Community/City Building Success: The Sixth Street Redevelopment Project

Building Genuine Neighborhoods (and Real Cities)

AN OCCASIONAL BLOG ABOUT THINGS THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE …

The new Bill Sorro Community apartments that opened this month is the final project - the "completion" - of the 1990 South of Market (Sixth Street) Redevelopment Area, the City's most ambitious Loma Prieta Earthquake recovery effort. It only took 27 years!

Bill Sorro Community Apartments

Bill Sorro Community Apartments

It IS possible for the City and community advocates to work together proactively to build a shared vision of a better future for our community and the City. The South of Market Project proves this. Here is (only) some of the real story:

The former Hugo Apartments at the corner of Sixth and Howard Streets was a key target of this Redevelopment Project from the start as a future affordable housing development site. Its slumlord owner had allowed the building to deteriorate so badly that in the early 1980s the Health Department had to order all its 69 tenant households - Filipino families - to suddenly move out due to grossly unsanitary conditions. So this building sat completely empty, a genuine neighborhood "blight," until the 1989 Earthquake. But it was only slightly damaged.

A few months later Mayor Art Agnos quickly agreed to support our SOMA community request (from the community coalition of that time, the South of Market Problem Solving Council) for a new earthquake recovery redevelopment project focused on Sixth Street. The Project goals were to replace all the residential hotel housing units lost to the earthquake, find additional sites for new affordable housing, and assist the Sixth Street community to improve the living and business conditions and community services of that depressed neighborhood.

The South of Market Redevelopment Project succeeded in achieving every goal!

New Knox SRO with Mural by Rigo 94

New Knox SRO with Mural by Rigo 94

  • The two residential hotels that were damaged beyond repair by the earthquake were replaced with two new SROs with 246 total units: TODCO's Knox SRO (on the site of the red-tagged Anglo Hotel) and the Redevelopment Agency's own Plaza Apartments.
Renovated Bayanihan House with the New Bayanihan Community Center

Renovated Bayanihan House with the New Bayanihan Community Center

  • Four run-down residential hotels were bought and completely renovated for 372 total units of permanently affordable housing: TODCO's Bayanihan House (the former burned-out Delta Hotel) and Hotel Isabel (the former Grand Southern Hotel, renamed after long-time SOMA community leader Isabel Ugat), the Rose Hotel, and the Dudley Apartments.

  • Nine new affordable family apartment buildings with 337 total units were built: 1028 Howard St., 518 Minna St., Columbia Park Apartments, Garbreila Apartments, Goodwill Housing, Leland Apartments, Minna Park Family Housing, Westbrook Family Housing, and now finally the Bill Sorro Community.

  • Two affordable home-ownership projects were built with 63 total units: 474 Natoma and Habitat for Humanity’s 1009 Mission St.

New South of Market Health Center on Seventh Street

New South of Market Health Center on Seventh Street

  • New community services centers were opened in the ground floor storefronts of several of these affordable housing developments, including the Filipino community’s vital Bayanihan Community Center, the Westbay Multiservice Center, the gleaming new South of Market Health Center clinic, and the Oasis for Girls.
New Bindlestiff Theater Entrance on Sixth Street

New Bindlestiff Theater Entrance on Sixth Street

  • New community cultural facilities were added, including the Filipino community’s dynamic Bindlestiff Theater.
New Bindlestiff Theater Entrance on Sixth Street

New Bindlestiff Theater Entrance on Sixth Street

  • Two very important City projects were coordinated and built: the replacement Bessie Carmichael School and the new Victoria Manalo Draves Park.
New Victoria Manalo Draves Park Layout

New Victoria Manalo Draves Park Layout

  • Small business assistance programs (façade improvement loans, security equipment grants, etc.) helped improved more than a dozen Sixth Street businesses and restored long-vacant storefronts), culminating in the addition of Sixth Street blocks to the Central Market Community Benefit District.

All this is what REAL community-building looks like. The Project technically ended after 20 years, but the Redevelopment Agency kept proactively working on finishing all its goals until Governor Brown suddenly (and very foolishly) killed all redevelopment agencies statewide in 2012. So the next time there is a major earthquake in California, these redevelopment tools will NOT be available to rebuild our cities and communities!

Altogether 1018 affordable housing units were developed within the small project area (between Fifth and Sixth Streets north of Harrison Street), plus several more affordable projects on the adjacent blocks.

Derelict Hugo Apartments c. 2000

Derelict Hugo Apartments c. 2000

The Hugo Apartments site was the most difficult challenge of the whole Project. Its slumlord owner stubbornly refused all offers to buy it, leaving it standing derelict and empty for almost 25 years, until finally the Agency began the official eminent domain condemnation process. After protracted legal proceedings the property was finally secured and its affordable housing development work got going five years ago. Now it is open!

This was the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency at its best potential, and credit is due to all its team that steadfastly worked with the engaged communities over three decades to build a shared community vision for the Sixth Street Neighborhood. Of course there were strong differences of opinion frequently, but the final results speak for themselves.

Bill Sorro with poet Al Robles