A groundbreaking ceremony was held for The Kelsey Civic Center, a community that will offer 112 homes for people of “all abilities, incomes, and backgrounds” in San Francisco.

Located across the street from City Hall and Davies Symphony Hall, the project is being developed by The Kelsey, an organization pioneering disability-forward housing solutions, and longtime affordable housing developer and owner Mercy Housing California.

“When this building goes up, it’s going to change so many lives for the better,” said Elizabeth Grigsby, a consumer rights advocate and board member of The Kelsey.

It has been believed that people with disabilities need to be taken care, said Grigsby, who has cerebral palsy.

The Kelsey Civic Center is being built across the street from San Francisco’s City Hall.
The Kelsey Civic Center is being built across the street from San Francisco’s City Hall.

“No one said these people need a life, need housing, need to be independent and thrive,” she said.

The Kelsey Civic Center aims to change that.

The community will be a model for affordability, accessibility, and inclusivity, said Gustavo Velasquez, director of California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

Velasquez joined mayor London Breed and others at the groundbreaking.

Mercy Housing California and The Kelsey were able to get to this milestone celebration after being dealt a major blow. The developers were set to close on a $52 million construction loan with Silicon Valley Bank on March 10, the same day the bank was seized by federal regulators.

The unfortunate timing meant the closing did not happen, complicating a project that has been in the works for about four years. However, the team stayed on course with minimal delay to the development.

The community development banking team at JPMorgan Chase joined the project as the new lender. Other partners include HCD, California Department of Developmental Services, San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, Housing Trust Silicon Valley, The Kelsey, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Golden Gate Regional Center, and The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

The Kelsey Civic Center is designed by WRNS Studio, an architecture and planning firm specializing in high-quality sustainable design, and Santos Prescott and Associates, an architecture and urban design practice acclaimed for the spatial inventiveness and social responsibility of its work. San Francisco–based Cahill Contractors is the construction partner.

The first residents are expected in about two years. The development will reserve 25% of its homes for people with disabilities in an accessibly designed building. The ground floor will also house the first-of-its-kind Disability Community Cultural Center.

The Kelsey organization is named after Kelsey Flynn O’Connor, and in her modified American Sign Language one of her favorite signs was for “more,” recalled her cousin Micaela Connery, co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit.

“How do we lead this to more?” asked Connery.

The next step, she said, will be to take what is being built in San Francisco and develop more accessible and affordable housing across the city and country.