At the groundbreaking of one of the largest affordable-housing developments in the northeast quadrant of San Francisco on Thursday, the executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center began with two characters in Cantonese: "ngei gei."
"We have in our language the word 'crisis,' which is composed of two characters, 'ngei gei,' which translates to 'crisis and opportunity,'" explained Norman Fong of the organization behind the development. "So out of the rubble and devastation of Loma Prieta comes a golden opportunity to build new homes and a Broadway corridor with a more lively future for the people."
Located on Broadway between Sansome and Battery streets on the very spot where a ramp to the Embarcadero Freeway crumbled due to the 1989 earthquake, the Broadway Sansome Apartments will provide 75 units of the most affordable housing in The City and two retail spaces.
Fourteen units in the 17,850-foot space already have been set aside for families displaced from the Hogan and Vest Building at the corner of Washington and Stockton streets, whose demolition could have prompted a more localized crisis — the loss of housing to a station for the forthcoming Central Subway.
Figuring out how to help the households that lost their dwellings there was "a challenge that kept us up at night," said John Funghi, who serves as the Central Subway program director for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Ultimately, his agency decided to fund the units for displaced residents.
The remaining studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments will be restricted to applicants with household earnings of no more than 50 percent of the area median income. That includes the homeless and more than 600 families living in single-room-occupancy hotels managed by the Chinatown Community Development Center, which the Mayor's Office selected as the developer for the project in 2007.
"A challenge has been affordability," said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, whose district includes the housing project. "And this site is going to be a symbol of exactly how to meet that for families, for the homeless, for the next leaders of San Francisco."
Construction began in April 2012 and is scheduled for completion in January 2015. Mayor Ed Lee lauded the project for making 27 percent of its contractors local and 67 percent minorities. The adequacy of such local and diverse contracting has been another point of contention around the Central Subway.
Unlike many projects falling on or near Broadway Street, historically the dividing line between Chinatown and North Beach, this affordable housing complex got few complaints from either side.
Twenty years ago, it was hard to imagine the two neighborhoods seeing eye to eye on anything, Lee said.
"We are creating the conditions for them to get back together," he said.