New Affordable Housing for Seniors in San Francisco Awarded for Earthquake-Resilience

San Francisco, US Resiliency Council, Mission District, Chinatown Community Development Corporation, Mission Economic Development Agency, Casa Adelante, Bay Area

San Francisco, CA— August 14, 2019 — The US Resiliency Council has awarded a Gold rating for high performance earthquake design to a 94-unit affordable apartment complex now nearing completion at 1296 Shotwell in San Francisco’s Mission District. 

The nine-story building, developed jointly by Chinatown Community Development Corporation (Chinatown CDC) and Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) with support from the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development and other funders, will provide much-needed rental homes for local low-income seniors. Twenty-three percent of the apartments are specifically set aside for formerly homeless seniors. 

Those facts alone make the project unique. However, 1296 Shotwell is also exceptional for its earthquake-resilient construction and eco-friendly design, features often regarded as unattainable luxuries in the current housing environment.

Gold-Rated for Resilience

“A USRC Gold rating means the building is expected to perform better than the building code requires and is likely to suffer minimal damage and still be usable after a major quake,” said Evan Reis, Executive Director of the US Resiliency Council, which awarded the rating. 

Gold is the second-highest level of USRC certification, only available to buildings designed above code minimums with respect to safety, unlikely to have damage over ten percent of their replacement cost and disruption of a few days to weeks at most. Such buildings deserve recognition because building code requirements mainly aim to reduce the likelihood of building collapse, not to prevent damage or even keep a building usable.

“This project shows that when expert structural engineers are involved and the client understands the value of high performance design, even buildings that would ordinarily be designed to only meet code requirements can be made resilient,” Reis continued. 

1296 Shotwell, also known as Casa Adelante, is one of 53 buildings awarded a USRC Rating worldwide and the first affordable senior residential building to be so honored. “MEDA is thrilled that our future senior residents will have as safe a structure as possible,” explains MEDA Project Manager Serena Li, who is overseeing the structure’s completion.

Protecting Seniors During and After Earthquakes

“The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) is proud that Casa Adelante received the USRC Gold Rating for its enhanced structural design so that it will not only continue to stand, but also remain safely occupied after a major earthquake event,” says Dan Adams, MOHCD Acting Director. “This protects our lowest-income senior residents and prevents displacement in the aftermath of an earthquake, while also reducing the impact on our City emergency response and shelter systems.”

Chinatown CDC Director of Housing Development Whitney Jones agrees. “Living in an earthquake zone, we want our seniors to not have to worry that their housing is at risk when an earthquake happens.”

More Earthquake Safety, Same Price 

1296 Shotwell isn’t a better earthquake-performing building by accident. Engineer of record David Mar of Mar Structural Design in Berkeley was driven to provide the best earthquake performance possible. Mar says the building uses traditional concrete slab and column techniques but in an innovative way. “We designed the building to rock back and forth, utilizing the mat and slabs and re-centering itself.”

Mar and architects at Herman Coliver Locus Architecture (HCLA) weren’t sure at first whether they could design a better-performing earthquake building and still meet the needs and budget of their clients. “Community development groups don’t have the luxury of spending more. If they did have more resources, they’d build more buildings,” Mar said.

“For a while,” Mar continued, “we kept two alternative designs going. But the building with the rocking foundation cost about the same as the one with a conventional code design.” Ultimately, Mar’s higher performance earthquake design added only $100,000— less than 0.25%— to the $41.2 million total project cost.

HCLA Principal Susie Coliver’s goal was to make sure that Casa Adelante provided a quality living environment for senior residents while minimizing impact on the natural environment. She said it was exciting and precedent-setting to learn that it’s also possible—both technically and financially—to address earthquake risk. “As we fight gentrification, we have to do so sustainably. This project is a true first by doing both. Even better, a path has been paved to replicate this success.”

“Absolutely this experience is influencing our thinking on future projects,” Coliver added. “We can’t ignore earthquakes as we design housing, knowing what we now know.”

Deeper and Broader Community Benefit

“This project shows higher earthquake-performing buildings can be a strategic tool as we confront our affordable housing shortage in the San Francisco Bay Area,” says Erin Carson, Director of Construction Services of MOHCD. “The City is responsible not just for funding on this project but also for rescuing, sheltering and re-housing senior tenants if a building is damaged and unusable while extensive repairs are made.”

Carson continued, “Preserving use of the building and avoiding displacement, even temporarily, also protects the health, emotional stability, and social networks we are working so hard to create, so our vulnerable seniors don’t have to start yet again from scratch.”

Locally-Led World Class Collaboration

The design teams of Mar and HCLA were backed up by experts from Stanford and New Zealand who helped create and verify the feasibility and compliance of the structural system with city building requirements.

“As structural engineers, this was an opportunity to make the connection between a community in need and advancing what we’re capable of doing,” said Mar. Mar credited the USRC rating process in helping drive design decisions. “Calculating the USRC rating helped us learn about the drivers of performance and gave us ideas about how to improve performance without compromising on function or cost.”

Qualifying seniors are expected to move into Casa Adelante’s 94 studio and one-bedroom units by the end of the year. 

US Resiliency Council
Founded in 2011, US Resiliency Council creates and implements meaningful rating systems that describe the performance of buildings during earthquakes and other natural disaster events, to help the public to understand these risks, and to thereby improve society’s ability to withstand and bounce back. 

MEDA
Rooted in the Mission and focused on San Francisco, MEDA’s mission is to strengthen low- and moderate-income Latino families by promoting economic equity and social justice through asset building and community development. 
Elaine Yee,
Senior Project Manager/MEDA
(415) 282-3334 ext. 138

Herman Coliver Locus Architecture
Herman Coliver Locus Architecture is known nationally for its ground-breaking work in the area of supportive housing. HCLA attempts to give shape to the aspirations of future residents, providing emotional and intellectual sustenance, as well as shelter.
Susie Coliver, Principal

Chinatown CDC
The mission of the Chinatown Community Development Center is to build community and enhance the quality of life for San Francisco residents. 
Whitney Jones, Director of Housing/CCDC
wjones@Chinatowncdc.org
(415) 984-1450

Mar Structural Design
Based in Berkeley, Mar Structural Design specializes in collaborating with architects, owners, fellow designers, and builders to provide clients with the most comprehensive and cost-effective engineering design solutions possible.
David Mar, Mar Structural Design
(510) 289-4903

San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development
Erin Carson, LEED AP
415-701-5513 (direct)

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