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Architects & Communalism Can Solve San Francisco's H...

Architects & Communalism Can Solve San Francisco's Housing Crisis

San Francisco is in a housing crisis!  The skyrocketing housing market is pushing out the people that make the city a diverse and vibrant place with housing rates rising three times faster than the national average. Within the last two years the rental market has increased by an average of 20%, resulting in one bedroom apartment priced

San Francisco Social Housing, San Francisco, CA

San Francisco is in a housing crisis!  The skyrocketing housing market is pushing out the people that make the city a diverse and vibrant place with housing rates rising three times faster than the national average. Within the last two years the rental market has increased by an average of 20%, resulting in one bedroom apartment priced at $2,897 and a two bedrooms at $3,898 per month. The city is working hard to deal with the market boom through social housing, incentives for private developers and community group initiatives. However with a growing economy and a project growth of two million people over the next twenty-five years, the supply of housing is still no where near the demand… time to call an architect!

Architects turn challenges into creative opportunities, working at multiple scales and developing solutions within many constraints. So how can architects rescue San Francisco from its affordable housing shortage?

Considering that 75% of the city’s rental stock is under rent control (which means that they aren't going anywhere anytime soon) and that over the past twenty years the city has only built in average of 1,500 units per year when the population has been growing nine times that, there is a serious need to create more housing and dwelling options. The Plan Bay Area addresses housing issues for long term goals of the city, but with the many challenges ahead (i.e. preservation activists, lengthy planning processes, and limited build-able space) smaller scale ideas and design can play a larger role.

Architects can make the most of the existing units and rethink what it means to dwell in a rapidly growing city. Being the hub of technology, San Francisco is changing the way we use our city, which in turn changes the way we live, and inspires a new experimental phase in high density architecture that can be applicable to all cities undergoing intense population growth.

Some examples that promote communal, shared and adaptable living spaces are already visible in the city (and not just on Craigslist where people are renting out half their bedroom or living room). Collaborative housing is becoming popular in retrofitted older mansions that house ten to twenty young professionals who share chores, meals and entrepreneurial ideas. There are also a number of non-profit developers and architecture firms in the city that are facilitating the optional off-site affordable housing for new residential complexes and working with community programs. More affordable designs include only basic amenities to accommodate and appeal to more people.

The residences of San Francisco’s Chinatown are mostly Single Room Occupancy (SRO) housing which makes it one of the densest neighborhoods in the nation, with almost four times more people per square mile than the rest of the city. Not that we should encourage overcrowded living conditions, but maybe architects can use this typology to encourage greater density.

San Francisco's Chinatown, the densest part of the city, San Francisco, California

Providing more housing to all income groups is the only way to preserve the city’s proud diversity, and veer away from gentrification. Architecture must respond to the transforming needs of the modern city, and spatial designers and architects are the ones who are going come to the rescue.

As planners and designers of the built environment, how will you rethink space and housing ideas to be inclusive and affordable for all?

Credits: Images by Tara Whelan. Data linked to sources.

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Tara Whelan has recently graduated from a Master's in International Cooperation and Sustainable Emergency Architecture from the International University of Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain and is pursuing a career in humanitarian and social architecture...

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