St. Peter's to Replace Church with 20 Units of Affordable Housing

By Karen M. Kinney

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has agreed to fund a $2 million grant to demolish St. Peter's Church on 29th Avenue to make way for a 20-unit affordable-housing residence for adults with developmental disabilities.

The action culminates efforts to restore parish property damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Because the church was originally built in 1913 on bricks and unstable sand, retrofitting the existing church after the earthquake proved disadvantageous.

The church needed to turn its focus on another way to determine how it could use its property to better serve the community. St. Peter's worked with Opportunity Unlimited, a training program for developmentally-disabled people, to create a viable scenario. Opportunity Unlimited already rents the existing parish hall to provide day programs for adults with disabilities to help keep them a part of the community.

According to the Housing Services Affiliate of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center (BHNC), in all of San Francisco there are only eight affordable apartments for developmentally disabled people.

David Ricky, the rector at St. Peter's, realized these adults were an underserved population so he wanted to provide more independent living opportunities for them so they could maximize their potential.

"This idea spoke to me," said Ricky. "What do we have to do to continue to help others, so we can continue to thrive? It became clear that this is the direction we need to go."

The sanctuary, which has been unoccupied for 18 years, will be demolished to make way for the new building, which will include 19 units of affordable housing and one unit for a manager. Funds paid to lease the land for the new building will be used to convert an adjacent parish hall into a worship space that will be suited to St. Peter's needs. Even though the original stained glass will be used at the new church, Ricky says the new parish hall won't be traditional, but "quite innovative."

Also spearheading the effort is Joseph Smooke, executive director of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center (BHNC). In 2003, while participating in some interfaith groups to address Richmond District issues, Ricky and Smooke started the tedious task of getting the Diocese, mayor's office and HUD to all agree to the plan. The plan meets a citywide goal of providing more affordable housing.

BHNC has 25 years of experience developing low income affordable housing in San Francisco. However, The St. Peter's project will be the first building geared toward developmentally disabled adults.

A question initially raised by skeptics of BHNC's involvement was why build in the Richmond District?

"Our feeling is there is such a need for small and moderate scale developments that fits in the context of neighborhoods," Smooke said. "We did not want to miss out on an opportunity like this because we have a lot of experience on small-scale housing. Most affordable housing projects contain 50 units."

Another reason the partnership works is because developers struggle to find adequate land to build their projects on while churches often have excess land as an untapped resource.

"We wanted to create a model for non-profit affordable housing," said Smooke. "By coming together, we are addressing a similar mission - serving communities and people in need.

Two final selling points of the plan are:
• BHNC will be incorporating sustainable design features by using materials that do not create environmental pollution. For instance, instead of carpets, a more environmentally-friendly bamboo/cork material will be used for flooring;
• Through the agency ToolWorks, residents will have onsite access to emotional and physical support, including job training, education and medical care.

St. Peter's is celebrating its 140th anniversary as a parish this year.

"This is what a church is meant and supposed to be doing." said Ricky. "Everyone has something to offer and we want to include all people in our community."