Housing Cooperative Freedom West Pitches $2B Proposal for New Housing in San Francisco’s Fillmore Neighborhood

By Meghan Hall

48-year-old San Francisco housing cooperative Freedom West is taking a bold step forward in ensuring its future survival as housing prices in San Francisco continue to skyrocket amidst redevelopment. In a vote made last month, Freedom West formalized its intention to replace its current cooperative with more than 2,000 residential units—a bid they hope will preserve one of the few remaining strongholds of diversity and equity in San Francisco.

“I see Freedom West as the vehicle to bring back families, particularly African American families who were forced out of the city because of redevelopment, and who continue to be gentrified out,” explained Freedom West Mattie Scott in a statement to Institute for the Future (FTF). “Freedom West 2.0 will help build equity, it will help maintain our ability to not ever have to lose land again. It will hold us for the next 50 years.”

Freedom West’s original 382-unit complex is located on McAllister Street and spans four blocks in the Fillmore neighborhood. The community was established in 1973 by the city of San Francisco, which issued a bond for its construction. Under an agreement with the City, residents would eventually become owners of the property by paying the City back over a 40-year period. The goal was to provide home ownership opportunities for low-income earners and minorities—a priority that has remained in place as San Francisco’s redevelopment has accelerated.

The $2 billion proposal—first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle— is part of plans by MacFarlane Partners and Avanath Capital Management. The existing homes would be replaced with eight-story modern buildings for current residents, at no additional costs. Currently, residents now pay about $1,000 per month. In all, up to 2,000 market rate units will be developed on the site, as well as 133 affordable units. Revenue from the new project will be allocated towards debt payments within the cooperative. Co-op owners and residents would have a 15 percent profit share in the new market-rate units, which will be housed in structures between12 and 18 stories high. A mix of tax credits and public funding will be utilized to finance the affordable housing portion of the project.

In addition, 20,000 square feet of retail, as well as a 6,000 square foot Innovation Center, are part of the plans. The Innovation Center would offer job training, small business assistance and other community-based programs.

However, Freedom West, MacFarlane and Avanath still need to submit a preliminary project application to the City in order to move forward. Procuring entitlements could take up to two years, and complete build out could take as long as a decade.

Between 1993 and 2020, the median sales price for a single-family home has increased from just less than $300,000 to more than $1.6 million. Condo prices have increased from a similar starting point to about $1.25 million, according to data released by Compass Commercial in October. The result of such rapidly increasing home prices has been that many low-income and minority residents have had to move, with arrangements such as Freedom West providing a window of opportunity for just a small portfion of those impacted.

“Urban renewal completely decimated the Fillmore community,” said Landon Taylor, co-founder of Legacy First Partners and an adviser to the co-op. “Unlike the tragedy that happened with redevelopment where the residents were not involved, we need to get the residents involved.”

As of this writing, Freedom West had not yet returned The Registry’s request for updated comment.

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