Behind the Project: Tackling San Francisco’s Affordability Crisis

Presidio Bay’s Cyrus Sanandaji on the first community built under the city’s density bonus program.

One way through which San Francisco city planners are trying to address the metro’s notorious low-income housing shortage is the HOME-SF program. This local density bonus policy provides developers with priority processing, relief from density controls and up to two extra stories in height. In turn, 20 to 30 percent of the units in a new housing project must be affordable to low-, middle- and moderate-income households. 

Presidio Bay Ventures made use of this policy for its largest multifamily development to date: the 193-unit Ventana Residences in District 11’s Outer Mission neighborhood. The project came online in April as the third-largest community to open in San Francisco this year. Ventana Residences encompasses one- to three-bedroom apartments, as well as outdoor spaces, a children’s playground and daycare, among other modern amenities.

Multi-Housing News asked Presidio Bay Ventures Founder & Managing Principal Cyrus Sanandaji to take us on a virtual tour of San Francisco’s first project built using the city’s affordable housing initiative, HOME-SF.  

Exterior photo of Ventana Residences.

At 193 units, Ventana Residences is the largest community to be developed under the HOME-SF program. Photo by Haley Lan, courtesy of Presidio Bay Ventures.

What’s the best way to describe what Ventana Residences is? Who was it built for?

Sanandaji: We built Ventana Residences for the area’s diverse community of families, students and working professionals. Ventana pairs an urban lifestyle conveniently located among the energy of the Outer Mission, one block from Mission Street and a 10-minute BART ride from downtown, offering a highly amenitized living experience.

District 11 has the highest percentage of households with children—37 percent versus a citywide average of 18 percent—yet the lowest supply of childcare facilities. With that in mind, we made sure to incorporate family-sized units and designed 7,850 square feet of dedicated indoor and outdoor childcare space, building upon one of our pillars to create more accessible childcare.

For Ventana, we partnered with Wu Yee Children Services, a local non-profit childcare operator and San Francisco’s largest head start provider. This is Wu Yee’s second center in District 11 and first center in the Outer Mission-Excelsior neighborhood. Wu Yee will provide Ventana Residences and the greater community with five classrooms, supporting spaces, a kitchen, office, a staff lounge, and an outdoor playground.

How did the idea for this project come to light and what inspired Presidio Bay to develop this partially affordable community?

Headshot of K. Cyrus Sanandaji

To address San Francisco’s notorious housing affordability crisis, a comprehensive overhaul is needed, according to Cyrus Sanandaji. Image courtesy of Presidio Bay Ventures

Sanandaji: The Outer Mission District has one of the highest rates of homeownership in all the city’s districts, resulting in a lack of supply available to renters and a demand for affordable housing. Presidio Bay recognized this demand and sought to create affordable housing units for this neighborhood, and succeeded.

Ventana Residences offers 48 affordable housing units and gives priority to those already living and working in District 11. In total, 25 percent of the community is affordable housing, tripling the number of new affordable units created in District 11 since 2009. Underlining the demand for affordable housing in District 11 and the city in general, there were nearly 6,000 applications submitted for the 48 below market-rate units prior to the lottery in December 2022.

Tell us a bit about the HOME-SF program and how it was harnessed to develop Ventana Residences.

Sanandaji: Ventana Residences is the largest HOME-SF project entitled and built. Presidio Bay took zero government subsidy of any form to fund the project, including equity or tax credits. When we acquired the land at 99 Ocean in 2016, the site was zoned for 68 residential units.

Through collaboration with local government officials and more than 50 meetings with community stakeholders over a three-year period, we were able to assist the city with the formal legislative adoption of the HOME-SF policy. This redefined tiers of zoning and density allowances in exchange for different levels of on-site affordable housing.

We were ultimately able to increase the yield of the site from 68 units with 15 percent onsite affordable housing to 193 units with 25 percent onsite affordable housing.

Utilizing HOME-SF, we set an example of the type of developments which will support San Francisco’s mission to develop 82,000+ housing units before 2032 to meet housing requirements set forth in the city’s housing element.

Did the development process involve working with the people in that neighborhood? How did this unfold, and what were some highlights of this process?

Sanandaji: Presidio Bay tailored Ventana Residences to address and take into consideration the needs of the community. As a result, the development process created more than 500 jobs throughout construction, 30 permanent full-time jobs upon completion, and hired local artists.

We partnered with Mission Hiring Hall to employ locals throughout the construction process. We also partnered with Youth Art Exchange, a program for Bay Area public high school students that offers a safe place for young artists to grow. Installations by the local artists and Youth Art Exchange are situated all throughout the building.

In addition, to ensure the affordable housing units at Ventana Residences were equally accessible to the community, multilingual application forms in Spanish, Tagalog, Cantonese, and Mandarin were made available by leasing and management staff. Presidio Bay held a virtual and in-person multilingual workshop series for prospective residents in partnership with Mission Economic Development Agency, a local non-profit and housing advocacy group.

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What was it like to partner with all those entities to address the needs of the local community?  

Sanandaji: As a founding member of the Excelsior and Outer Mission Working Group, the project team has worked hand in hand with community groups, activists, and City Planning to listen to and respond to the community’s needs and wishes. Ventana Residences addresses many of the community’s needs including family-friendly residences, children’s daycare, affordable residences and community-centered amenities. Through partnerships with nonprofits such as Wu Yee Children’s Services and local artists that bring personality to this family-friendly community, we have established Ventana as a place for residents to be a part of a larger community.

To ensure the development met the needs of the community during construction, we built Ventana Residences using 100 percent union labor, allowing many local union members to contribute to building housing within the neighborhood in which they live and, in some cases, even grew up. Additionally, we hosted seminars for Balboa High School seniors about the impact of housing and assisted local community groups with the planned construction of the Persia Triangle as a dedicated public space.

What makes Ventana stand out in the neighborhood in terms of amenities?

Sanandaji: Ventana is home to inspiring amenities and features rarely found elsewhere in the neighborhood. The community features an acre of amenities including nearly 9,000 square feet of communal roof deck space with views overlooking the vibrant neighborhood. The roof decks include outdoor kitchens for gatherings, a playground, a dog park, and a mosaic bench designed and created by local high school-aged artists from our nonprofit partner. Ventana also showcases two murals and artwork by local artists Aaron De La Cruz, Jet Martinez, Dave Rasta and Fernando Sanchez.

Throughout the property, residents have access to a mix of private and communal outdoor spaces like the Community Garden, which features games, secluded seating areas and fire pits. We also designed indoor coworking spaces with private phone booths, conference rooms, and lounge areas offering our residents the ability to be productive in the environment that best suits them. The entire building is equipped with high-speed wireless internet, ensuring our residents are always connected. The fitness center offers state-of-the-art equipment as well as a meditation room and an outdoor yoga deck.

Top Down Photo of Ventana Residences

Ventana Residences features 9,000 square feet of communal roof deck space. Photo by Haley Lan, courtesy of Presidio Bay

What sustainability features does Ventana Residences have, and how were they tailored to the area’s demands?

Sanandaji: To create an eco-friendly, sustainable community, solar panels were installed and cover half the property’s roof, generating power and reducing energy costs for the residents and Wu Yee’s childcare facility. Additional green initiatives include all-electric, energy-efficient appliances in each residence, individual utility submetering, onsite EV charging stations, a carshare program, ventless washers/dryers in all units, and motion-activated smart lights in common areas and residences.

To be mindful of the community’s seasonal flooding concerns, Ventana Residences funnels approximately 10,000 square feet of water flow through planter space to alleviate pressure on the stormwater system. The building foundation has also been elevated to remove it from the floodplain, and the underlying cisterns will reuse captured rainwater to water plants.

What was the local community’s reaction to the project?

Sanandaji: Outer Mission residents have watched this development closely since it broke ground in late 2020, and routinely contacted our development and construction teams directly for updates regarding completion timing. Throughout the entitlement process, Presidio Bay received more than 800 letters of support for the development of Ventana Residences. Ultimately, the relationship between Presidio Bay and the community is what allowed us to create a project that, as of entitlement approval, would triple the number of affordable units and residential units in general to be delivered in District 11 over the prior decade.

To what extent does the project address the metro’s need for more affordable housing?

Sanandaji: Ventana Residences is a prevailing example of addressing the market’s need for affordable housing. Despite the challenges faced during the long development process, we remained dedicated to this community and what we could offer residents and the surrounding area. This neighborhood, despite being on the edge of Balboa Park and a rich community of locally owned restaurants and retailers, had not seen attention for new housing developments in years prior.

The road to adequately addressing this city’s housing shortage and, more specifically, affordable housing shortage is a long one. However, the development of Ventana Residences makes evident that collaboration between private developers, municipal departments and the community is critical to effectively producing housing in San Francisco. 

In your view, what would be the most impactful change that is needed at the metro level to meaningfully address the housing affordability crisis?

Exterior photo of Ventana Residences

Ventana Residences opened in April. Photo by Haley Lan, courtesy of Presidio Bay

Sanandaji: Addressing the housing affordability crisis in San Francisco requires comprehensive and systemic changes rather than a single solution. The current challenges demand a multifaceted approach that encompasses legislative and policy reforms to streamline the complex review and approval processes during planning and permitting stages.

The misuse of discretionary authority not only increases costs and timelines to produce housing but, if continued, could potentially lead to state intervention that limits local control over our housing design and zoning regulations. To this end, San Francisco must furthermore hold self-interested activist groups accountable. These groups, while advocating for exclusively affordable projects and repeatedly appealing market-rate developments, ultimately inhibit the production of new housing supply and exacerbate the local housing crisis.

To meaningfully address the housing affordability crisis, a comprehensive overhaul is needed. This entails streamlining bureaucratic processes, guarding against the misuse of local authority, and enhancing transparency and accountability within advocacy groups. These combined efforts have the potential to create a more conducive environment for diverse and balanced housing development, making progress towards alleviating San Francisco’s housing challenges.

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