San Francisco, A City Of Inequality, Is Building A New National Model For Public Housing

The Hope SF project is remaking five of the city’s worst public-housing sites into mixed-income communities–without kicking out former residents.

San Francisco is one of a handful of U.S. cities that’s rapidly losing its middle class. For low-income residents, the situation isn’t much better: Even if they’ve managed to secure housing, rising costs of living threaten to squeeze them out of the city.


Hunters View, a revitalized public housing development that just opened this past April, is a unique attempt to ensure the security of low-income San Franciscans with quality housing and services. It’s the first phase of Hope SF, a public housing initiative that aims to overhaul five of the worst public housing sites in the city and turn them into mixed-income communities where existing residents are still guaranteed a place to live. Rich Gross, a vice president at Enterprise Community Partners, an organization involved in the campaign, calls it the “single most important urban initiative in the country.”

The Hope SF campaign is now raising money to implement everything from job training programs to community gardens at the housing sites. Residents of Hope SF projects have an average income of $12,000 along with high unemployment and school absenteeism rates. Issues of multigenerational poverty run deep, but they’re hidden from public view–you could easily live in San Francisco your entire life and never see one of these projects.

Hunters View, the first site to be redeveloped, has needed help for a long time. The units in the development were originally built for shipyard workers after World War II. Eventually, they were transferred over to the housing authority–but the housing was never intended to last more than 10 years. The new apartments, in contrast, are expected to last 75 years. They have “the most stunning views of the city,” according to Gross, and are energy-efficient, with courtyards where residents can relax.

Hope SF is working on a number of initiatives for residents, including job training, an on-site program to help get kids to school, healthy eating education, and walking clubs.

Most importantly, the development doesn’t displace the existing community.

In many public housing redevelopment projects, former residents get a housing subsidy voucher and move away, sometimes never to come back. The community is broken. “This is different. There’s a commitment to work with current residents,” explains Gross. “This changes a long history of urban renewal.” During the building process at HOPE SF sites, residents have the option to still live onsite, and are guaranteed spots in the new developments.


So far, 107 affordable apartments have been built. Eventually, Hunters View will have 267 public housing apartments, 83 subsidized units, and 450 market-rate homes. The old Hunters View project had approximately 260 units in total.

Hope SF is already serving as a model elsewhere in the country. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants, which support neighborhood revitalization, was “born in many ways out of Hope SF,” according to Gross.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.