, and local financing and the long-term commitment of
human service funding makes this different than any other
initiative. The scale and commitment to current residents is also
innovative. Pulling in the private sector and building support for
HOPE SF as a civic responsibility is an important aspect."
When public housing authorities redevelop their aging
developments, existing residents are often uprooted.
They're forced to relocate, typically using Sec.
8 vouchers to find other housing.
At Hunters View, developers had demolished 113 units at the end
of summer. When the first of the buildings was torn down, residents
were moved to vacant units on the site, allowing them to remain
connected to their neighborhood, schools, and services.
There's no place where there is a greater
commitment to current residents, Gross says.
Gardner agrees, citing a unique job placement program as one
example. In the early days of construction, the development team is
exceeding the goals that call for 50 percent of the total hours in
each trade to be worked by San Francisco residents (67 percent
achieved as of early October) and 25 percent of the total workforce
to be made up of housing authority residents (34.6 percent achieved
Urban Strategies, Inc., a St. Louis-based nonprofit that has
often worked with its development partner, McCormack Baron Salazar,
is on scene at Hunters View, providing outreach to residents.
The road ahead
Eyes are closely watching the work that is under way at Hunters
View, which will set the tone for the other projects to follow.
To even get to this point, the HOPE SF initiative has gone
through political changes and real state cycles. Newsom, who
championed the project, has moved on to be lieutenant governor of
California. The housing authority has also seen a leadership
change, with Alvarez arriving in 2008.
Hunters View was imagined when the real estate market was riding
high, it's pushing on when the market is down
and will be completed when the market is back, says Gardner.
In all, it will take 15 or more years to get to all eight
developments in the HOPE SF plan completed. And, there are many
obstacles to overcome. Although HOPE SF began without a major
commitment of federal funds, the Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD) recently announced that McCormack Baron Salazar
and the housing authority will receive a $30.5 million Choice
Neighborhoods grant, one of only five awarded this year, for the
redevelopment of the Alice Griffith public housing project.
Choice Neighborhoods is HUD's successor to
the HOPE VI program. It seeks to transform distressed neighborhoods
into strong mixed-income communities by linking housing
opportunities with services, schools, transportation, and access to
With construction estimated to begin around 2013, Alice Griffith
will likely be the second project in the grand HOPE SF plan to get
under way. It's part of a massive Hunters Point
Shipyard revitalization spearheaded by builder Lennar. McCormack
Baron Salazar's plans call for replacing 256
public housing units and building another 248 LIHTC apartments,
says Yusef Freeman, vice president at the firm. In line with the
goals of Choice Neighborhoods, the firm will also develop an early
childhood education facility and provide other intensive programs
Related California in a joint venture with Mercy Housing is
working on the redevelopment of the Sunnydale project. BRIDGE
Housing will redevelop Potrero Annex and Terrace.
With construction under way at Hunters View and funding lining
up for Alice Griffith, HOPE SF is becoming more than a dream.