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A neighborhood treasure in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district gets a second act as affordable senior housing

Member Sponsor Award
Silicon Valley Bank Citizens Housing Corporation/Tenderloin
Neighborhood Development Corporation
AHP Award: $320,000


A beloved historic landmark becomes Buena Vista Terrace Senior Housing, an affordable housing option for low-income seniors in high-cost San Francisco.

Low-income seniors don’t have many affordable housing options in high-cost San Francisco, where constraints on new construction are many and the locals take great pride in maintaining the individual characters of their neighborhoods. With Buena Vista Terrace, a problem property became an opportunity to imagine something brand new inside the old façade of a 1915 Romanesque Revival structure, designed by Edgar Mathew and built for a Christian Scientist congregation that left decades ago.

“What this visionary project achieves is the retention and adaptive reuse of a beloved, classic structure to create a dynamic new living environment that is immediately part of the fabric of the neighborhood.”

Tom Brutting, HKIT architects

The old church had survived a number of attempts to tear it down: plans for condominiums, a clinic, theater, and a school all went nowhere in the face of neighborhood opposition. But while the neighbors were determined to maintain the character of the block by preserving a beloved historic landmark, they were not pleased that the building was becoming an unattractive nuisance.

For nonprofit Citizens Housing Corporation, this “problem property” presented an opportunity: if it could be adapted for a new use that met community needs, the building might be saved. With input from neighborhood representatives, an ingenious proposal to create brand new affordable senior housing within the building’s original external structure was unanimously approved by city officials.

Preserving the character of the old structure while constructing 39 studio and one-bedroom apartments within its shell posed some unique challenges for Tom Brutting of HKIT architects. But what this visionary project achieves, according to Brutting, “is the retention and adaptive reuse of a beloved, classic structure to create a dynamic new living environment that is immediately part of the fabric of the neighborhood.”

In a lottery-style application process, more than 1,800 seniors vied for a chance to make the Buena Vista Terrace home. One of the lucky ones was Joe Rogers, a 73 year-old long-time San Franciscan and widower who had been living with his sister.

Joe knows about construction and appreciates the structural quality of his new home. “Most people wouldn’t have any idea what’s in here,” he says as he leads the way to his fourth floor studio apartment. “This is not just any brand new apartment; this apartment meets the most stringent codes.”

Individual apartments are designed for residents to age comfortably and safely in place. One of the design features that means a lot to Joe is his large, handicapped accessible bathroom. “I don’t fear death, but I worry about a stroke,” Joe confides. “This bathroom is purposefully designed for people who may end up in a wheelchair.”

The historic church’s second act is giving tenants more than just a roof over their heads. For someone like Joe, the Buena Vista Terrace offers an important sense of long-time security. “How did I feel about getting into this place? It felt like I won the Lottery prize!” Joe quips, “Except this is better, since you don’t get a whole bunch of money at one time, you get it spread out for the rest of your life.”