Positive Plans for Sunnydale

Mercy Housing California is working hard to improve life in Sunnydale – a low income housing project that the San Francisco Chronicle described in 2008 as “…quite possibly the most dangerous, depressed and decrepit area of the city.”  A Nov. 5 Chronicle article adds details about the suffering in the neighborhood: “Sunnydale residents share stories of violence, loss.”

A progressive step forward finds drastic changes for Sunnydale planned by Mercy Housing and The Related Companies of California. The two organizations are leveraging their expertise in public/private partnerships to transform Sunnydale into a vibrant, mixed income neighborhood. They have teamed with professors at the University of California Berkeley and San Francisco campuses to answer the question: “How can revitalization of a neighborhood change the health of its residents?”

The partners involved seek to find answers as described in the November issue of Health Affairs magazine: “Bringing Researchers and Community Developers Together to Revitalize a Public Housing Project and Improve Health.” The article authored by members of the Sunnydale partnership team was presented Nov. 8 at an event sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trust in Washington, D.C. It highlights how Mercy Housing and Related California and their partners are breaking new ground in Sunnydale, one of eight communities selected by the City of San Francisco for redevelopment designed to keep original residents in place in their communities as part of the HOPE SF  program.

The Sunnydale neighborhood was built in 1941 as a square mile of concrete housing for World War II soldiers. Today it is home to 1700 people, who find themselves physically, economically and socially isolated from the mainstream of San Francisco. Less than a third of residents have graduated from high school, and the median household income is just $12,750 a year. Half of the households rely on public assistance and only 27 percent report being employed. Almost half of this community’s residents are under the age of 18, and many children drop out of school by the fifth grade.

Revitalization plans include:

  • 785 units of replacement public housing plus another 900 units of tax credit affordable and market rate units;
  • A 25,000 square foot “Life Center” with arts and enrichment programs, and fitness facility for the entire neighborhood;
  • 6.5 acres of open space that will include several new parks, a community garden and farmer’s market;
  • 8,000 square feet of neighborhood serving retail including a corner grocery, financial services and healthy eating establishments; and
  • 22,000 square feet of neighborhood services including child care, health clinic job training for youth and adults.

We believe real estate and human development plans for Sunnydale will result in improved social and health outcomes for its residents, such as higher rates of employment and Medicaid enrollment, lower rates of crime and school dropout, and lower rates of obesity and diabetes. Ultimately, the research team will be able to share conclusions that demonstrate how revitalization efforts can make a positive difference for the health and well-being of residents.