MHN Interview with Lisa Gelfand: Stimulus Money Helped Start Three Projects

Lisa Gelfand, principal at Gelfand Architects talks to MHN about the importance of the AARO funds in getting these projects done and the challenges in converting former these hotels into residential units.

San Francisco-based Gelfand Architects is working on three projects, which have received money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). All three projects (two hotels and a YMCA) are meant to serve the lowest income group of residents—some with no income, including people straight out of or at high risk of homelessness. The ARRA funds were meant to help these Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) projects get started. Now in pre-development stages, the projects will be ready in about two years.

Lisa Gelfand, principal at Gelfand Architects, talks to MHN about the importance of the AARO funds in getting these projects done and the challenges of converting former these hotels into residential units.

MHN: How much did these projects get from AARO?

Gelfand: 220 Golden Gate, the former Central YMCA, received $23,905,902, the Arlington got  $12,302,616 and the Berry received $13,561,066.

The Hotel Berry is an existing, six-story, single-room occupancy residential hotel, located in downtown Sacramento, Calif. The residential unit rehabilitation is intended to provide the availability of more independent living for the individual tenants, with the addition of kitchenettes with cook tops, refrigerators and microwaves in each unit. Ten percent of the units are to be converted to be fully accessible, all units will receive new windows and heating/cooling systems and all units will have complete rehabilitation of their existing bathrooms.

The Arlington Hotel in San Francisco consists of 173 SRO residential units on the upper three floors over seven retail spaces at the ground floor. Currently, common space improvements and a conversion of units into modern SRO units with private baths and micro-refreshment units is in design.

The 174-unit Y project will be made available to the homeless or temporarily housed, and the supportive services will be coordinated with a large Healthy San Francisco health clinic on the ground floor.

MHN: What was the most challenging part about conversion?

Gelfand: Part of it is that we are converting tiny rooms that were built in the 1920s for people who came into the city for jobs into primary housing for people. These units don’t even have bathrooms, and the cooking facilities were rudimentary. So that’s how the building is set up. When we do new bathrooms now, we have to make them handicap accessible, which is quite a challenge given the square footage of the rooms. We have to make them livable so that people have a chance at an independent life. These buildings will now be a community where the residents will spend most of their time and so re-designing the building is a pretty big challenge.

MHN: Do the projects have common areas?

Yes, the common areas are important for these buildings. The lobby and the laundry rooms will present residents with the opportunity to interact with their neighbors. In the case of the Y, there is already a lot of non-housing space, including the atrium, gym and auditorium. There will also be a large facility with lots of services, such as art programs, and a variety of ways to engage people. It’s the perfect conversion because it already has many of those elements.

MHN: What are the developers doing that is different from public housing, which serves a similar purpose?

Gelfand: In each case, what makes them different from public housing is that these are non-profit developers who are building into the permanent financing and permanent Performa of the project with ongoing social services. So instead of having social services as a separate program that might come and go as it does in public housing, these are places where it’s completely integrated with financing and staffing and is a permanent function of the development, community and the building which I think makes it more successful.

photo: new stair to YMCA atrium after renovation

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