Renovations give Tenderloin public housing tenants a ‘beautiful’ new home

During a recent visit, friends of District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney told him they were concerned about what appeared to be gentrification in the Tenderloin.

His pals from out of town were alarmed by shimmering, new-looking buildings in a neighborhood that is home to many low-income residents.

They told the supervisor, whose district includes the Tenderloin, that San Francisco needs more affordable housing, not ritzy condo developments that would only make the housing and homelessness crises worse.

But the lovely looking buildings weren’t what they seemed.

“Those aren’t condos, those are affordable housing buildings,” Haney said. “They’re beautiful and they’re what our residents deserve.”

Haney recounted the anecdote Wednesday at a celebration of the successful rehabilitation of one such building at 350 Ellis St.

Known as Ellis Gardens, the building comprises 96 affordable units for seniors and adults with disabilities with incomes up to 50% of the area median income.

Originally built in 1970, the building is one of 28 sites previously owned by the SF Housing Authority and was renovated as part of the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, a program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that allows for voluntary, permanent conversion of public housing to privately owned, permanently affordable housing.

Haney said Ellis Gardens is a prime example of the “creative solutions” the City has come up with to address the housing crisis.

“For too long, people living in public housing were left behind — and their homes were allowed to fall into disrepair,” Mayor London Breed said at the event. “At Ellis Gardens, and in other RAD sites across the City, we’ve been able to improve the conditions of San Francisco’s public housing and keep our most vulnerable residents in affordable housing in the neighborhood that they call home. Thanks to the partnership of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) and GLIDE Community Housing, we have 96 units of safe, beautiful and permanently affordable housing right here in the Tenderloin.”

According to Breed, the Ellis Gardens project is part of the City’s commitment to preserving and revitalizing nearly 3,500 distressed public housing units across San Francisco. So far, more than 3,200 apartments have been converted and renovated under the RAD program, and the remaining 300 units will be completed in 2020.

Renovations at 350 Ellis St. began in 2016 and include modernized elevators, updated bathrooms and kitchens with new appliances and fixtures, new flooring throughout residential units, a new roof and sprinkler system and new siding and windows. Other upgrades include an enlarged community room and the creation of office spaces, garden spaces in front and back of the building and four apartments for people with visual and auditory impairments.

The complete rehabilitation cost $67 million. TNDC and GLIDE Community Housing worked together to complete the project, which was funded with tax credit equity, permanent mortgage and City funds.

“My heart is filled with so much gratitude today,” TNDC Senior Project Manager Gabriel Speyer said. “I’m very proud of what we accomplished … and we did so under budget.”

Speyer said a major challenge to the restoration effort arose when a tenant found out the enlarged community room and garden spaces would come at the expense of pre-existing parking. That tenant didn’t want to lose their parking space and appealed TNDC’s building permit, but ultimately lost the appeal.

Other challenges were more run-of-the-mill for renovation work, including squalid conditions and infestations of rats and roaches, Speyer said.

Luis Castillo, who has lived at 350 Ellis for 7 years and remembers when it was owned by the SF Housing Authority, said conditions have improved immensely. He said these days his home looks “wonderful.”

“To see it before the renovations and to see it now, it’s so different,” Castillo said. “Things have really improved. The tenants are all really happy with it.”

Ellis Gardens also features a new mural on the east side of the building painted by Precita Eyes Muralists. The artwork pays tribute to the Tenderloin’s legacy of African-American jazz, the struggles for LGBTQ rights, local Asian culture and the neighborhood’s low-income residents, according to a press release.

Speyer said a great debt of gratitude is owed to the late Ed Lee, San Francisco’s former mayor who died in December 2017. According to Speyer, Lee’s vision for the City and policy decisions paved the way for RAD program projects like Ellis Gardens.

“Projects like this would not be possible without Mayor Ed Lee’s vision,” Speyer said.

“The TNDC believes that decent housing is a human right,” he added. “No matter your income level, everyone deserves a safe, affordable place to live.”

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