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By Thomas K. Pendergast

Plans are moving forward for 216 new units to house low-income seniors, and a team of architects has been selected to design a seven-story building between La Playa Street and Great Highway at Lincoln Way.

The new buildings will replace a three-story motel called the Rodeway Inn and Suites near Ocean Beach and adjacent to Golden Gate Park.

The development of the project is being led by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) and Self-Help for the Elderly (SHE). The property was purchased with funds from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

“Our mission is to develop community and provide affordable housing and services to low-income people, both in the Tenderloin, where we started, and throughout San Francisco,” said Jacob Goldstein of the TNDC. “We want to promote equitable access to opportunities and resources for all.”

“Our mission is to promote the independence, well-being and dignity of older adults, but we do so in culturally responsive services,” said Anni Chung, president and CEO of SHE. “We are now in five Bay Area counties. In addition to San Francisco, we are in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. In those counties, we serve nearly 40,000 seniors annually.”

The apartments are reserved for seniors ages 62 and older. Of these, 87 units are for extremely low-income seniors assisted by the Senior Operating Subsidy program, another 17 units are reserved for low-income individuals, and 110 units are reserved for individuals eligible for permanent assisted living.

The Rodeway Inn and Suites at 1234 Great Highway will be replaced by 216 new housing units for low-income seniors. Photo by Michael Durand.

In addition, the developers are considering up to 20 parking spaces on site.

Developers benefit from the state law commonly known as SB-35, as well as the reforms outlined in the mayor’s Housing for All Plan.

SB-35 “streamlines” the process for building new housing provided that at least a certain percentage of the housing units are rented to very low-, low-, or moderate-income households for at least 30 years and the project meets certain conditions related to location and is subject to a discretionary development decision that is not a conditional building permit.

“Providing affordable housing funding for projects across our city is an important part of our strategy to create more housing in San Francisco,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. “We still have a lot of work to do to remove barriers to accelerating housing construction and promoting affordable housing, but this is a great step and I want to thank the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development for their work in advancing projects like this.”

A day care center for adults will be built on the ground floor, offering recreational therapy, nursing care, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and psychological counseling.

“These are frail seniors who need physical therapy, nursing, occupational therapy, speech therapy and psychiatric counseling,” Chung said. “And this center will be brand new, with the future senior housing on the ground floor.”

They will also provide vocational training and related services to older immigrants.

They can provide trained nursing staff and clinical services for seniors recently discharged from the hospital, as well as physical therapists to help them with rehabilitation.

They also offer a lot of digital training, “because during the COVID pandemic, our seniors were very isolated and we needed something that they could use to talk to us, each other, their family, and also help them learn skills to cope with the pandemic,” Chung said.

The architects will design the building from now until mid-2026. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2027.

Unless unforeseen circumstances arise, they expect construction to take 22 months and the first units to be available by the end of 2028.

“The west side needs more affordable housing, especially for seniors,” said Fourth District Supervisor Joel Engardio. “I am glad that this project involves Self-Help for the Elderly, a respected nonprofit known for the high standard of service every senior deserves. I am grateful that the primary service provider, TNDC, has made a long-term commitment to meeting the needs of all residents at 1234 Great Highway. Seniors need to know that they are housed in a safe and caring environment.”

The architectural team includes two local firms: Paulett Taggart Architects and Figure.

Figure architect Jennifer Ly said the firm focuses on collaborating with nonprofits on community-focused projects, as well as projects that help amplify the voice of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

“At 1234, we think that beautifying the sidewalk with green space is an important value for both residents and neighbors. And while Sunset is known for its colorful, two-story single-family homes, there are also many three- to four-story duplexes and three-family homes along the main arteries, along Lincoln, La Playa and Irving Street,” Ly said.

“Not surprisingly, some of the tallest buildings in the Sunset are these seven-story apartment buildings, all built in the 1920s in the Edwardian style. And in some ways, that variety of scales, densities and styles – from historic to contemporary – adds to the vibrancy of this neighborhood,” she said. “So as we consider the design for 1234, we have to consider how this residential project fits into its existing context, how we minimize its visual impact on the skyline and how the ground floor can enhance the neighborhood.”

Among other things, it is the “visual impact” that raises concerns about the project among some residents.

“It’s like putting a giant in an anthill. It doesn’t make sense,” says Luis Pine, who lives a few blocks from the property. “There are so many things wrong with it; first of all, the location, on the coast. What gives the neighborhood its name is the sunset, and the building, as they propose, would block the beautiful sunlight that filters through the trees in the late afternoon for nine months of the year.”

“It would block the park. Not to mention the beautiful walks you take nine months of the year.

“Add to that … the enormous amount of traffic that it would create in a neighborhood that already suffers from traffic problems, especially on weekends,” he said. “And it doesn’t make sense to build a building with that many people in it in a place where there are problems with rising sea levels; in a place where there are sand dunes that are part of the nature of this place and that occasionally throw sand around. It just doesn’t make sense to build a building that big.”

“The reason people like to visit San Francisco is precisely because it doesn’t look like Manhattan.”

Pine said he thought a building with three to four stories and setbacks would make more sense.

“The great thing about San Francisco is Golden Gate Park and the coast around it. That’s why everyone comes here,” he explained. “You take that away and just start building huge buildings, like anyone can do that, right? You go to Dubai and just build upwards. That doesn’t make sense here. That’s not what San Francisco is about. That’s not the direction cities are going to go in the future. That’s not what people want.”