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Below-Market Mid-Rise Housing Project Opens in Transbay Neighborhood

Rene Cazenave San Francisco housing real estate The Registry1

By Neil Gonzales

A new mid-rise in San Francisco’s South of Market District marks the first residential building to open in the transformative Transbay Redevelopment Area, an evolving section of the city where high-end mixed-use developments, leading technology firms and a re-envisioned regional transit hub are converging.

Featuring a matrix-like, turquoise-mottled façade and highly environmentally sustainable elements, the Rene Cazenave Apartments at the corner of Essex and Folsom streets should fit right in with the ultramodern, forward-thinking design and vision for the Transbay area. These apartments could easily fetch the $3,500 one-bedroom median monthly rents that other places are asking for in SoMa, where housing is in such high demand and the cost of living is largely being driven up by the boom in the technology sector.

But the Rene Cazenave caters not to the tech crowd but the extremely low-income, offering below-market rents. The eight-story structure, which was finished in November at a cost of about $43 million, provides 120 units—12 one-bedrooms and 108 studios—to formerly chronically homeless individuals referred by the city Department of Public Health’s Direct Access to Housing program. As a supportive-housing complex, the building also has counseling, medical and educational services on site.

Rene Cazenave San Francisco housing real estate The RegistryThe Rene Cazenave was co-developed by San Francisco-based affordable-housing nonprofits Community Housing Partnership (CHP) and BRIDGE Housing, which were selected by the city Redevelopment Agency (now the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure) to transform a former parking lot. The project’s general contractor was Cahill Contractors based in San Francisco. The building is named after a longtime community activist and affordable-housing advocate, who died in 2010.

“That in the present real-estate market CHP has been able to build these apartments in a prime location surrounded by expensive high rises and million-dollar condos to provide housing to formerly homeless individuals and families is quite an accomplishment,” Sylvie Cazenave, the widow of the building’s namesake, said during last week’s grand-opening ceremony attended by Mayor Ed Lee and other dignitaries.

Mindful of the Transbay area’s transit-oriented, pedestrian friendly goals, the Rene Cazenave’s design seeks to foster people interaction and heighten a sense of community. The ground floor has tenant lounges, a landscaped central courtyard and program rooms as well as retail spaces that will tie in with plans to make Folsom Street a new city shopping corridor.

“The ground-floor concept is to bring people in—to see people and be seen,” said Vanna Whitney, an associate with San Francisco-based Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, which with Saida + Sullivan Design Partners drew up the project’s blueprints. “The ground floor has a lot of glass and is very open, fostering engagement.”

Throughout the upper residential floors, groups of units are clustered together, making for “smaller communities within a community,” Whitney said. The units all have floor-to-ceiling windows, which bring in a good amount of natural light and make tenants “feel more connected to the outside environment.”

The building’s sustainable features include rooftop solar panels, a lower-level green roof and an energy-efficient exterior cladding. The building also has toilet plumbing that can carry reclaimed water when it becomes available from the city, Whitney said.

Barry White, who had been homeless, has enjoyed living at the Rene Cazenave the past four months. “I didn’t know safe housing until I moved into my apartment here,” he said. “I feel a sense of community here.”

In a city where there’s a perception that the surging tech industry is pushing out the poor, the underprivileged residents at the Rene Cazenave will help establish a new neighborhood and be permanent fixtures there. “This was a great opportunity for us to be on the ground floor of the emerging Transbay community,” CHP Executive Director Gail Gilman said. “What’s exciting about this is it’s part of a grand plan for a rebuilt Transbay Terminal, new offices and other construction. It adds a level of economic diversity to the area.”

To be sure, upscale development will dominate the area—highlighted by the Transbay Transit Center, which will serve the region’s various transportation systems as well as the state’s future high-speed rail project, and the 61-story Salesforce Tower, slated to be the city’s tallest structure whose anchor tenant will be the cloud-computing giant Salesforce.com. The area will also see more than 4,400 units of new housing, nearly 1,000 hotel rooms, 100,000 square feet of retail space, several million square feet of offices and 11 acres of public parks.

State law requires that 35 percent of all new housing units in a redevelopment area must be affordable to very low- to moderate-income households. By 2020, more than 1,100 new affordable-housing units will be developed in the Transbay area—“the majority of which are proposed to be rental and homeownership opportunities for families earning between 50 and 100 percent of the San Francisco-area median income,” said Mike Grisso, senior project manager for the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure.

The Rene Cazenave Apartments, where the highest rent goes for $375 a month, currently is the only supportive-housing development in the Transbay area. Citywide, about 3,000 supportive-housing units have been built in the last 10 years, but Gilman called for more. “There are still over 6,000 people living in the streets, in shelters or in cars in San Francisco,” she said. “We still have a long way to go as a city.”

The obstacles include a lack of financing to support affordable-housing projects. “There’s more affordable-housing demand than there are resources,” BRIDGE President and CEO Cynthia Parker said. Affordable-housing advocates have suggested that the city expedite its permitting process as a way to help realize projects.

Grisso said the city is doing just that. The city is also “working to secure more funding for affordable housing from a variety of potential sources,” he said. “The affordable housing in the Transbay area is financed primarily by affordable-housing fees on market-rate residential developments and on office developments.”

Photography courtesy of Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

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