Construction is underway on the first educator housing development for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and the city of San Francisco.
Scheduled to open in fall 2024, the project is transforming a site that had been primarily used for storage by the school district into a new 135-unit community with a tenant preference for SFUSD educators and employees.
Shirley Chisholm Village is also the first project in the city by lead developer MidPen Housing, a venerable nonprofit organization that has been developing and operating affordable housing across Northern California and the Central Coast.
More than 20 years in the making, the development will serve as a model for how cities and school districts can work to address housing affordability to attract and retain teachers and other employees.
“We surveyed teachers, administrators, and paraprofessionals, and we held focus groups with them,” says MidPen Housing president and CEO Matthew O. Franklin. “That really informed our program. It led to a significant moderate-income component because, like a lot of households in the world, many educator households are two-earner households. If you want to help them, it’s not as simple as just looking at the district incomes.”
Named after the first Black woman elected to Congress, Shirley Chisholm Village will have 34 units for residents earning between 40% and 60% of the area median income (AMI), with the remaining units designated for households earning between 80% and 120% of the AMI.
It’s also notable that the project is located in the Sunset neighborhood, a part of the city that has seen little affordable housing development.
The $105 million community is being funded by a mix of low-income housing tax credits as well as substantial support from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, funded in part by a voter-approved housing general obligation bond. It was also helped by the voter-approved Proposition E of 2019, which enabled construction of affordable educator housing on public-zoned lots in San Francisco.
Shirley Chisholm Village is among nine new developments that MidPen started construction on last year. These new projects, many of which include units for the most vulnerable, feature 836 affordable homes, making the firm No. 21 on the AHF 50 developers list.
With a portfolio of 8,568 affordable units owned as of Jan. 1, MidPen is also on the AHF 50 owners list at No. 49.
Another development underway by the nonprofit is 414 Petaluma in Petaluma. With the help of federal disaster relief low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs), the development will bring 44 affordable homes, including 18 for farmworker families, to Sonoma County, an area devastated by wildfires in 2017.
MidPen also has three projects in Santa Cruz County, another region that was recently hit by wildfires.
Even as development costs increase and the competition for LIHTCs and tax-exempt bonds to finance projects remains high, the organization has continued to build its pipeline and entitle sites.
“We’ve been doing that very deliberately,” Franklin says. “We do it because we know that housing is No. 1 on the public agenda right now, and we’re trusting that if we build a pipeline the finance will come through one way or another.”
The Petaluma and Santa Cruz County developments were able to tap into disaster-relief resources. Two other projects the began construction last year utilized the new California Housing Accelerator, a state program that enables shovel-ready projects to move forward without an allocation of LIHTCs or tax-exempt bonds.
While those funding sources are episodic, Franklin and his team were ready to utilize them, leading to a strong production year in 2022.
MidPen was founded in 1970 by a small but influential group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, including Bill Hewlett and David Packard, who were concerned about the lack of affordable housing and inequitable access to housing in the region.
Franklin took the helm in 2008 from Fran Wagstaff, who retired after leading the organization for 25 years.
Throughout this time, MidPen has focused exclusively on affordable housing, providing homes for families, seniors, transition-age foster youth, and others. Many of its recent developments include a supportive housing component or address a special population, including veterans experiencing homelessness.
“We deeply believe in what we call ‘high public benefit developments,’” Franklin says. “For us, that means relatively deep income targeting so that we’re truly meeting needs. In our strategic plan, we plan for 40% of the units that we create to be either permanent supportive housing or deeply targeted to extremely low-income households.”
While the San Francisco project will help meet the needs of school district workers, other projects are aimed at the most vulnerable.
A recent example is Shores Landing in Redwood City. MidPen was an early user of California’s Homekey program, which helped developers acquire and convert hotels and other properties into permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with the state and San Mateo County, the nonprofit turned a TownePlace Suites property into supportive housing for 95 seniors who were experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
“MidPen has been a leader in affordable housing for over 50 years,” says Noni Ramos, CEO of Housing Trust Silicon Valley. “Their work, particularly in the South Bay, has focused on creating homes for some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, including farmworkers. MidPen has established itself as a thought leader in our field as it relates to delivering resident services and partnering with service providers to change lives and revitalize neighborhoods.”
MidPen operates in 12 Northern California and Central Coast counties, some of the nation’s most expensive housing markets.
The nonprofit is unique in its ability to work regionally while maintaining a local presence in the communities where it works, according to Ramos.
“They invest the time and resources to build genuine relationships with public- and private-sector partners, and, most importantly, with members of the communities they serve,” she says. “The organization stays true to these values while also creating impact at scale. MidPen is a leading voice in advocating for policies that support creating more resources for affordable housing both in California and at the federal level.”
The organization has been laser focused on its local city and county partners. “We need them more than ever,” says Franklin, whose previous experience includes serving as director of California’s Department of Housing and Community Development. “If you’re going to be nimble and take advantage of different opportunities with a large pipeline, your partners have to be able to do that with you. It’s only if you have a deep relationship and if you trust each other that you can do that.”
There’s been recent attention placed on some California cities that have failed to meet their state’s affordable housing requirements.
Franklin would rather focus on the other communities. He points out that in MidPen’s footprint, at least one-third of the cities in the 12 counties are deeply committed to affordable housing.
“I feel we are not talking enough about the good actors, the committed local partners,” he says. “We’re careful to select local partners who want to get something done.”
The nonprofit has recently stepped up its policy work, calling on leaders at different levels of government to make housing a priority. Examples include supporting the $1.75 billion California Housing Accelerator fund and showing how local jurisdictions can create strong affordable housing.
“We need more resources, and I think it’s important the resources be targeted to the highest impact. If you have scarce dollars, the dollars ought to be spent for those with the greatest need. For us, that’s people experiencing homelessness and those with extremely low incomes,” he says, noting that there’s 1 million extremely low-income people and 35,000 homeless people on the streets in the San Francisco Bay Area.