Skip to content

In this article published in the Architectural Record on 9/1/2016, John King explores the dilemma of meeting diverse demand and providing affordable housing in cities throughout the United States.

No where is this challenge more keenly felt than here in San Francisco. As mentioned in paragraph 7 of the article, BUILD has been working with our partners to explore creative solutions to these problems. King describes one attempt at our 1532 Harrison project:

“In 2013, (architect Mark Macy) worked with developer Build Inc. to conceive a 21st century market-rate version of a large Victorian house after it had been split into smaller residences: within the six-story complex in San Francisco’s South of Market district, there’d be 28 “group houses,” with 470 beds divided among 235 “suites” of under 250 square feet. Each suite would have a tiny bedroom and cooking area, while each “house” included more enticing (and code-compliant) facilities.

Think of post-collegiate dorms, or micro-units taken to the next level. But by the time the complex was approved last fall, the numbers had frayed beneath the weight of city fees geared to conventional housing and higher lending fees. What will break ground in 2017 looks the same on the outside—but inside there will be 119 conventional units, mostly studios, holding 172 bedrooms in all.

Even if governments and neighbors are willing to let experimentation reign, there are the financial hurdles. The logic behind cohousing is compelling, but conventional mortgages defined by the notion of individual ownership don’t fit a “product” that by its nature is communal. The issue isn’t whether they provide good homes—more than 150 have been developed in the United States since the late 1980s; it’s whether banks can be convinced to fund construction or underwrite mortgages of something that’s not the norm.”