The launch of construction on the $75 million Maceo May Apartment complex on Treasure Island Friday marked step forward in San Francisco’s efforts to provide affordable housing for unhoused veterans.
Once completed in 2022, 104-unit building, one of 20 100 percent affordable buildings planned on Treasure Island, will house 39 formerly homeless veterans and 65 currently homeless veterans.
“Having a home is a critical way to end poverty among veterans, and to restore hope, dignity and self-sufficiency,” said Michael Blecker, the executive director of veteran nonprofit organization Swords to Plowshares, which is collaborating on the project with the Chinatown Community Development Center. “This housing site, in memory of our first-ever housing director Maceo May, is critical to overcoming obstacles some veterans face.”
May, the complex’s namesake and former Oakland resident, was a Vietnam War veteran known for his efforts in providing more housing through Swords to Plowshares and better public understanding of PTSD’s debilitating effects on those who served. He died in 2014 after a long battle with diabetes.
“It’s definitely a special project, and he [May] did a lot of work addressing homelessness among his Vietnam peers,” said Colleen Corliss, Swords to Plowshare’s development and communications director. “We know from experience that every time we bring on supportive housing units, it has significant impact on quality of life and in keeping vets off the streets.”
As of March 2020, the San Francisco Veterans By Names List identified 182 chronically homeless veterans out of 331 known veterans, according to Swords to Plowshares’ recent data.
The project is the third collaborative effort between Swords to Plowshares and the Chinatown Community Development Center. Together, the two nonprofits previously created the Veterans Commons and the Edwin L. Lee Apartments specifically for veterans and low-income residents.
“Between those two buildings and this one, we will have built over 250 apartments for formerly homeless veterans, which makes a huge dent in the city’s homeless veteran population,” Chinatown CDC senior project manager Joanna Ladd said.
Financing for Maceo May apartments comes from multiple institutions, including the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, Silicon Valley Bank, Raymond James Financial and the California Community Reinvestment Corporation.
Appropriately, special amenities were designed with veterans in mind — a “healing garden” courtyard, playground, and solar-powered community room doubling as a disaster-resilient area.
“We wanted to be very sensitive to the needs of veterans, particularly with folks suffering from PTSD,” Ladd said. “The interior courtyard is basically a forest garden at the center of the building, where residents will be able to walk into a grove of trees with clearings cut out of it to have a restful and contemplative place to heal inside the building.”
The playground is for the children of veterans who are mothers. The solar energy in the community room means veterans can maintain refrigeration for their medicines, make phone calls or have cooling during heatwaves, even when the power goes out.
Moreover, development of the apartments helps veterans another way – by providing employment. Its construction team has several contractors and suppliers that are authenticated as a Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise, like One Treasure Island’s job training programs for veterans.
Ladd and her team hoped “to hire as many veterans on-site as possible.” Neil Putzer, a 22-year-old veteran, was one veteran who completed One Treasure Island’s construction training.
“The timing of this training program was amazing,” Putzer said. “I left the Navy right before the COVID crisis, so I feel lucky that I went through the job training through Swords to Plowshares, which led to a great-paying job in the construction industry.”
Putzer will work with Cahill Contractors on the Maceo May Apartment complex.