83 McAllister Street

June 3, 2018

At the intersection of McAllister and Leavenworth is the coolest building in all of the Tenderloin.  It’s racially and culturally diverse.  It’s mixed-income.  The units are small (mine was 250 square feet) but beautifully designed with huge windows so you didn’t feel like you were living in a shoebox.  It was my home for five years.

83 McAllister is an adaptive reuse project designed and developed by Group i.  It was a for-sale project, which made it unusual.  Even more unusual was its economics: all the units were sold below market rate, which was made possible by its creative, minimalist design.  It’s the project that inspired SPUR to create its “Affordable by Design” study group.

It’s also the project that led me to introduce Group i’s founder/president to American Conservatory Theater.  I was introduced to ACT by the mayor’s office, which at the pre-tech-boom time was all over the arts as the way to revitalize mid-Market.   (Larry Harvey called it.)   ACT was desperately looking for an affordable housing solution for their conservatory students (I imagine they still are), and in 83 McAllister I found a designer/developer who offered one creative solution.

Joy Ou, Group i’s visionary Founder/President and Ellen Richard, ACT’s then new Executive Director, became friends and working partners.  Years later they came up with $24 million dollars for the construction of permanently affordable arts space a few blocks away.  Not too shabby, and roughly equal to the annual budgets of the San Francisco Arts Commission and Grants for the Arts combined.  Sadly, the city – including Supervisor Kim – and the San Francisco Foundation, shrugged and squandered the $24 million dollars for permanently affordable arts space and programming for thousands of low-income children and adults.  On a positive note, about a year later Joy & Ellen were joined by Loretta Greco and Jamie Mayer, and the four brilliant women created the deal to build the Magic’s new space on Turk Street.  The new space will be the first new construction mid-Market arts space in decades.

When I heard the Magic was being opposed by a handful of usual-suspect TL xenophobes, I volunteered to move back to help.  I was lucky, my former next door neighbor, Juan, was taking a sabbatical year traveling overseas.  Juan is a SFUSD elementary school teacher.  I didn’t know public school teachers got sabbaticals, but that’s very cool.  The rent had ballooned during my year away and was expensive (for me), but at least all of it went to an elementary school teacher.

I was happy to be back.  My old unit next door was bought by a nurse, Miki.  The Gonzalez Family still lived on the 2nd floor.  Mr. Gonzalez is a hospitality worker at the Hilton on Kearny Street.  He sells handmade Mexican cowboy boots as a side hustle. Another neighbor down the hall waits tables at a restaurant downtown.  The building has Asian, Latino, African-American and white residents.  Young, old.  People who pour coffee and change linens at hotels, and tech workers who write code.  All under the same roof, sharing the same community room, roof deck, laundry room, gym, bike room, mailbox room.

I initially didn’t get the idea of homeownership of apartments in the city, and I would debate this with Joy.  There was just no such thing in East New York Brooklyn, as far as I knew.  Joy argued that homeownership creates wealth for moderate-income households. This seemed farfetched to me, until I rented my unit from an elementary school teacher, with a nurse and hotel worker as my neighbors.