How New S.F. Subway Proved Central to Chinatown Development

Chinatown Community Development Center new development aims to help those displaced by the subway.
Credit: Bruce Damonte

Credit: Bruce Damonte

By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Writer

San Francisco—Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC) in San Francisco has dedicated its new Broadway Sansome Apartments, featuring 74 affordable units. Designed by San Francisco-based architectural firm Mithun | Solomon, the community joins the CCDC’s earlier-constructed Broadway Family Apartments, offering 81 affordable family units, across the street.

Eighteen of the apartment homes in the Broadway Sansome Apartments will house formerly homeless families, while 12 units will be reserved for people displaced by construction of San Francisco’s new Central Subway.

“Our city, like many in this time of hot real estate markets, is facing a crisis of displacement, with long-time residents being displaced as their homes are purchased and speculative investors push them out to raise rents and reap profit,” CCDC director of housing development Whitney Jones told MHN.

“Low-income residents living in overcrowded or poor quality housing, or whose housing stability is threatened, or low-income newcomers looking for a home, have few opportunities,” he said. “With the coming of the Central Subway, we worry that speculative investment will displace more long-time residents.”

Broadway Sansome provides a home to some households that up until recently called single-room occupancies, often in the same neighborhood, home. Other families formerly were housed in shelters, or were displaced by the Chinatown Central Subway project. “The project was developed at a time when support for affordable housing, even in a high-cost neighborhood like the Barbary Coast community, is high,” Jones said. “The location is transit rich and the building, like its neighbor, Broadway Family Apartments, is a perfect example to show that affordable housing can be well designed, well maintained and a benefit to the community.”

Broadway Sansome Apartments’ successful development required CCDC to surmount a number of obstacles. Those challenges included a steep and narrow site and a few contentious neighbors amid a generally supportive neighborhood citizenry, as well as a changing regulatory environment.

The site difficulties and evolving regulatory environment added to costs, Jones said. That meant the biggest hurdle was convincing funders to stay the course.

“One change we made was to increase the density so the per-unit cost was more easily accepted,” he recalled. “With regard to neighbors, we resolved issues in part by accommodating neighbor requests, in part by design changes and in part by simply continuing to explain what this housing was about until neighbors were able to understand and accept. There were also local funding challenges which led to some delay. That didn’t faze us, because we knew the project was a good one and would get done. But delays are frustrating.”

The site is well served by bus lines, Jones said. Several stop next to the building and others within two blocks, connecting to all of the Bay Area’s transit modes.

“Although it seems like a long distance in the city, the site is also only about eight blocks from BART and the MUNI underground,” he noted. “Finally, the site will be a few blocks to the coming Central Subway, which is expected to be complete in the next few years and will also make those same connections to transit modes, though on a faster line than buses.”

In addition, the location is well-served by a broad array of neighborhood amenities that are situated within walkable distances.

These include fresh produce stores, hardware stores, drugstores, schools, bookstores, restaurants, cafes and more, Jones said.

It is difficult to place too much significance on one housing development, even if it is symbolically important based on it providing apartments to people who have lacked opportunities to move into quality housing, Jones said.

“Still, for Chinatown, it’s a sign the voice of low-income neighborhood activists can be heard, and results can be achieved. For the disadvantaged renters who live here, it’s home. It’s a base, it’s a chance to build a new, better life. For the ones who are aware of the building, it’s a sign that there may be hope for them at a similar project in the future. We hope another meaning folks take away is that we at Chinatown CDC are committed to doing this work, providing quality housing, and doing it the right way, in partnership with the community.”