Rebuild Potrero to Break Ground in 2017

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Next month, Bridge Housing will break ground on an ambitious effort, titled “Rebuild Potrero,” to redevelop the Potrero Annex-Terrace housing complex into mixed income housing.

Rebuild Potrero, which has already spent eight years in planning, will evolve over five phases, enabling current Annex-Terrace residents to be moved to new buildings as they’re constructed. Upon completion, anticipated by 2026, the site will feature the same number, 619, of public housing units that exist today, as well as 200 affordable and 800 market rate units. Those making half or less of San Francisco’s median income – for one person, $37,700; a three-person household, $48,500 – would be eligible for affordable housing. There’ll also be 15,000 square feet of retail in a neighborhood that currently has two small stores, as well as a 25,000 to 35,000-square foot community center.

Bridge, a nonprofit that specializes in affordable housing, which manages more than 10,000 apartments on the West Coast, has been working with Annex-Terrace residents for the past few years to address issues of poverty, crime, and potential dislocation. “We felt it wasn’t enough for us to just have a master plan for the physical site. We thought it was just as important to also have a social services master plan,” explained Thu Banh, Bridge’s community developer assigned to the site. “Obviously, it is going to take more than just having a new unit to live in. They are going to need support in employment, education and health.”

In 2014, Bridge surveyed Annex-Terrace residents to identify ways it could improve the community.  Leveraging other efforts, the developer created a series of programs designed to enhance health and well-being, including a garden, daily walks, healthy living workshops and exercise classes. “It is not just about building new units,” said Banh. “We have to ensure that residents are not only ready once their new unit is built, but that they are able to stay in the unit.”

The track record in similar redevelopments hasn’t been good. In the 1990s, the federal government created the Hope VI program, with a goal of turning isolated public housing projects into mixed income neighborhoods.  Those efforts ultimately resulted in a loss of low income tenants.  Hope VI didn’t require developers to replace public housing one-for-one.  According to the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, erratic relocation methods resulted in less than half of public housing residents returning.

By 2006, federal housing funding was dwindling.  The City decided to create its own program, Hope SF, with a goal to maintain at least as many public housing units as currently exist.  Rebuild Potrero falls under Hope SF, as do two other redevelopments underway at Hunters View and Alice Griffith.  Another effort, at Sunnydale, is following the same timeline as Rebuild Potrero.  In all cases, public housing residents are, or will be, given a choice to be relocated offsite or wait to be moved to a new unit as construction is completed. Bridge isn’t the developer for the other three projects.

The first 100 families at Griffith will be moved to a new building at the site early next year.  The Hunters View’s revitalization will be complete by the end of the month. City agencies contacted by the View didn’t return requests to provide the number of public housing residents who remained at Hunters View.  Public housing advocates believe that the number of returnees is low.

One of the reasons Rebuild Potrero is being built in five phases is to move residents at a manageable pace.  Under phase one, Project X, a 70-unit building will be constructed on the southeast corner of 25th and Connecticut streets, currently a vacant lot except for a basketball court. In future phases the plan is to site market rate and affordable housing buildings side by side as each parcel is developed.

According to Banh, Rebuild faces challenges related to topography – steep slopes – and the extra communication needed to navigate two tenant organizations. Bridge hopes that redevelopment will connect Annex-Terrace with the rest of Potrero Hill.  “In terms of mixed use, Potrero Hill is already mixed income, but not integrated,” Banh said.

When the Annex was built on the steep southern slope in 1941, and the Terrace four years later, the complexes were separated from the rest of the Hill geographically, with limited street access. “It’s very much an isolated pocket of poverty, and that isolation has made it difficult for them to advance socially and economically,” said Banh. To address this separation, as part of redevelopment Missouri, Arkansas and Texas Streets will be reconnected to the northern part of the street grid.

Violent crime at Annex-Terrace is five times the City average. One-third of the complex’s residents don’t use the Internet. A quarter is unemployed and looking for work; one-third are disabled.  Less than half of the residents surveyed by Bridge reported having a bank account.

However, to close to 1,400 people Annex-Terrace is home. One third of this population has lived in public housing for more than a decade.  It’s not hard to find multiple generations who’ve grown up in Annex-Terrace, with deep family connections. In 2015, 727 residents were under age 17. Another 88 were older than 62.

A sense of powerlessness permeates Annex-Terrace, possibly due to long waits for repairs by the Housing Authority, or actions by municipal agencies. A Bridge survey found that three-quarters of respondents have high expectations for revitalization; somewhat less than that think redevelopment is in their best interest.

It’s been seven years since the 53 bus was taken out of service, a decision that’s remains a sore point for many Annex-Terrace residents. The “mountain goat bus,” as it was nicknamed, connected the complex with the 16th Street Bay Area Rapid Transit station; it looped around Annex-Terrace and negotiated the 23rd Street hill, providing a link with the rest of the community.  According to one oft-told story, an Annex resident tipped his wheelchair thrice trying to get up the slope after the line was cancelled; the Housing Authority had to move him off the Hill. Many of the elderly won’t walk up the hill now, making it even more difficult to keep people informed and get them to attend meetings. “Once it left it kind of ostracized a lot of people on this side,” said Banh, referring to the Annex.

Confidence in Bridge waned after the nonprofit backed out of a promise to include washers and dryers in Project X. That plan was actually nixed by the Mayor’s Office of Housing, one of Bridge’s primary funders for the development.  Bridge now says it’ll put laundry facilities on each floor. 

Tensions have also surfaced related to recent promises of employment. Cahill Contractors, Rebuild’s construction contractor, is required to fill half of work site jobs with Annex-Terrace residents, but only if qualified individuals can be found. Citibuild, the municipal agency tasked with recruiting and preparing potential workers, won’t offer its next 18-week training program until January, after construction will have started.

“Don’t get the community’s hopes up and then not deliver,” said Billy Ray Courtney, a lifelong Annex-Terrace resident, at a contentious public meeting with Bridge and Cahill representatives held at Starr King Elementary School last fall.  Residents were also concerned that local workers will be scrutinized more closely; if they show up late once, they could be laid off and replaced with a “preferred” worker to skirt the 50 percent requirement.  In Hunters View’s first construction phase, 23 percent of jobs went to residents living in the same zip code as the project, but Hunters View residents logged just 5.4 percent of work hours.

Potrero Hill Neighborhood House executive director Edward Hatter, who has been an advocate for Annex-Terrace residents, thinks Rebuild should be win-win. “We can negotiate a real opportunity to get low income people jobs instead of waiting on a work list,” he said.

The biggest concern among tenants, however, is a line in current lease agreements that states that occupants need to be in “good standing” to be relocated.  Community leaders are aware that at Hunters View relocated residents received a 31-page set of rules, including requirements that all linens were to be inspected before being brought into homes; and, in case of infestation, bathing was required.  The rules also declared residents “shall not loiter, hang out, stand idly about, linger aimlessly, or remain without an obvious purpose.”

The fact that it’s common for relatives to be living together without all occupants appearing on a lease complicates things further. Hatter said he knew of a grandmother that lived alone in a four-bedroom unit after her children left. She was supposed to be moved, but the Housing Authority never acted. Since then, her grandchildren have moved back in with her. He added children who are now young adults were particularly in “no-man’s land” when it came to the lease. “The bad apples do need to be routed out but let’s give everyone a fair opportunity,” he said.