SF taps Openhouse, Mercy for new housing aimed at LGBTQ seniors

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday May 25, 2021
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The city has announced Mercy Housing and Openhouse have been selected as the development team for affordable LGBTQ-welcoming senior housing at 1939 Market Street in the Castro. Photo: Rick Gerharter
The city has announced Mercy Housing and Openhouse have been selected as the development team for affordable LGBTQ-welcoming senior housing at 1939 Market Street in the Castro. Photo: Rick Gerharter

San Francisco officials have selected the two agencies that built the city's first affordable senior housing aimed at LGBTQ older adults to design and construct a new development nearby in the upper Market Street corridor.

The Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development has chosen affordable housing developer Mercy Housing and Openhouse, a nonprofit provider of LGBTQ senior services in San Francisco, for the affordable senior housing slated to be built at 1939 Market Street. The city acquired the triangular 7,840 square foot lot at Market and Duboce Avenue last year for $12 million from the Sheet Metal Workers Local 104.

Sometime in late 2022 or early 2023 the union will be vacating the two-story building, which has been home to three other commercial tenants and includes a small parking lot. Construction on the 120-plus units — the exact amount of housing and design of the building still needs to be finalized and approved by city oversight bodies — could begin sometime in 2023, with completion of the project dependent on the availability of local funding and competitiveness for tax credit and bond financing, according to city officials.

"We are trying right now to accelerate as much as possible," Eric D. Shaw, a gay man named director of the mayoral housing office in April 2020, told the Bay Area Reporter when asked about the timeline for breaking ground on the project.

Openhouse and Mercy are co-partners on the 119-units of LGBTQ-welcoming affordable senior housing split between the buildings at 55 and 95 Laguna Street. The campus also includes Openhouse's offices at 65 Laguna and a new community center it built out at 75 Laguna and hopes to open later this year.

Mercy oversaw construction of the housing units and provides property management for the buildings. Openhouse provides services and programming to the tenants as well as other LGBTQ older adults in the city. They will be responsible for providing the same things for the new development.

"We are obviously absolutely thrilled about having a third building," said Karyn Skultety, Ph.D., who is stepping down May 31 as executive director of Openhouse. "To think about a future for San Francisco where we are building this kind of centralized place where a lot of LGBTQ seniors will be living in welcoming housing and taking advantage of the services and programming going on at the Openhouse Community Center at 75 Laguna should inspire our whole community that this will be going on."

Openhouse board co-chair Tim Sweeney told the B.A.R. that the nonprofit decided to apply for the project with Mercy because affordable housing for seniors "is so desperately needed" in the city and because of its proximity to the Laguna Street campus.

"It is literally across the street," he noted. "Housing in San Francisco is at such a premium. We need it so badly, especially for our senior and aging population."

A spokesperson for Mercy Housing did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

In a statement to the B.A.R. Mayor London Breed said, "We need more affordable housing across our entire city, including the Upper Market neighborhood. 1939 Market will build on the success we've had developing senior housing at 55 and 95 Laguna to bring more homes for those in need and I'm excited to keep pushing this project forward."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman told the B.A.R. moving the project forward has been one of his top priorities over the last 18 months, so it is "an exciting milestone" to have the development team selected ahead of Pride Month.

"Mercy Housing and Openhouse have the right experience building LGBTQ-welcoming affordable senior housing at 55 and 95 Laguna to get this next phase done," stated Mandelman. "With this building, they will have hopefully brought 250 LGBTQ-affirming affordable senior units to a neighborhood from which far too many queer seniors have been displaced. The need for this type of housing is vast, but these buildings are a solid start."

He thanked Breed and the mayoral housing office "for finding the resources and working closely with me and my office to bring more affordable housing to District 8."

Openhouse's 55 Laguna Street complex has reopened for staff, but services for clients continue to be offered remotely. It is a block away from the new senior housing project. Photo: Cynthia Laird  

More units expected
Shaw told the B.A.R. he does expect the Market Street project will be able to deliver a greater number of units than was built at the Laguna Street development. While the total price tag for the project has yet to be determined, he said the goal is to see that the cost per housing unit is under $385,000.

"If you build more units, it makes the cost of construction go down," he noted. "It makes us also more competitive for state funding."

The city will be covering the cost for designing the building and engaging with the community on the architectural plans, in addition to providing a development loan between $10 and $30 million. A third of the financing will come from investors, said Shaw, while another third will come from the state.

"State financing is crucial for this," said Shaw, who expects the city will apply with the state sometime in mid-2022.

Although non-LGBTQ seniors will be able to enter the lottery for the below-market-rate units built at 1939 Market Street, it is expected that the majority of residents will be LGBTQ seniors. Openhouse and Mercy, in partnership with the city, were able to attract majorities of LGBTQ seniors for the Laguna Street housing.

They are expected to be able to do so again for the Market Street project, especially with Openhouse being attached to the housing. The lottery to choose residents for the building will give preference for 25% to 40% of the units to older adults already living either in the city's eighth supervisorial district or within a mile of the property. Another 10% of the units will be set aside for people living with HIV.

"With Mercy's support and partnership, and support from local electeds and the city, we already have a set of best practices that never discriminates against anyone for housing but also really makes clear why we are able to call these buildings LGBTQ welcoming and serve a majority LGBTQ senior population," said Skultety.

Shaw told the B.A.R. he is confident of seeing mostly LGBTQ seniors move into the new building.

"Hopefully, we capture the LGBTQ people who live in the area who qualify for that housing," he said. "We will be proactive in marketing to the LGBTQ senior community."

With it situated in the middle of San Francisco and on the Market Street end of the Castro district near the LGBT Community Center, the new building is centralizing seniors in the life of the city and its LGBTQ neighborhood, noted Skultety.

"I always say seniors should be centralized in our life and in our fight for social justice. This is quite literally putting them in the center of the city," Skultety told the B.A.R. "We are really building a physical manifestation of our mission. It is fucking really cool."

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