A huge, 2,515-unit residential project — one of the largest ever to be proposed or built in San Francisco — may be on its way to the Fillmore/Western Addition, and it's being driven by the same church group that built 382 units on the same site 47 years ago.
The existing affordable development on the four blocks bounded by Gough, Fulton, Golden Gate, and Laguna, Freedom West Homes, was, like some other developments in the area, the creation of a church and its parishioners. Rev. J. Austell Hall, pastor of the adjacent Bethel A.M.E. Church, helped spur the development in order to address the housing instability of the community in the early 1970s — after the infamous "urban renewal" project by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency that decimated the neighborhood and failed to rehouse many Black San Franciscans who lived there.
The complex was completed in 1973, with all of the residents sharing ownership in a co-op structure and paying no more than one-third of their income toward the mortgage each month. Lately it is sorely in need of repairs, but the homeowners are thinking bigger.
As the Chronicle reports, Freedom West's board is now looking to build something far larger that would both re-house existing residents of the complex, and create over 100 additional units of affordable housing, along with around 2,000 market-rate units from which existing co-op owners would reap some profits. The project is being proposed in a partnership with developer MacFarlane Partners and Avanath Capital Management, and it has not begun to seek city approvals.
The project, which includes some prominent 12- and 18-story towers, is likely to inspire some public pushback due to its sheer size — and the fact that it will dwarf all of the low-slung buildings around it and in neighboring Hayes Valley. But when housing advocates talk about creating more density in San Francisco, this is how you do it — and with nearly 500 units of affordable housing and the incumbent effort to house some of the city's last Black residents, NIMBYs may have their work cut out for them in shouting the project down.
In addition to the residential portion, the proposed project is set to include 20,000 square feet of retail space, and a 6,000-square-foot "innovation center" dedicated to job training and small business assistance.
"It’s an equitable development. It is community-led," said Victor MacFarlane, CEO of MacFarlane Partners, speaking to the Chronicle. "These are the last remnants of the African-American community [at Freedom West]."
The project is hoping to win city approvals in the next two years, and to complete the phased construction in less than ten years.
Another nearby affordable housing complex, Frederick Douglas Haynes Gardens, which was also built by a local African American church in the 1970s — Third Baptist — got embroiled in some legal drama five years ago when some the board members of the nonprofit that oversaw the complex attempted to sell the property to speculators, and illegally converted some Section 8 units into market-rate, commanding then sky-high rents. That drama seems to have been resolved after the city stepped in and after the church sued the nonprofit it created.
This project appears to have much more than profit as its goal, though big profits it will surely make.
"I see Freedom West as the vehicle to bring back families, particularly African American families who were forced out of the city because of redevelopment, and who continue to be gentrified out," says Mattie Scott, president of the Freedom West board. "Freedom West 2.0 will help build equity, it will help maintain our ability to not ever have to lose land again. It will hold us for the next 50 years."
Scott spoke about her personal history at a summer workshop led by the Palo Alto-based nonprofit Institute for the Future, which sought to gain insight into the community's goals for the redevelopment of Freedom West. Scott said her family had moved to San Francisco from New Orleans in order to escape Jim Crow, first settling in the Mission before moving to Freedom West.
"The African American community has been erased from San Francisco," Scott said. "It feels like we got left behind. I look out my window and see high rises all around me, with exercise rooms, daycare, etc. and we're just sitting on this dilapidated property."
In a blog post about the project, the Institute for the Future says, "In this moment as the country is reckoning with its past, where underlying structures and policy decisions made decades ago continue to drive inequality, one way to create a more inclusive narrative of the future is to uplift voices from communities who have been excluded from the past."