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San Francisco, California: Permanent Supportive Housing for Former Chronically Homeless Persons at Drs. Julian and Raye Richardson Apartments

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San Francisco, California: Permanent Supportive Housing for Former Chronically Homeless Persons at Drs. Julian and Raye Richardson Apartments


Located near City Hall in the heart of San Francisco, the Drs. Julian and Raye Richardson Apartments (Richardson Apartments) provides 120 permanent supportive housing (PSH) units to former chronically homeless San Franciscans. The modern architecture project is a model both for its green design and for providing stable and affordable housing for individuals who have experienced prolonged homelessness. The development team and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) have demonstrated that a thoughtfully planned building with housing for formerly homeless residents can be a positive addition to the neighborhood.1 In May 2012, the Richardson Apartments development was honored with the 2012 American Institute of Architects/HUD Secretary’s Housing and Community Design Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing Design.

Project Context and History

When the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged San Francisco’s Central Freeway, the subsequent demolition of that road, north of Market Street, provided the city with an opportunity to redevelop the Market and Octavia neighborhood. The city reconnected the street grid where the old freeway was located by building a pedestrian-friendly road, Octavia Boulevard, completed in 2002.2 The freeway’s demolition also provided nearly seven acres of land for infill development where the city planned to provide housing for low- and moderate-income households, a range of services and amenities that would help foster “whole” neighborhoods, and a balance of transportation options.3 An integral component of the city’s revitalization plan was the development of affordable housing units, which would be concentrated on 22 publicly owned parcels, including seven sites that SFRA purchased from the city.4

The Market and Octavia neighborhood is located in the Western Addition area of the city, just west of downtown. Richardson Apartments is located between the Western Addition’s eastern edge, a historically African-American community, and the northern edge of the upscale Hayes Valley community. The site, one of the last of the former Central Freeway parcels to be redeveloped,5 is at the southeast corner of the intersection of Fulton and Gough Streets, on a prominent sight line looking east toward city hall two blocks away.6 The site is surrounded by small-scale residential buildings to the west, larger residential and commercial uses to the east, and the Performing Arts Garage to the south. Because the site is centrally located and accessible by transit, the city wanted to maximize the amount of housing at the site and create an active streetscape in keeping with the neighborhood’s pedestrian-friendly character.

Planning and Development Review Process

As Richardson Apartments’ location fell under the planning purview of SFRA,7 SFRA issued a request for proposal (RFP) calling for a development with 115 to 120 PSH units and ground-level retail for the site at 365 Fulton Street in 2005. SFRA initially accepted the proposal submitted by David Baker and Partners (DB+P) in March 2006 because their submission included the architectural vision that won an earlier neighborhood design competition held for the former Central Freeway parcels.8 However, because some community members felt that the selection process was flawed, SFRA agreed to a second RFP process, and in October 2006 a DB+P proposal was again selected, this time with support from the community.9

During the planning review phase, between 2007 and 2009, the development partners and property managers of Richardson Apartments, Community Housing Partnership (CHP) and Mercy Housing California, together with their management affiliate Mercy Services Corporation, worked closely with neighborhood groups to address their concerns and familiarize residents with the concept of PSH for chronically homeless persons. Community residents wanted Richardson Apartments to serve individuals with ties to the neighborhood. CHP went beyond the SFRA requirement — that preference in new housing development at the site be given to Western Addition residents who had been displaced by the city’s urban renewal program during the 1960s — and partnered with a local nonprofit to actively search the city’s homeless population for former Western Addition residents.

To gain approval, the project needed to obtain several variances from the SFRA code, including density, parking, and off-street parking variances.10 These were granted, in part, because the underlying zoning code did not have the same requirements and because the building’s target residents were unlikely to own cars.11 Although the project was undergoing development review with SFRA, the developers also consulted with the San Francisco Planning Department to ensure that the project would comply with the underlying zoning code in the existing plan for the Market and Octavia neighborhood.12 In addition, the variances the project would normally be required to obtain under existing zoning regulations — rear yard encroachment, open space, and street projection — are routinely granted.13 SFRA approved the project in November 2008.


With a $1 annual land lease and a $2.7 million predevelopment loan from SFRA, the development team secured a $10 million permanent loan from the California Department of Housing and Community Development’s Multifamily Housing Program (MHP) in October 2008.14 Poor economic conditions — including the possibility of the state falling into bankruptcy — threatened to derail the project. To reassure the other funders, SFRA agreed to provide the $10 million if the MHP funding fell through.15 SFRA’s backstop promise prompted Citi Community Capital to provide a loan that included $25 million in tax credits through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.16 Annual operating costs for 12 of the units are subsidized by $1.2 million in California Mental Health Services Act funds; San Francisco’s Local Operation Subsidy Program provides annual operating subsidies for 108 units.17

Sustainable by Design

Richardson Apartments’ design maximizes the nearly half-acre site with a five-story, 65,419-square-foot plan organized around an interior courtyard. To give the building a sense of identity, the architects created a distinctive street edge. The ground floor is constructed in glass to convey a sense of transparency and includes offices for the property manager and residential support services staff (including a medical clinic and counseling suite), retail spaces (including a frame shop and a restaurant), and a social-venture bakery that offers jobs and training to tenants and disabled neighborhood residents. The building’s top four floors feature a façade with alternating exterior patterns, natural colors, and materials (including aluminum, zinc, and ipe wood, a highly durable and dense Brazilian wood) that slightly curve outward to mark the corner of Fulton and Gough Streets.18 With a GreenPoint multifamily rating score of 139 (a California rating classification comparable to LEED for Homes Multifamily Midrise), Richardson Apartments is rated well above the median score of 85 with features that include a green roof, permeable courtyard paving that optimizes stormwater drainage, and solar hot-water panels that handle 70 percent of the domestic hot-water load.19

The building’s 120 studio units — each approximately 300 square feet, with a private bathroom and kitchenette — are intended to house former chronically homeless individuals referred through the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) Direct Access to Housing program. This program is designed to stably house individuals with precarious housing patterns who are released from, or have a prolonged history with, institutional or transitional settings.20 Eligible individuals must have incomes at or below 50 percent of the area median income, with a maximum annual income of $34,800.21 Forty-two units are reserved for residents earning up to $18,825 per year. Residents pay rent equal to 30 percent of their income — anywhere from $0 to $870.22 All units meet the requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act and are designed to be accessible to those with mobility, hearing, and vision impairments.23 The Richardson Apartments community also provides residents with supportive services to prevent returns to homelessness. In 2007, SFDPH selected the University of California San Francisco’s Citywide Case Management Program to provide wraparound services onsite. These voluntary services provide residents with access to a case manager, a full-time registered nurse, and a part-time psychiatrist.24

Experience Gained

Situated in a prime location in the nation’s most expensive rental market, Richardson Apartments offers researchers and policymakers an important lesson in socially responsible development.25 The city’s investment in its highest-needs homeless individuals not only benefits its residents but also provides cost savings for the city. By providing stabilization for chronically homeless persons — individuals who, on average, have a high prevalence of hospital and emergency room use —the development is projected to save the city $1.6 million in healthcare costs in its first year of operation.26 Richardson Apartments’ modern, sustainable design and iconic street presence demonstrate that a homeless housing development can make a valuable contribution to the diversity of a dense, mixed-income urban neighborhood.

Primary Financing

Citi Community Capital / Raymond James Tax Credit Funds, Inc.


California’s Department of Housing and Community Development Multifamily Housing Program


San Francisco Redevelopment Agency


California’s Mental Health Services Act


Enterprise Green Communities Grant


Grand Opening of Richardson Apartments Is San Francisco’s Bittersweet Goodbye to Redevelopment

Development Team


Community Housing Partnership


David Baker and Partners

General Contractor

Cahill Contractors, Inc.

Primary Service Provider

University of California - San Francisco Citywide Case Management

  1. The Richardson Apartments project was built on land owned by SFRA. Along with all of California’s redevelopment agencies, however, SFRA was dissolved in 2012 and its activities folded into the Mayor’s Office of Housing as part of statewide budget-cutting measures.

  2. Congress for the New Urbanism. “San Francisco’s Octavia.” Accessed 10 June 2012.

  3. San Francisco Planning Department. “Market & Octavia: An Area Plan of the General Plan of the City and County of San Francisco,” 1–4. Accessed 15 July 2012.

  4. San Francisco Planning Department. November 2010. “Market & Octavia Plan: Monitoring Report 2005 – 2009,” 13. Accessed 15 July 2012; San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. 2008. “Redevelopment Plan for the Western Addition A-2 Redevelopment Project,” 1–3, 5. Accessed 15 July 2012; Interview with Olson Lee, director, San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing (former executive director of SFRA until its dissolution). 1 June 2012.

  5. California Housing Partnership Corporation. February 2012. “Grand Opening of Richardson Apartments Is San Francisco’s Bittersweet Goodbye to Redevelopment.”Accessed 27 July 2012.

  6. San Francisco Planning Department. 2002. “The Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan,” 141–142. Accessed 15 July 2012.

  7. During the planning process, SFRA was being phased out, but this project was completed before SFRA was absorbed into the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

  8. Interview with Olson Lee, 1 June 2012.

  9. Interview with Olson Lee, 1 June 2012; Interview with David Schnur, director of housing development, Community Housing Partnership Corporation, 4 June 2012.

  10. City and County Board of Appeals. 2009.“Notice of Appeal No. 08-183.” Accessed 15 July 2012.

  11. Internal award submission documents provided by David Baker and Partners.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Ibid.

  14. California Housing Partnership Corporation. 2012; e-mail correspondence with Sheela Jivan, project developer, Mercy Housing, 11 June 2012.

  15. California Housing Partnership Corporation. 2012.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Interview with Amit Price Patel, project architect, David Baker and Partners, 31 May 2012.

  19. Ibid.

  20. San Francisco Department of Public Health. “Development Summary Form: MHSA Housing Program, Parcel G,” B, D.3. Accessed 25 July 2012.

  21. Internal award submission documents provided by David Baker and Partners.

  22. Ibid.

  23. San Francisco Department of Public Health, D.3.

  24. Email correspondence with Margot Antonetty, director of programs, housing, and urban health, San Francisco Department of Public Health, 28 June 2012.

  25. Elina Bravve, Megan Bolton, Linda Couch, and Sheila Crowley. 2012. “Out of Reach 2012: America’s Forgotten Housing Crisis,” prepared for National Low Income Housing Coalition, 8. Accessed 25 July 2012.

  26. Interview with Dr. Joshua Bamberger, medical director, Housing and Urban Health, San Francisco Department of Public Health, 11 June 2012; California Housing Partnership Corporation. 2012.


The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.