Nonprofit organizations collaboratively planning a building for formerly homeless seniors at 24th and Harrison streets have increased the number of units that could fit in the building to between 45 and 52. Now, they have to balance efficiency with neighbors’ preferences for height and design.

To that end, the architects have adjusted their plans since their last report to the community, squeezing five more units into a five-story model of their building for a total of 45 units. A total of up to 52 would fit into a six-story model alternative. Each studio measures around 330 square feet, while still maintaining accessibility necessary for senior housing like roll-in showers for wheelchairs.

“It’s important to be efficient with a project like this,” said Yakuh Askew of Y.A. Studio, one of the architects of the project.

Fitting as many units as possible into the space is imperative because the project relies on public funding, which means costs per unit must be kept reasonable, said Santiago “Sam” Ruiz of Mission Neighborhood Centers, which owns the property and is one of the nonprofits developing the project.

Even at five stories, the project will be among the highest on 24th Street.  

“What we realized is, six stories is a big building for this street,” said Rod Henmi of HKIT Architects, the other firm working on the project.

The various preliminary proposals for the project, which are still malleable, have design elements to mitigate the visual effect of the senior housing building towering over its neighbors. These include color blocks that end at the height of the surrounding buildings, adding vertical indented areas along the outer walls that appear to break the facade into smaller portions, and pulling portions of the top floor away from the property edge.

Nonetheless, several of the dozen or so neighbors at the meeting expressed a preference for the shorter building. One man even asked why the sponsors hadn’t considered a four-story alternative, given that even a five-story building would be taller than most of those around it.

“You’re proposing a six-story building, which I think is crazy,” he said.

“You need to have ‘X’ number of units in order for the project to pencil out,” Ruiz said. “Four stories would not have enough units to be cost effective.”

The lot is zoned for 55 feet in height, which the five-story building would meet – for six stories, the project would need permission to go up to 65 feet, likely through an affordable housing bonus program.

One proposal for the Casa de la Mision project, as seen from Balmy Alley. Image courtesy HKIT Architects.

Indeed, concerns about height appear to have caused some confusion among neighbors. At the beginning of the meeting, Ruiz said he had fielded concerns that the building being pitched had been turned into a nine-story building. In fact, he said, neighbors were thinking of a project at 1296 Shotwell Street being proposed and developed by the Mission Economic Development Agency and Chinatown Community Development Center.

Neighbors also pitched ideas for how to improve on the design and layout of the building. A few suggested the facade pay homage to the neighborhood’s Victorian character rather than the more modern ideas presented.

Others raised concerns that placing a main entryway and lobby for the building on the corner of the ground floor would mean occupying prime retail space with a less lively lobby area and create congestion with slow-moving seniors.  They suggested moving the entryway to the more residential Harrison Street side of the building, or at least away from the corner.

Traffic, especially in front of a building with residents that might need to be frequently picked up or dropped off at the curb, was also a concern.

A few neighbors seemed worried about the population expected in the building – formerly homeless seniors.  Mercy Housing staff assured them that these would be seniors who have previously been in city programs, and would be permanently housed there, rather than transitioning through, the building. Social services are planned to be available on site.

Overall, neighbors seemed supportive of the project, but wanted more information.

“I would love to get feedback from the population it would be serving,” said Ben Feldman, a nearby resident. “And what do the merchants say?” he wanted to know.

The project is still in the early stages of development, with groundbreaking not expected until December 2018 if all goes smoothly. Three more community meetings will be held in June 2017, August 2017, and January 2018.