A promise kept: Hope SF revitalizes distressed public housing
San Francisco’s Hope SF makes good on its word to revive public housing, increase housing affordability, and change lives — without displacing people along the way.
One by one, they packed up and moved their lives from a dilapidated public housing project to a brand new apartment community one block away. Some were veterans, elderly, formerly homeless, or people with disabilities. Others were working poor, unable to afford the pricey rent of conventional commercial housing.
With the move, they all found clean, affordable rental apartments in one of the country’s most unaffordable housing markets. And they found hope again.
Briefly put, that is the story of Hunters View, one of four affordable housing developments launched over the past decade in San Francisco’s public housing revitalization initiative known as Hope SF. Other sites include the Alice Griffith complex, which opened last fall, and Potrero Hill and Sunnydale, which are in various stages of completion.
“This initiative is about building trust and keeping the promises we made. Because of the things that individuals and families have experienced in the past, they just didn’t trust the city. Now, the city has delivered on its promise and is creating a new compact with the residents to use its resources to help them succeed.” — Ellie Rossiter
Boosted by support from a roster of public and private partners — including Wells Fargo — the $2 billion Hope SF initiative aims to transform long-distressed public housing sites into vibrant, mixed-income communities of affordable rental units, first-time homebuyer opportunities, and market-rate homes with parks, playgrounds, and community centers.
The joint city-county effort — including the Office of the Mayor, the San Francisco Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners, and their housing development partners — plans to phase in construction of these modern, sustainable communities for thousands of households over the next 15 years. It gives priority to the new public housing units first, followed by affordable and market rate units.
Unlike the city’s “misguided” urban renewal of the 1960s, which displaced thousands of African American residents, Hope SF is not repeating the mistakes of the past, organizers say. Each new community, for example, is built near the old complex, and existing residents are relocated to new public housing units as soon as those units are completed. Hope SF also focuses on providing residents with access to education, health care, job training, and other needed services.
“This initiative is about building trust and keeping the promises we made,” said Ellie Rossiter, Hope SF’s director of philanthropic partnerships. “Because of the things that individuals and families have experienced in the past, they just didn’t trust the city. Now, the city has delivered on its promise and is creating a new compact with the residents to use its resources to help them succeed.”
A showpiece of the initiative
Today, the Hunters View complex stands as one of the showpieces of the initiative, with its clean lines, earth tone colors, modern architecture, and scenic view of the San Francisco skyline. When it became the first Hope SF site to open two years ago, 70% of the “old Hunters View” residents moved successfully to the new one, only 200 feet away.
Just as importantly, the once disillusioned residents now take an active role in community events, leadership meetings, and helping each other in areas of need like transportation to work or doctor’s appointments, according to Lottie Titus, 62, a longtime Hunters View resident and community advocate.
“That’s really what’s great about the whole thing. It’s not just about changing the buildings, but about changing peoples’ minds, and helping them know they can change within.” — Lottie Titus
“It has transformed people’s attitudes about living in decent housing,” she said. “When you come from living in a tough place for so long, it can be hard to change your attitude, and some folks are afraid of it. But we’ve begun a process here, and we’re going to see it through. The city kept their word about transforming the community. They tore down the old, rebuilt the new, and gave residents the specific tools to help them change their mindset.
“That’s really what’s great about the whole thing,” Titus added. “It’s not just about changing the buildings, but about changing peoples’ minds, and helping them know they can change within.”
By all accounts, Titus embodies the spirit of the new Hunters View. Decades ago, she overcame homelessness, joblessness, and drug problems to turn her life around. Today, she is an outreach advocate for The George W. Davis Senior Center, a commissioner on the San Francisco Housing Authority, and a leader in her church.
“Lottie not only advocates for her own community at Hunters View, but for all communities in San Francisco,” Rossiter said. “She’s taken her knowledge and experience working for her own neighborhood and brought it to the senior center, which is an incredible place. She’s very proud of the work they do in giving elderly people the opportunity to age in place. She’s become an incredible resource for so many people.”
Another Hunters View resident, Iose “P.J.” Iulio, has also stepped up to be a leader and role model. Formerly homeless, Iulio is now head of the Hunters View Tenants Association, a food bank coordinator, and YMCA services connector for the community. Whether people need food, medical attention, substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, or other services, he refers them to agencies who can help.
“We all dream of owning our own home one day, and I’m moving toward that goal,” he said. “I believe public housing should not be a forever thing, just something to help you get on your feet and transition to bigger and better things, which I know I’ll be able to do in the future. Until then, I believe it’s important to continue to do this work here, because I want other people who need help after we leave this place to be able to come in and get the same support I was able to get.”
Paragons of philanthropy’s goals
Since its launch, Hope SF’s positive impact on San Francisco has led to ongoing support from a number of partners such as Wells Fargo, according to Rossiter.
“It takes all kinds of partners and leaders to see this kind of project through,” she said. “Wells Fargo has not only been an important philanthropic partner, but also a development partner, by making loans and investing tax credit equity in our projects. Clearly, we access all sectors, from financing by banks and promoting innovation by developers to providing case management services for the residents. There’s an incredible array of expertise that makes something like this happen.”
Overall, Wells Fargo has donated nearly $17 million to affordable housing efforts such as Hope SF and others in the Bay Area region from 2016 to 2018, according to company figures.
In addition to annual contributions to Hope SF, Wells Fargo’s Commercial Lending and Investment business has approved $15 million in financing and $36 million in tax credit equity for its projects since 2012, said Katy Fitzsimmons, vice president of Wells Fargo Community Relations in San Francisco.
“Hope SF is creating beautiful new housing, but it’s so much more than that,” she said. “It’s really putting the people at the forefront of everything that they are doing. It’s providing economic mobility, job training, education, resident engagement, and so much more — all in an effort to help the residents lift themselves out of poverty and thrive.
“Our greatest priority is to help people succeed financially and to build better lives,” she added. “That’s exactly what Hope SF is doing for their residents by transforming their lives, and we’re really proud to play a small part in that.”
For Wells Fargo, one of Hope SF’s early supporters, the initiative exemplifies the kind of work the company wants to support as part of its philanthropic emphasis on housing affordability, Fitzsimmons said. In June, the company announced a commitment to donate $1 billion to affordable housing efforts through 2025.
“Broad, community-based efforts like Hope SF are paragons for our philanthropic goals,” she said. “They address the needs of public housing residents at every level, create a pathway for sustainable success, and pave the way for long-term housing affordability that makes a difference in the life of the community.”