The Mission District, one of San Francisco’s oldest neighborhoods, is known for its vibrant, colorful murals, as well as its large and historically entrenched Latino community. In recent decades, however, an area of the city that was once an affordable haven has been beset by gentrification, pushing many long-term residents out.
In response, a handful of community-focused nonprofit developers are prioritizing affordable housing to preserve the cultural identity of the neighborhood.
One such project is Casa Adelante 2828 16th Street, located on a main thoroughfare that runs through the district to downtown. Designed by San Francisco-based Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects to create connection between residents and the community at large, the affordable housing complex is a joint venture between the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. and the Mission Economic Development Agency. The structure is one of three MEDA-led Casa Adelante affordable housing projects completed in the Mission District over the last several years. (Another Casa Adelante project at 2060 Folsom Street won a COTE Top Ten award in 2023.)
“From the beginning, [the developers] were very interested in this idea of cultural resilience and cultural preservation, much like you would think of building preservation,” says Ryan Jang, aia, a principal at LMS, who served as project manager. “So, they were interested in finding places for families to live who may have been from the neighborhood traditionally [and] finding places for [local] businesses to thrive.”
Sandwiched between Folsom Street and Shotwell Street, the 143-unit, affordable family-centered complex is made up of 55% two- and three-bedroom units, along with studios and one-bedrooms. The 312 residents can’t earn more than 40% to 60% of area median income, which qualifies them as low income. Thirty-six of the units were set aside for people relocating from San Francisco Housing Authority homes, which are currently being redeveloped elsewhere in the city.
The ground floor, which consists of loft-like spaces with high ceilings, ample storefront windows, and colorful entries, is dedicated to “community-serving” commercial and cultural spaces, Jang says, including Galeria de la Raza, a longstanding arts organization in the Mission dedicated to promoting Latino and Xicanz (Mexican American) art and culture; HOMEY, a youth organization; and an affordable childcare facility—run by the Felton Institute, a San Francisco– based social service organization— that is the first in the city to be combined with affordable housing. There are also on-site social support services, community rooms, and interior courtyard space. On the roof, in part a means to fulfill the city’s open space per residential unit requirements, are urban gardens. “Not only is it difficult to find a place to live in a city like San Francisco, but food insecurity is also another large issue,” Jang says. “Food insecurity, childcare, [and] a place to live all kind of work together.”
The design of the 155,000-square-foot complex, which is clad in a mixture of materials with pops of color and soon its own mural at the main entrance, was influenced by several factors: first and foremost, location. “This particular site is [on the edge of what is considered the Mission District]. So it has a little more of an industrial past, but there are also residential [structures]. It’s a mixture,” says Richard Stacy, faia, a founding principal of LMS. “I think that was another appeal of the site to MEDA: [it would allow them to] try to extend the culture of the Mission into this section as well.”
The area’s industrial-residential blend presented “a kind of unusual urban design problem,” Stacy says. The team wanted the building to fit the more industrial character of the neighborhood while having a residential scale. Some of the city’s planning code rules actually helped.
“We were required to basically break the mass of the building down into two pieces without interruption to the center,” Stacy explains.
LMS inserted the main entrance to the building on 16th Street between the seven-story structures on Folsom and 16th. Above the entrance is a two-story open atrium. This opening, topped by a recessed, three-story bridge of studio residences, brings light into the complex’s central patio and adjoined interior courtyard, creating a visual and physical connection between the streetscape and the inner life of the building.
“There was a large community process that started during the design process,” Jang says. “From that, we were able to learn about the needs of this particular neighborhood, of the residents who might be living [and running community businesses] here, and make the design of the building—both its layout and the way it expresses itself to the interior and exterior—appropriate to the neighborhood, the residents, and the future occupants of the building.”
This included the incorporation of color, inspired by the Mission’s murals. Using turquoise ceramic tile, LMS distinguished the breaks between the structures and used red, yellow, and green tile to highlight the art and community spaces at street level.
Jang says that the design of the ground floor, with common entrances shared by residents and organizational tenants, was intentional in terms of fostering a sense of community. “The ground floor is kind of a microcosm of the larger neighborhood,” he says.
Color was also incorporated into the interior, including the entry lobby where wood ceilings and accents create a sense of warmth and home. Here, large sliding doors can be opened to extend the space out into the courtyard, which connects to the hardscaped central patio with plantings via a grand staircase.
This central space also adjoins the five-story residential block on Shotwell Street, where there is an entrance to the childcare facility.
“There are three primary residential blocks, which are more appropriately scaled for the ways San Francisco has developed,” Stacy says.
Although designers were initially targeting LEED Gold certification, they acknowledge that it was a stretch goal, and Casa Adelante was recently certified LEED Silver. However, LMS still counts it as a win, noting that most multifamily projects opt for the Greenpoints Rating system, which is less stringent.
The exterior of Casa Adelante is a mix of vertical and horizontal fiber-cement siding in neutral tones with exposed concrete framing (“a sort of nod to the neighborhood’s industrial past,” Stacy says). It includes a solar hot water array and perforated metal sunshades on its windows to control heat gain in the units, giving the windows a distinctive zigzag appearance.
The building was also designed for resiliency. “This particular road, within about four blocks, is historically where Mission Creek was, and as a result, it floods during heavy rains,” Jang explains. “It’s kind of a chronic problem the city has.” To protect the structure, the first floor hovers a foot off the ground. To prepare for the city’s well-known earthquake activity, the robust concrete incorporated into the building offers seismic resilience. The team also chose the centralized HVAC system on the roof in consideration of wildfires. “During wildfire events, which are more and more common in California, there can always be fresh air coming into the units and the maintenance folks don’t have to go around changing 143 filters,” Jang says.
The studio has plans to do a post-occupancy evaluation in the now fully-leased complex. “From what we’ve heard, [the complex] really does seem to be doing its job as to providing high-quality places to live,” Jang says. “And [it provides] a vibrant community space both on the ground floor, [in] the courtyard, and [on] the roof spaces for people to connect with one another, receive services, and be connected to the larger community.”
LMS has been designing affordable housing in San Francisco for more than two decades. “It’s, of course, much needed here,” Stacy says. The firm has witnessed an evolution in how the city’s housing nonprofits approach development.
“They realize that just providing housing isn’t enough; they need to do more,” Stacy says. “And so [with] every one of these projects, we consider what feels like a hundred different things, to take advantage of what we can do with the limited resources that the city has for this kind of project. You only get to do these once in a while. The city can’t afford to do them every day. And so we want to make the most of it.”