Potrero Annex-Terrace Being Steadily Rebuilt

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Photo: Rendering of Potrero Block B from Arkansas and 25th streets. PROVIDED BY: Y.A. Studio and HKIT Architects
Rendering of Potrero Block B from Arkansas and 25th streets. PROVIDED BY: Y.A. Studio and HKIT Architects

The Potrero Annex-Terrace housing community, located on the Hill’s southeast slope, has long been largely isolated from the economically thriving neighborhood to the north. The complex is dominated by barracks-like residences that were built more than 80 years ago.  For the past 15 years it’s been part of the HOPE SF redevelopment effort, a partnership between municipal agencies, private real estate developers, and The San Francisco Foundation. 

BRIDGE Housing, which operates 21 properties in the City, is leading the effort. Once completed Annex-Terrace ownership and management will be transferred from the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA) to BRIDGE, with SFHA leasing the underlying land to Bridge. 

Under HOPE SF Annex-Terrace is being demolished and rebuilt in five phases, scheduled to be fully completed in 2034. The slow approach is intended to limit displacement of existing residents as well as sync the rebuild to the speed of available financing. The first new building, 1101 Connecticut, was completed in 2019.  Phase 2, Potrero Block B, was launched last fall. 

Annex-Terrace encompasses roughly 600 housing units with nearly 1,300 residents, 43 percent of whom are African American. Consisting of standalone three-story rectangular structures stacked on hillsides, buildings are beset with broken elevators, plagued by cockroaches and rodents, with poorly maintained plumbing. 

“I have gone through many of these units and seen open sewage,” said Edward Hatter, Potrero Hill Neighborhood House executive director. “The pest infestation is out-of-this-world. These conditions are horrible.”

In 2007, former District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, now San Francisco Public Utilities Commission board member, and then Mayor and now Governor, Gavin Newsom, launched a Task Force to determine how to redevelop public housing into mixed-income communities. The Task Force found a $195 million backlog in repairs at SFHA properties, and a $10 million a year shortfall in federal funding for ongoing maintenance. 

Historically, SFHA had been the landowner, builder, and property manager for low-income public housing. Over the past few decades, San Francisco has shifted its approach to affordable housing to a hybrid model.  Properties are managed by private companies. SFHA maintains ownership and administers Housing Choice Vouchers, a federal low-income subsidy. SFHA remains closely involved in HOPE SF projects.  

“It is extremely important that the residents are seen as the larger body of the constituent group of the City and County of San Francisco,” Dr. Tonia Lediju, SFHA chief executive officer contended. “It is extremely important that the community is not continued to be marginalized in the way that it has in the past through isolation.”

The goal of redevelopment “is to give…residents the ability to have what we all want in our own lives; a stable, healthy, happy home,” said Kendra Crawford, SFHA Director of Housing Operations. “What we really want is for residents to get a great job, to be able to buy a house…this housing is not intended for the families to live forever.”

More than one-third of Annex-Terrace residences have lived in the complex for longer than a decade. Some families have stayed there over multiple generations.

In total the four HOPE SF sites – Alice Griffith, Hunters View, Annex-Terrace, and Sunnydale – account for 1,900 public housing units. Each will be replaced one-for-one.  Housing density will more than double, with a mix of residences affordable to those earning between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income, as well as market-rate homes. The goal is to create economically dynamic and connected communities. 

The market rate housing is intended to attract private investors and bring more accountability to longer-term maintenance. Some advocates believe that too much space is being dedicated to market rate homes, and that higher density will spark social problems.

In the Annex-Terrace development plan market rate buildings are segregated from affordable units. For instance, Potrero Block B consists of 90 replacement and 30 affordable homes. Block A, which’ll be built on the opposite side of Arkansas Street, is fully market rate. 

“Originally, BRIDGE and the City came in and proposed a totally integrated community,” said Hatter “A community where you couldn’t tell who was market rate and who was affordable.” 

BRIDGE Housing was selected by the City to redevelop Annex-Terrace in 2007. In addition to serving as developer, BRIDGE intends to be the long-term property manager. Currently, the nonprofit is managing 1101 Connecticut.

 “Our mission was all about quantity, quality and affordability…,” said Smitha Seshadri, vice president and lead of development for Northern California at BRIDGE. “Over the years that mission has broadened and we are very much about strengthening communities today, and so this is very much in alignment with [HOPE SF]. In addition [to the 1,600 housing units], there is a goal to add retail along the 24th Street corridor, which is to be developed, in addition 30,000 square feet of community-serving education and recreation spaces, 3.5 acres of new parks and open spaces, and 13.5 acres of reconfigured streets.” 

BRIDGE offers scholarships to Annex-Terrace residents ages 16 and up, which can be used for an array of services, including higher education, vocational programs, and language classes. 

“The whole Potrero community is near and dear to my heart…,” said District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, who spent time in his youth at Annex-Terrace.  “Revitalizing, remodeling, and building brand new housing for the existing community is something that has been long overdue and is very important.” 

Walton sees the right to return and community participation as keys to a successful project. “The main thing for me is making sure that everybody that lives on site now has the opportunity to stay on site in the new housing… if we have residents working in community, living in community, and not being displaced, that’s a big win for us.” 

Walton co-sponsored a 2019 ordinance with Mayor London Breed to clarify the right for public housing residents to return to revitalized HOPE SF sites, provided the household is in good standing with SFHA. The legislation established a third-party board to review relocation plans. 

Previous redevelopment efforts have struggled to retain dislocated residents.  Under HOPE VI, a federally funded rebuild of public housing between 1993 and 2010, prolonged relocations and an inadequate number of new units caused more than two-thirds of former inhabitants to relocate. 

Annex-Terrace redevelopment isn’t federally funded, triggering a lurching need to find monies elsewhere. In 2022, Potrero Block B was only able to progress after the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) procured $106 million from the California Department of Housing and Community Development for buildings and infrastructure. MOHCD also provided gap loans, with debt financing from JP Morgan Chase. 

Annex-Terrace redevelopment is complicated by the site’s geography. Potrero Block B is being constructed between 25 and 26th streets from north to south and Connecticut and Arkansas streets from east to west. The design includes a basement garage with two buildings rising from the podium level. In addition to housing, there’ll be a childcare facility, interior courtyard, mini park, and 126 parking spots. Construction is scheduled for completion around the end of 2024.

The design is a collaboration between Y.A. Studio and HKIT Architects. According to Yakuh Askew, Principal at Y.A. Studios, the steeply sloping site in both the longitudinal and transverse directions was the major design challenge. Shallow serpentinite rock compounds the challenges, making cut and fill operations difficult, expensive, and toxic, since serpentinite contains naturally forming asbestos. To accommodate the slopes, the buildings step down with the site.

According to Askew, the design team “worked with the topography so that the experience as you are going down the hill the buildings are reflective of the topography.” 

 “We try to be efficient in our planning and clever in our design and strategy to minimize cost,” Rod Hemni, director of design at HKIT.  “We are well aware of materials that are durable, that provide the most quality for the least cost.” 

Throughout the design process BRIDGE has solicited community feedback about aesthetics, particularly guardrails and outdoor spaces, deploying culturally appropriate artwork. BRIDGE hosts monthly meetings with residents, attended by SFHA and Cahill Contractors.

Hatter, who has engaged in redevelopment discussions over the past 12 years, is frustrated with “takebacks”, noting that washer and dryer hookups were removed from most of 1101 Connecticut. 

“Instead of hookups they had launderettes at the end of the halls in the main floors,” he said.