San Francisco’s Tahanan Supportive Housing Project Leverages Wide Range of Expertise to Complete Development in Record Time

By Meghan Hall

A supportive housing project at the heart of San Francisco is taking shape in record time thanks to the careful collaboration of San Francisco officials, affordable housing advocates, developers and architects. Called Tahanan Supportive Housing, the 146-unit South of Market project has kicked off construction and will strive to embody the community within which it is located and serves. 

The project will include 145 studios plus one one-bedroom, for the community’s manager, and the units will be permanently affordable and offer housing and services for adults who have experienced homelessness. The enterprise began with Tipping Point Community and affordable housing developer Mercy Housing California. From there, a number of parties were brought on board to make the project possible, including David Baker Architects and Factory_OS, who would act as the project’s modular fabricator.

“We were originally approached by Tipping Point, which does a lot of work around homelessness but is not actually a developer of housing,” explained David Baker Architects’ Principal Daniel Simons. “They’re really focused on innovation and trying to think about and solve homelessness from as an out-of-the-box position as they can. They…thought of this project as a test case for innovation, trying to figure out if there was a way to be more streamlined in the production of housing for the homeless.”

The project team embarked on an ambitious goal to complete the project within three years, from the time the land was acquired to move-in day. The project team also budgeted $400,000 per unit—aspects of the project that Tipping Point and Mercy Housing were determined to meet.

“It doesn’t sound like a heroically aggressive goal, but when you compare it to how long it takes to deliver any kind of housing in San Francisco and certainly affordable housing, that’s a very aggressive schedule,” said Simons. “But that was it. We wanted to hit those milestones.”

The project team employed a number of strategies to reach its goals, including making use of California Senate Bill 35, which went into effect in January 2018. SB 35 is designed to streamline the approval of certain housing projects in jurisdictions that are not meeting their Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) goal. Thanks to coordination of everyone involved, the Tahanan project team received its approvals in 90 days.

A streamlined entitlements process also helped the development team cut down greatly on costs. In addition, the team employed several other tactics and strategies to help the project to meet its financial benchmarks. Modular construction will be utilized and units will be similar in layout and size, allowing for easy replication and ease of construction. Construction was jumpstarted via philanthropic funding and guidance from the San Francisco Housing Accelerator Fund. 

However, the most important goal, said Simons, was making the development one that was a good place to live and representative of the neighborhood.

“The goal was always to provide a wonderful place for people to live,” said Simons.

Because Tahanan is located within the SOMA Pilipinas Cultural District, the project team worked closely with City officials within the Board of Supervisors and the Filipinx American community on the design of the development. The massing of the project is simple and rectangular not just to maximize space, but because of the use of modular construction. The lower levels of the building will be clad in cast concrete imprinted with the pattern of traditional handwoven banig mats, while a mega-graphic of Philippine rice terraces will be integrated into metal panels used on the upper levels. A bamboo imprinted concrete wall will add further texture.

A celebratory stair at the corner of Bryant and Harriet will help to anchor the building, and windows along the street frontage will have an angled bay configuration, directing views not to the Hall of Justice across the street but towards the downtown Skyline.

“Working with Mercy Housing and Tipping Point, and incorporating ideas and feedback from SOMA Pilipinas, really enriched the quality of the design,” said David Baker Architects Associate Jonas Weber. “The feeling of the building is something that has a unique identity, an identity that relates to its place and the people around it.”

The name of the project is a Tagalog word which represents the idea of returning to home and the Tahanan’s mission within the South of Market neighborhood.

Currently, the building is under construction. 87 “mods” have been placed on top of a poured concrete podium. Construction initially began in October of 2020, and completion is expected by August of 2021—a finish line that the project team is eagerly awaiting. 

Weber added, “The excitement that we have for contributing to work that helps with the homelessness crisis and housing crisis, and the idea that formally homeless people will be living in these units is something that really motivates not just me, but all of us.”

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