Adrian Caratowsa smiles warmly as he stands in front of the entrance to Natalie Gubb Commons, an affordable housing complex located among high-rise towers and luxury condos in downtown San Francisco.
Adrian Caratowsa landed a new apartment at Natalie Gubb Commons in San Francisco after entering an affordable housing lottery that drew more than 6,500 entries for 120 units.
Photo: Janny Hu
December 23, 2019

Enjoying holidays, affordable homes amid the towers

Residents of Natalie Gubb Commons have found community and affordability in San Francisco’s downtown district of high-rise towers and luxury condos.

Surrounded by the towering high-rises of San Francisco, an excited group of children, their families, and other adults recently enjoyed a holiday party at one of the city’s growing number of affordable housing complexes in the downtown Transbay area. Everyone lent a hand — hanging candy canes and tinsel, creating arts-and-crafts ornaments, and decorating the tree, while sipping hot chocolate amid festive music of the season. In the middle of it all, resident Adrian Caratowsa helped with all of the activities, from creating the playlist of the day to hanging ornaments on the tree. It’s a labor of love, he said, for the diverse people he cares for and a place he now calls home — Natalie Gubb Commons.

“It’s a community where everybody brings something to the table,” said Caratowsa. “I feel so lucky to be here.”

Adrian Caratowsa smiles as he hangs an ornament on a Christmas tree at the Natalie Gubb Commons holiday party.
From hanging ornaments to managing the song playlist, Caratowsa was involved in nearly every part of the recent holiday party at Natalie Gubb Commons.
Photo: Janny Hu

Natalie Gubb Commons is renowned for both its unique location among the expensive Transbay area towers and the huge demand it generated in one of the country’s most unaffordable housing markets. More than 6,500 people entered a lottery for the 120 units that opened in 2018.

It is also named after one of California’s pioneers in affordable housing: the late San Francisco lawyer Natalie Gubb, who decades ago helped create the state’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program that is the cornerstone of the modern affordable housing industry.

“It’s a community where everybody brings something to the table. I feel so lucky to be here.” — Adrian Caratowsa

Natalie Gubb Commons is now home to people of all backgrounds and serves low- and moderate-income residents who earn an average of 60% or less of the area median income. Residents range from food servers and retail workers to fixed-income seniors and people with disabilities.

Many residents are younger families, often scraping to make ends meet and support their growing children, said Jessica LeGault, resident services coordinator for the commons, which was developed by nonprofit Mercy Housing, with support from Wells Fargo and the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Mercy Housing helps those families by connecting them to employment counseling, social services, and healthcare services, and supporting the children with recreational opportunities, game nights, music events, and other special programs. Most recently, Mercy Housing also opened an on-site day care center.

Dusk settles on Natalie Gubb Commons in San Francisco’s growing Transbay area. In the background, a construction crane towers over the buildings below.
Natalie Gubb Commons at dusk in the growing Transbay area of downtown San Francisco.
Photo: Michael O'Callahan

Earlier this year, Natalie Gubb Commons received a Reader’s Choice Award from Affordable Housing Finance Magazine for being the Family Development of the Year.

“Every day that goes by, as I hear the residents talk about reaching new milestones in their lives, I see how much it means to them,” LeGault said. “For example, when they can now just take their kids downstairs to the new day care center, it means many of these parents can go back to work and support their family. That’s making a big difference in their lives.”

“We’re creating the building blocks of a complete community at Natalie Gubb Commons. It’s a model that is actually working, and everyone involved — the state, city, and partners like Wells Fargo — can be proud of our accomplishments.” — Doug Shoemaker, CEO of Mercy Housing

By having a comprehensive infrastructure of services for residents, Mercy Housing aims to ensure their personal well-being and the financial success of the project itself, said Doug Shoemaker, CEO of Mercy Housing.

“We’re creating the building blocks of a complete community at Natalie Gubb Commons,” said Shoemaker. “It’s a model that is actually working, and everyone involved — the state, the city, and partners like Wells Fargo — can be proud of our accomplishments.”

The success of Natalie Gubb Commons is no surprise to John Kauh, senior vice president of Wells Fargo Community Lending and Investment in Northern California. For two decades, Kauh’s CLI debt team financed projects with Mercy Housing alongside Timothy McCann, senior vice president of Wells Fargo CLI Equity in California, to forge a bond with the nonprofit, he said.

“When we were given the request for proposal for Natalie Gubb Commons, we knew it would be an excellent project by Mercy Housing — from its sustainability plan to limit greenhouse gases to its residential community plan,” Kauh said. “They are one of our busiest nonprofit clients. We believe in their work, their mission, discipline, execution, and implementation. They are simply a great developer.”

Wells Fargo Foundation has also supported Mercy Housing for two decades, according to Eileen Fitzgerald, head of Housing Affordability Philanthropy. The company made a $1 billion commitment nationally in June to nonprofits supporting housing affordability work over the next six years.

Adrian Caratowsa standing at a crosswalk in the Transbay area of downtown San Francisco with large business towers in the background behind him.
Adrian Caratowsa stands near the entrance to Natalie Gubb Commons with the corporate towers and condo high-rises in the background.
Photo: Janny Hu

“Natalie Gubb Commons highlights the fundamental importance of a safe, quality, and affordable home and is a great example of Wells Fargo’s collaborations that have opened the doors to housing affordability solutions,” she said. “We have learned, over time, that with our financial capital business expertise, and strong and supportive relationships with change makers like Mercy Housing, we can make more meaningful impacts together.”

For Caratowsa, life at Natalie Gubb Commons couldn’t be more meaningful. After beating the lottery odds and moving into such a supportive and affordable home, he appreciates every opportunity to give back. He volunteers weekly at the food bank, attends community meetings, and has become a prominent advocate for the residents. In September, San Francisco’s mayor selected him to be a commissioner on the Transbay Citizens Advisory Committee, which advises city agencies on the needs of the district where Natalie Gubb Commons is located.

Caratowsa recalled the first time his mother visited him at his new place at Natalie Gubb Commons: “There was this sense of calm from her, like she knew that her son was safe, and that she could come visit and have a place to stay with me,” he said. “My last place was survival. This is home.”