Low-Income Housing That Anyone Would Love To Live In

Housing for the poor doesn’t need to be horrible. The Richardson apartments in San Francisco are offering up high-class digs in the hopes of helping to lift its residents out of poverty.

Low-income housing generally isn’t all that nice; stories like this about single-room occupancy buildings (SROs) with infestations, leaking pipes, and overflowing toilets aren’t uncommon. That’s starting to change, however, now that cities are realizing that quality low-income housing can provide a stepping stone to stability for residents. In San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood, the recently completed Richardson Apartments provide formerly homeless residents (many with physical and mental disabilities) with beautiful living spaces and social services.

The SRO, a project of David Baker and Partners Architects, is part of a larger neighborhood redevelopment. After the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco, a freeway that ran through the city became structurally unstable and collapsed. Now, decades later, projects like the Richardson Apartments are popping up below the site of the former freeway. The Richardson building was completed in September 2011.

The 120-unit, five-story building is the kind of place that most city-dwellers would love to live in: It features sustainably harvested wood (including redwood and elm), a landscaped courtyard, a green roof, sunshades outside the apartment windows, solar hot water heating, solar panels, intelligent lighting controls, and low-VOC paints. The apartments also have amenities tailored to the population, including abuse-resistant drywall and cabinets, grab bars everywhere, and wheelchair-accessible showers. The building doesn’t have car parking, but it does have parking for bikes—not that tenants would be likely to have a vehicle or even need one in this transit-rich neighborhood.

With an average of 300 square feet per apartment, the living spaces in the building aren’t huge. But "all the things a formerly homeless person would need are right on site," explains Amit Price Patel, the project architect. That includes a counseling center, a medical suite, a community room, and a residents’ lounge. There are also retail spaces on the ground floor: a Vietnamese sandwich shop, a picture frame shop, and most importantly for residents, a bakery and cafe that provides a "paid learning experience" for people who are disabled and homeless or at risk of becoming so.

The apartments are affordable for all who live there—residents pay 30% of their income as rent, up to a maximum of $870. And the building is saving money for the city, too. The 120 apartment residents used $2.4 million in city and medical services in the year before moving in. It’s a cost that is being dramatically cut with the onsite medical clinic.

It’s not easy to get a spot in the Richardson Apartments; tenants are screened for violent tendencies, and if they make the grade, they’re put on a long list. The ones who get in love it. "They’re extremely appreciative and really happy," says Patel. "They feel lucky."

The Richardson Apartments aren’t one of a kind. San Francisco is in the process of developing a similar 120-unit building, and New York City has an array of quality low-income housing.

The situation is still dire for the many homeless and poor city residents who can’t snag a spot in these places, however. There’s still a long way to go.

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  • what an awesome idea! additionally i think every new resident should receive home maintenance information. its important to learn how to care for a home and i think this a great start to upward social mobility!

  • Carl Bingum

    Notice the people living there are black and mexican.  You don't see whites in the pictures.  It just shows that poor whites have it the worst.  Poor disabled whites can't get help against able bodied blacks and mexicans.  Poor whites suffer because whites are told they can't get help cuz of the color of their skin.  People assume if you are white you don't need help.  I am poor, disabled and white.  I can't get housing.  I am told to go live in an all black neighborhood in substandard housing.  While blacks and mexicans get luxury housing like  this.  It just pisses me off and makes me want to give up.  It makes me sick. 

  • Danique

    Fantastic idea!

    Once San Francisco builds a bunch more of these we in Chicago will only need to buy our homeless population bus tickets. Keep building cuz we have a LOT of homeless people who would enjoy your mild winters!

  • Trinity Alps

    Yeah it looks great on paper, but like the other low cost housing projects in SF, costs a fortune to build and will look like crap in 5 years. The once beautiful town houses on Cesar Chaves cost about $1.2 million each to build, mostly because every housing agency in town wanted their cut. They were built with cheap materials, so they didn't age well after they got repopulated with people who had grown up in concrete bunkers. I really like the idea of de-segreating the poor better than building cheap rabbit hutches to warehouse them.

  • Kurt

    I think credit should be given to Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture for the "landscaped" courtyard and green roof. These intermediary spaces are probably more important than the actual Single-Room themselves, in their low-VOC paint and intelligent light control glory, as they create community amongst the SRO and connect the residences to the rest of the city by actually being out-of-doors. 

  • Able Disabled

    It's a shame more housing isn't built to be more affordable. Can any USA cities house their disabled elderly and low income workers without fed assist? At least some consider the needs of those with greater needs and no voice.   Some day middle income people who are ticked off and able might go to city planning meetings and talk down overpriced new builds and ask for more moderately priced housing instead of more excessively priced (to be more profitable to the few)  be built. ALL new single family and mf  buy and rental builds should consider moderate pricing.  One of CA's biggest problems for small biz  and attracting other biz is having to pay such high salaries due to excessive housing and transport costs. SF is possibly the worst in that dept.

  • Able Disabled

     Oh this is  tiny and supportive/ monitored studios  out of reach cabinets and and with no oven and 2 elect burners and no dishwasher. It's not easy/comfortable  for  special needs elderly or disabled and not  like permanent housing. I don't see a fridge either but  hope that is  there. Not for eating healthy at home on a budget- for sure. Seems people would have to be physically able/ as no food allergies or special food needs can be accommodated in a half kitchen.   No parking so can not own a car even for accessibility if cant take the bus,  and  must have above ssi/poverty $ to be able to eat min well - be able to manuever hills of sf well and afford to eat out buy lots of prepared foods to make this work.  A twin bed  an no couch - ouch .  Not so comfortable and no place for guests.  After seeing the living spaces and hard straight backed furnishings through out,   I hope this does not catch on.  

  • $6393360

    The problem with low-income housing, isn't the build quality as much as the other residents.

  • Ross P

    These houses are smack dab in the middle of SF communities. I wonder if people commenting here are really very familiar with SF. Hell, Hayes Valley is one of the nicer, more upper class neighborhoods in the city. Very walkable. Very flat.

    I also don't understand the comments complaining about the quality of the apt. I would love to live in an apt like this, I have no doubt that I am paying more for my small apt (which is smaller, older, and in Oakland) than these people are.

    I totally support this btw, given SF's insane rent prices we need as many of these buildings as we can get. I just don't understand the criticisms in here. They seem to criticizing the 'idea' of low income housing, and not the actual project shown.

  • Able Disabled

    Making sure  residents  are substance abuse free for 5 years and crime history free (minus issues due to being homeless) to qualify independent living facilities and helping to place those ( including families)  who need supervision and supports due to the histories above or certain  mh issues  into supportive housing instead of section8 and other independent living is key to making these places safe and effective.  

  • gwbnyc

    yet again, a situation the middle class couldn't afford at market, but we'll be expected to provide it to others. as an experiment it will fail, but the crime is making us pay for it.

  • $6393360

    Concentrating poor and sometimes desperate people in one area can only be bad for everybody. That's how ghettos are created.

  • Ariel Schwartz

     I agree that that is also important, but giving people a place to stay that has all the necessary social services built in is also incredibly useful. Plus, in places like San Francisco where public transportation isn't always the best, it makes more sense to have people who need easy access to these services in a more central location.

  • Stella

    Instead of building pretty houses to fence off low-income families, I say we find a pretty solution to integrate them into our communities. Your comment illustrates why this is important.