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San Francisco Social Housing Report

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Updated: Dec 25th, 2020

Introduction

The San Francisco Bay Area is the second densest area in the United States after New York City. Poor urban planning, and outdated housing infrastructure that has been driven by construction regulations to preserve the cultural landscape of the city, have resulted in a gradual increase in housing prices. This report will investigate the crisis in San Francisco and an innovative approach to developing a social housing project that shares characteristics of sustainable urban design with construction in Singapore.

San Francisco Home Price Index.
Figure 1. San Francisco Home Price Index (Weinberger, 2017).

The technology boom of the 21st century, which saw many large corporations expand their presence in the San Francisco metropolitan area, led to an influx of a well-paid workforce to the area. The city maintains a density of almost 19,000 people per square mile (Weinberger, 2017). A lack of physical housing, along with the abuse of prices by real estate developers, has led to an exponential increase in the Home Price Index. According to Figure 1, housing prices in San Francisco are vastly disproportionate, rising to five times the national median, with San Francisco becoming the most expensive city for rental rates as well.

Project Design

Table 1. Distribution of Units by Type
Unit Type Total
Public Housing 267
50% AMI Rental 83
80% AMI-for-sale 59
Habitat for Humanity 17
Market For-Sale 315
Hunters View Associates LP, 2014, p. 2

The housing crisis in San Francisco is partially attributed to the city government’s poor housing development policy. It has been unable to respond to the population growth adequately, and construction permits are not being approved at an appropriate rate. The rise of housing prices for both purchase and rent has resulted in increased eviction and homelessness rates as the city’s core population struggles to keep up with prices that technology industry professionals find manageable. In recent years, the municipal government, along with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, has begun investing in various social housing projects. Hunters View is a public housing community located in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. It was built in 1957 and is now in a deteriorated state, with an abundance of safety and maintenance issues making the units unlivable (Hunters View Associates LP, 2014). The San Francisco city government has invested in a redevelopment project in the area as part of citywide revitalization efforts.

The development includes demolishing existing buildings and replacing them with upgraded housing and facilities that will form a community of approximately 800 residential units. The units will be distributed according to resident income, with priority given to public housing and discounted rental units. Shown in Table 1 is the distribution of units according to current proposals. Despite the high quality of housing and a prime location, there is a priority on offering prices below market value. The same number of public housing units are available as before the redevelopment.

Project Design

The project utilizes a thoroughly planned urban design that seeks to address various issues that the old neighborhood experienced. It has been redesigned to efficiently fit into San Francisco’s neighborhood structure with a new street layout that meshes with building locations and the main road nearby. The landscape has been adapted to the neighborhood’s hilly topography, with strategic placement of facades, staircases, and open spaces. The housing will consist of 18 blocks of buildings ranging from two to five stories (20-65 feet). Also, there are plans to include 6,400 square feet of retail space, 21,600 square feet of community-oriented buildings, and 58,300 square feet of public parks (Hunters View Community Partners, 2008).

Comparison of Sustainable Social Housing

The Hunters View project has been developed with a core principle of sustainability. It seeks to address the San Francisco city government’s aspirations for integrated environmental designs for streets and buildings. Ecology is central to achieving various social goals by structural and environmental means. The project aims to revitalize a neighborhood that was isolated from the city due to its decaying infrastructure, residents’ safety concerns, and environmental issues. The contemporary design seeks to create an open atmosphere through managing transportation networks, open community spaces, and social amenities that encourage healthy lifestyles and networking within or outside the neighborhood. Buildings are constructed for energy efficiency with an upgraded utility infrastructure that reduces cost and environmental impact. Materials and building systems are selected for durability while providing high-quality and healthy living conditions (Hunters View Community Partners, 2008).

The approach taken by San Francisco in the Hunters View project is comparable to Singapore’s more extensive and longer running public housing development. Singapore’s urban model has focused on creating high-density public housing with a significant reliance on sustainability and affordability. The social engineering aspect has ensured the availability of infrastructure to act as a stabilizing agent for the population. Meanwhile, the urbanization process has created economic growth. Singapore has focused on combining sustainability with livability for public housing. Similar to Hunters View, a number of standards addressing transportation systems, utilities, and economic vibrancy was established to raise the quality of life in the process of urban design. There is constant availability of community-based initiatives by providing safety, community facilities, and educational opportunities. Sustainability is encouraged in Singapore through the use of energy-efficient materials and emission-quality control (Hock, 2010). Landscape design, which was a large aspect of the San Francisco neighborhood layout, is evident in Singapore as well, despite the focus on high-rise buildings. The city government uses a form of land-use intensification that provides as much available open space and greenery as possible without compromising the living area.

Personal Statement

The Hunters View project is an example of a competently and efficiently developed redevelopment project that addresses community needs while staying true to the city’s urban design. Positive features of the development include its dedication to sustainability and community-centered design decisions. Although the city had little experience with competent urban design and sustainable social housing, San Francisco authorities and the developers responsible for the project were able to utilize various principles of this type of construction and adapt them appropriately. As with most public housing, there is the problem of cost and financing for constructing and maintaining a project of such magnitude. That concern is mitigated to an extent through the offering of market-value units in addition to the existing social housing. Another potential problem is the implementation of the project in phases. This was done partly due to the extensive size of the redevelopment as well as the presence of a population already living in the area. However, there were initial concerns that the project would be incomplete or inefficient due to the multi-stage design and accumulating costs over time.

Social Aspects

The Hunters View public housing population consisted of 431 residents before development began. Almost half were under the age of 18. The average income was around $16,207, with a 20% employment rate for heads of household. Due to the community-based approach and the design of the neighborhood, it would be most beneficial for young families seeking to settle in an area with a wide range of public services. Even many of the specialists moving to the area to work for technology companies also struggle to find affordable housing despite better salaries. Developments such as Hunters View provide housing opportunities for a variety of lower and middle-class families without sacrificing the quality of life.

The project has benefits for a variety of social classes due to the various community and economic benefits it brings to the city district. However, it is most impactful for public housing residents who have been living in unsafe conditions for years. As many of the residents were minority families and elderly, they were a struggling and vulnerable population in a community whose upkeep had been neglected. There were significant social impacts after the initial redevelopment as a crime in the area fell, and school attendance rates increased by 30%. It also helped to establish residents’ trust in the city government throughout San Francisco, since this was credible evidence of policy working to address the critical housing issue (Knight, 2017).

Recommendations

The people-based approach used in the development of space and community services for the Hunters View residents should remain in further planning. Providing access to essential education and social support is critical for vulnerable populations. The dramatic increase in quality of life for residents of public housing, with no evident segregation in urban design based on the type of unit, should also be commended. One aspect which should be revisited is the distribution of units to public housing. Although the number of units remained the same, the redevelopment allows for allotting much more space to public or discounted housing, since the situation remains dire in the city. Although open space is an important aspect, it may be possible to sacrifice one of the three parks to be used as a lot for additional units. Some of the retail space and possibly some community space can also be reduced in favor of additional housing. Since San Francisco is a well-developed metropolitan area, many of these services are available within the reach of public and private transportation. Meanwhile, the shortage of available housing units will continue to increase in an incredibly dense area.

References

Hock, L. (2010). Sustainable affordable housing for a nation: The Singapore success story. Web.

Hunters View Associates LP. (2014). Web.

Hunters View Community Partners. (2008). Web.

Knight, H. (2017). San Francisco Chronicle. Web.

Weinberger, M. (2017). Web.

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IvyPanda. "San Francisco Social Housing." December 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/san-francisco-social-housing/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "San Francisco Social Housing." December 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/san-francisco-social-housing/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'San Francisco Social Housing'. 25 December.

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