In San Francisco, low-impact, low-income housing that makes a huge difference
The Richardson Apartments — a lauded housing complex for very low-income residents in San Francisco — will be featured in the upcoming exhibition, 'From Idealism to Realism: Celebrating Public Interest Design.'
Photos: David Baker + Partners Architects/Bruce Damonte
My post yesterday on FLATS, several ambitious SRO conversion projects in Chicago’s Uptown and Edgewater neighborhoods, got me thinking: although transforming foreclosed, down-and-out, and, in some cases, completely abandoned, single room occupancy hotels into hip, micro-apartment communities is a prime opportunity for real estate developers to freshen up derelict buildings and invest in gentrifying neighborhoods, what about similar projects that don’t displace low-income and often physically and mentally disabled tenants? Developments that continue to provide shelter to the disadvantaged — read: not boutique hotels on the Bowery — while moving away from the sad, unsavory realities of flophouse-dom?
Turns out, there are plenty. Although new builds and not conversion projects, the LifeEdited blog recently featured a couple of properties, one in the Bronx and the other in Chicago, that challenge the preconception that many have about SRO buildings (i.e. “synononymous with drugs, crime, totaliarian architecture, and poor building quality.”) And as David Friedlander suggests, many SROs “enjoy a pass on restrictive building codes, allowing smaller unit sizes and larger communal areas than their conventional residential counterparts. Perhaps these developments presaged the upcoming micro-unit movement we’ve been talking so much about.”
There’s a whole lot to like about the David Baker + Partners-designed Richardson Apartments. For starters, there’s the rooftop solar arrays and allotment garden, solar hot water heating, a vegetated roof, rain gardens, sunshades, the use of low-VOC paints and finishes, and reclaimed and sustainable woods found throughout the structure. In addition to big honors from the AIA and other organizations, the complex also received a 2012 Merit Award from the Northern California chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
And although the studio units themselves may be small — they average around 300-square-feet — there’s no dearth of community living space in the 65,000-square-foot complex including a landscaped courtyard, a residents’ lounge, beautifully appointed common rooms, and a roof deck with sweeping city views. There’s also an in-house medical clinic and counseling center and, on the ground floor, retail space including Hayes Valley Bakeworks, an eco-friendly bakery and café that provides job training and employment for people with disabilities who are homeless or at risk.
Dedicated bike parking is available to the Richardson Apartments’ 120 permanent residents, but the building’s location at Fulton and Gough Streets — an area severely impacted by the collapse of the Central Freeway during the 1989 San Francisco earthquake — is also transit-oriented and exceedingly pedestrian friendly (the development's WalkScore is 95). I should also point out that the building is named in honor of the founders of Marcus Books, the country's first independent African-American bookstore.
All said, such a support-heavy and thoughtfully designed building dedicated to providing dignified housing to very low-income residents isn’t exactly easy to score a spot in. As detailed by Co.Exist, there’s a long waiting list for those who pass an initial screening process that weeds out applicants with violent tendencies. If approved, residents pay 30 percent of their income as rent — a maximum of $870 per month — to live in the Community Housing Partnership-owned building.
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