#182 Spring 2016 — Mixed Income

Can San Francisco Get Mixed-Income Public Housing Redevelopment Right?

The HOPE SF program is aiming to explicitly avoid many of the problems mixed-income public housing redevelopments have faced, to create a truly inclusive process.

By kqedquest, via flickr.

San Francisco's Oakdale Houses

The HOPE SF program aims to avoid many of the problems mixed-income public housing redevelopments have faced, to create a truly inclusive process.

By kqedquest, via flickr.

As the affordable housing crisis and issues of social and racial inequality once again gain national attention across the United States, the HOPE SF housing redevelopment initiative represents a unique effort to ensure that the poorest residents of San Francisco are not excluded from the benefits of that city’s economic growth and vitality.

In 2007, San Francisco joined Atlanta and Chicago as the third U.S. city to launch a high profile mixed-income transformation of a substantial portion of its public housing stock. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the federal government began to promote mixed-income development as a means of deconcentrating the poverty that had been segregated into isolated, socially and physically deteriorating public housing developments. For about a decade and a half, much of this redevelopment was funded through the HOPE VI program, with over $6 billion awarded to over 240 revitalization projects nationwide. Under the Obama administration, HOPE VI has been phased out and replaced with the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI), which adds a broader focus on neighborhood-wide development and a more intensive focus on resident services.

HOPE SF, designed and launched as a locally-funded initiative after San Francisco failed to secure HOPE VI funding, tackles individual-level, development-level, and neighborhood-level transformation simultaneously, which subsequently landed the project a $30 million CNI implementation grant and two $300,000 planning grants.

Though mixed-income development has become a favored public housing transformation approach in the United States (as it has in Canada, Western Europe, and Australia), there has been strong criticism of the policy as well. Criticism generally focuses on the reduction in the number of available public housing units, the displacement of public housing residents, and the use of valuable public land for market-driven real estate projects.

Furthermore, studies of HOPE VI and other mixed-income projects document mixed results even for the residents who do return to the mixed-income developments. On the positive side, those who do return experience high satisfaction with the quality and design of the new housing and improvements in neighborhood safety and stability. But there is little research evidence of improvements in earnings or income for residents of these developments, and social tensions often exist within the new mixed-income population—including a sense of stigma and marginalization on the basis of race and class among lower-income residents. Several research studies suggest that inequality and social exclusion are being reproduced in these reconstituted settings.

The goal of avoiding the exclusionary pitfalls of other mixed-income efforts has intentionally guided design and implementation of HOPE SF. The vision for HOPE SF is thriving neighborhoods that keep their original residents, offer them a genuine opportunity for social mobility, and create a cohesive community among those at different income levels.

We have been involved in the initial evaluation efforts, and in this article, we consider how HOPE SF represents a unique and inclusive approach to mixed-income public housing transformation, explore the daunting challenges inherent in this approach and how San Francisco has sought to address them, and share some lessons from the project so far.

The Beginning

These days, San Francisco is at the forefront of national news for its tech industry boom, skyrocketing real estate market, and rapid gentrification—all of which are not only squeezing out low-income households, but also making housing unaffordable even to middle-class residents. While the widening class divide is a major issue, even more severe is the drop in the city’s African-American population, which has fallen from almost 80,000 in 1990 to just below 49,000 in 2010, now representing just 6.1 percent of the city’s population (down from 10.9 percent).

Invisible to most visitors, and many long-time residents as well, are the city’s 6,400 units of public housing, including about 25 family developments; many are isolated from the rest of the city in marginalized neighborhoods. Few realize that many of San Francisco’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged families live in run-down public housing sites that have become concentrated pockets of poverty and crime in an otherwise thriving city. Partly due to the severe state of disrepair of many public housing sites, the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA) has spent much of the last decade on HUD’s list of troubled housing authorities.

A Shelterforce ad seeking donations from readers. On the left there's a photo of a person wearing a red shirt that reads "Because the Rent Can't Wait."

In 2005, San Francisco’s Human Services Agency released a study of at-risk families, which came to be known as the Seven Street Corners Study. It revealed that the majority of children involved in public systems (including child welfare, mental health, and juvenile justice) lived within walking distance of just seven street corners in the city. Six of those seven corners were in, or adjacent to, public housing developments. Former Mayor Gavin Newsom decided he would make public housing reform a signature priority of his administration, and in 2006 launched Communities of Opportunity (COO), an anti-poverty initiative designed to streamline human services delivery in and around four public housing developments in the Bayview, the last predominantly African-American neighborhood in the city.

One of the key limitations of COO was that it was focused on services and community building only and did not have a housing redevelopment component. HOPE SF emerged from COO, which ended in 2010, as a stand-alone initiative as COO’s early efforts made clear the imperative of launching a major public housing redevelopment effort. A key difference, therefore, between COO and HOPE SF is the focus on housing as a platform for comprehensive change.

The San Francisco public housing portfolio had $267 million in immediate physical repair needs and an estimated $27 million in additional annual physical deterioration. Federal capital as well as HOPE VI funding, was dwindling. It was clear that an alternative local funding model would be needed. The HOPE SF Task Force was convened in 2007 to inform the design of the initiative, and the Mayor’s Office of Housing took the lead on financing and implementing the effort, in collaboration with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and the San Francisco Housing Authority. The mayor and San Francisco Board of Supervisors authorized an up-front investment of $95 million in local bond funding to launch HOPE SF.

The program launched with three overarching goals and one cross-cutting systems change goal:

1) Replace obsolete public housing with mixed-income developments.
2) Improve social and economic outcomes for existing public housing residents.
3) Create neighborhoods desirable to low‐ and middle‐income families alike.
4) Generate the systems change necessary to promote and sustain the desired outcomes for residents, developments, and neighborhoods.

Eight public housing developments were originally named as part of HOPE SF, but the first phase of the initiative is focusing on four sites in or near the Bayview area in the historically isolated southeastern sector of the city. The four are: Hunters View (where the lead developer is John Stewart and Company), Alice Griffith (lead developer McCormack Baron Salazar), Potrero Terrace & Annex (lead developer Bridge Housing), and Sunnydale (lead developers Mercy Housing and Related Companies). Together they include 1,914 units, and about 4,340 residents. All built in the 1950s, they range in size from 128 units at Hunters View to 767 at Sunnydale. These four developments will be redeveloped into almost 4,700 units of mixed-income housing, retaining 1,914 units for public housing residents across the sites. At Hunters View, for example, the planned income mix is 49 percent market-rate, 14 percent affordable and 36 percent replacement public housing. The developments will be mixed-tenure as well, with 52 percent of the units being for sale.

The conditions at these four sites, revealed by recent household surveys and resident assessments, are bleak. These developments were built to be temporary barracks, and so were constructed using cheap materials not suited for housing built to last. Over 50 percent of the units have internal damage. The plumbing and electrical systems and other on-site infrastructure are severely antiquated and deteriorated. At Hunters View, 65 percent of 99 survey respondents reported mold in their unit. The developments are disconnected from their surrounding neighborhoods by barriers such as dead-end streets, gates, and fences, and three of the four sites are in neighborhoods which themselves are physically isolated from the rest of San Francisco.

Two-thirds of the public housing population in the four HOPE SF sites lives below the poverty level, and the average annual income is $17,000, compared with 14 percent below poverty for the city as a whole and an average income of $71,000. Employment rates among able-bodied adults range from 21 percent to 36 percent at the different sites. Residents of HOPE SF sites also struggle with high rates of chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Safety is a major issue at the developments, with rates of physical and sexual assaults and homicides that greatly exceed city rates. Almost half of residents in the Hunters View development report feeling unsafe or very unsafe at night compared to 25 percent citywide. These comparisons do little to convey, however, the experience of the residents who live every day with violence (or the potential for violence). When the HOPE SF evaluation asked about safety at the HOPE SF sites in 2013, residents told them about feeling like “prisoners in their own houses” because they won’t let their children outside to play or are afraid if they leave, that someone will break in; about shootings being so common that the police will come only if someone has died; about children traumatized by the sound of gunshots.

The living conditions and challenges of the families in the HOPE SF sites create a strong moral and economic imperative for the city to seek fundamental change. And the use of local funding leaves San Francisco free to establish its own approach for bringing about this fundamental change.

What Distinguishes the HOPE SF Model?

Atlanta and Chicago were the first U.S. cities to launch large-scale public housing transformations. In Atlanta, hosting the 1996 Summer Olympics was the catalyst for a 17-year public housing transformation that resulted in the demolition of all family developments in the city by 2010, and dispersal of most of the residents. The best estimate available from the Atlanta Housing Authority is that “at least 8 percent” of the original public housing residents have moved into new mixed-income developments that replaced the old public housing.

In Chicago, the Plan for Transformation, launched in 1999, aimed to demolish all high-rise public housing in the city, replacing a total of 49,000 units with 25,000 new or renovated units, about 7,000 of which would be in mixed-income developments. Unlike Atlanta, Chicago’s plan, at least in the medium term, was to retain much of its low-rise public housing, leaving about 14 developments intact as 100 percent public housing. But 10 years into the effort, just as in Atlanta, only 8 percent of original public housing residents were living in the new mixed-income developments. Both cities’ public housing transformations received strong criticism and resistance due to perceptions that the overarching goal was to displace the poor in order to secure prime real estate for market-rate development.

The designers of HOPE SF sought to forge a very different path for public housing transformation. Five features in particular exemplify the novel HOPE SF model: (1) an inclusive vision, (2) a focus on resident retention, (3) prioritizing human capital building, (4) resident participation, and (5) systems change.

An Inclusive Vision. A HOPE SF task force developed these eight principles to guide the initiative’s design and implementation:

  • Ensure no loss of public housing.
  • Create an economically integrated community.
  • Maximize the creation of new affordable housing.
  • Involve residents in the highest levels of participation.
  • Provide economic opportunities through the rebuilding process.
  • Integrate the process with neighborhood improvement plans, including schools, parks, and transportation.
  • Create environmentally sustainable and accessible communities.
  • Build a strong sense of community.

HOPE SF’s vision is to make possible an inclusive, cohesive community where residents of all income levels can build healthy and successful lives. In this vision of the future, HOPE SF residents will no longer be excluded, marginalized, and isolated—but integrated into the social and economic fabric of San Francisco. The principles are the touchstones of the initiative—it is by constantly returning to them that HOPE SF leaders work to ensure that they are staying the course on building inclusive communities.

Focus on Resident Retention. Perhaps the biggest differences between HOPE SF and most other mixed-income transformations is the commitment to one-for-one replacement of all public housing units and the aspiration to have a return rate of original residents that is as close to 100 percent as possible. This focus on a very high retention rate highlights the commitment to making sure that the new HOPE SF communities truly have room for everyone—they do not select only residents who meet a certain profile for inclusion while others are forced out.

To promote a high return rate, the effort employs a phased on-site relocation process. In this way, HOPE SF attempts to avoid the loss of residents that has been common during the relocation phases in other cities. The planned income mix includes a relatively high proportion, up to 40 percent, of public housing units. A relatively modest level of screening focuses on lease compliance, compared to the drug testing and work requirements seen in other cities.

And finally, to make it possible for low-income residents to remain in the development as their incomes increase over time, the development financing and design contains housing units priced at a variety of levels of affordability.

Prioritizing Human Capital Building. Unlike Chicago and Atlanta, where investments in the “people side” were ramped up over time as the scope of individual and family challenges faced by residents became more apparent, the HOPE SF initiative prioritized investments in human capital development alongside the physical revitalization goals, starting well before on-site redevelopment. The priority areas for improved resident well-being were identified early on as employment, health, and education. The cross-sector task forces convened by HOPE SF addressed each area, studying the current needs of the HOPE SF population and recommending strategic priorities.

A “pre-development services” model was put into place for the initiative, including community building and service connection. As originally conceived in this model, community building was designed to come first, with on-site community builders establishing trust, building connections and mutual support among residents, and organizing community activities and events. After a year there was to be a transition to “service connection,” which includes needs assessments, linking families to on- and off-site services, “family ambassadors” to serve as advocates for families, coordinated case management, and plans for service coordination offered by property managers for families after they have returned to the site. (The model did not unfold in such a neat, linear fashion.)

Resident Participation. HOPE SF has a high commitment to resident involvement in the design and ongoing implementation of the initiative. Developers have supported participation in several ways. Developers host regular resident meetings to provide updates and to hear resident input and concerns. At Hunters View and Alice Griffith, developers have hosted “design charrettes,” at which residents took an active part. The HOPE SF Leadership Academy was created specifically to inform residents about the redevelopment process and to promote their active participation in the revitalization of their own communities. The multi-session trainings for cohorts of residents from across the four HOPE SF sites were created in response to resident demands for help understanding development language and having the skills to participate more effectively in initiative meetings.

Systems Change. From the beginning, HOPE SF stakeholders were keenly aware that their human capital strategy would not succeed in the absence of real change at the service delivery system level. The HOPE SF perspective on the need for change in service delivery systems was strongly shaped by the Seven Street Corners Study. That study highlighted not only the geographic concentration of those involved in public systems, but also the concentration of multiple types of services within families: when people are involved in one system, the odds are high that they and their family members are involved in other systems as well. With multiple system involvement, individuals and families often run into the challenge of case plans that at best are uncoordinated, and at worst conflicting. Recognizing that a lack of interdepartmental coordination at the system level meant fragmentation of case plans at the individual or family level, city departments identified the greater coordination of public sector service delivery as a major system reform need.

As part of its effort to promote greater coordination of public sector service delivery, HOPE SF established two levels of interdepartmental collaborative structures: one level includes directors from the departments that serve HOPE SF residents; the other includes deputies from those same departments. The department director level weighs in on HOPE SF strategic direction and tackles issues of systematic linkage across the different departments represented; the deputy level supports the coordination of service delivery on the ground at HOPE SF sites. The institutional commitment to engaging these two levels of public sector personnel as HOPE SF weathers changes in city leadership, staff turnover, and shifts in approach suggests that an organizational foundation for genuine systems change has been securely built.

Implementation of HOPE SF has been supported by a public/private partnership, the Partnership for HOPE SF, which also supports systems change in a variety of ways. Established in 2010 by Enterprise Community Partners, the Partnership also includes the City of San Francisco and the San Francisco Foundation, where it has been housed since 2011. In 2011, the Partnership convened three public/private task forces to develop HOPE SF strategies for education, economic mobility, and health. Based on the task force findings, the Partnership made $4.2 million in grants starting in 2012 for programs in the areas of community-building, resident leadership, workforce development, health, mental health, education, and safety.

The Partnership’s clearest contribution to systems change may be its ability to make possible new program designs that are tailored to the needs of HOPE SF residents. The Partnership can support program innovation because its flexible dollars (which can be delivered relatively quickly) give it more freedom than public agencies have to experiment. After proof of concept, public agencies—which control the lion’s share of resources, relative to private philanthropy—may be able to adopt and scale up successful program models. In this way, the philanthropic and public sectors can work together to build a more effective service delivery system.

Emerging Insights from Early Implementation

HOPE SF’s unique constellation of ambitious approaches holds a great deal of promise, but in practice, progress often feels like “two steps forward, one step back.” HOPE SF stakeholders have learned a great deal as they have weathered the inevitable challenges and setbacks of such a large-scale initiative. Here are some of their insights:

Achieving a 100 percent return rate is very difficult. There have been several challenges to the goal of having 100 percent of the original public housing residents return to the redeveloped site. Keeping all residents on site during demolition and construction has not proven feasible, particularly for residents with health conditions such as asthma. This may lead to attrition among those who are relocated off site and decide to settle elsewhere.

Though lease compliance sounded like a minimal and reasonable bar for eligibility for residence in the new mixed-income developments, an assessment by the Mayor’s Office of Housing revealed that in fact, about 70 percent of current residents would not meet this standard. Lease compliance includes staying current on rental payments, or at least making progress on a negotiated plan to make payments, and San Francisco’s public housing system has a very high rate of residents in rental payment arrears. Much of this can be explained by SFHA’s history of not collecting rent, not following through on plans for working with residents to bring rent up to date, and leaving units in such a state of disrepair that residents have little interest in making payments on the unit. Keeping this in mind, service connectors have included bringing households into lease compliance as part of their service plans.

To address unpaid rent balances, San Francisco’s Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) is gearing up to pilot a program funded by a two-year Innovation Award from the Federal Department of the Treasury. To reduce evictions, OFE will seek to implement automatic rent payment systems and financial counseling that helps families build savings and credit. The program design recognizes the multiple structural barriers that residents face in keeping their rent current such as irregular income and lack of access to mainstream banking services.

Another issue complicating the 100 percent return rate goal is the issue of the off-lease population. It is common for on-lease residents to take in friends or family members without putting them on the lease. Sometimes households are providing a temporary place to stay for someone who needs it, and other times they are using it as a strategy to make ends meet if a family member or friend can bring in additional resources. The SFHA makes a strong effort to prevent this practice (since it is a violation of HUD regulations), but cannot always ensure that everyone living in a housing authority unit is on the lease. From the beginning, HOPE SF has sought to keep the resident communities intact by encouraging households to put the off-lease population on the lease. (Sometimes this was a simple matter of getting around to paperwork, though in other cases it was not as straightforward.)

HOPE SF also has a long-term understanding of housing stability: a high return rate will be a hollow victory if residents who move back cannot retain their housing. From early on, service connectors and the property managers (hired by developers) have been working together to design a supportive approach to property management in the new developments. Property managers will be expected to do far more than collect rent. They will be expected to engage residents in community building activities, partner with a governance association representing the residents, and focus on both enforcement of lease compliance and other rules and on understanding and addressing residents’ social service needs.

A history of institutionalized racism, marginalization, and trauma affects participation and inclusion and must be addressed. HOPE SF’s vision of resident participation has undergone significant evolution. For the first several years, it meant supporting residents to participate in redevelopment decisions by building governance structures that created participation opportunities, and by providing leadership training. Over time, the need for much deeper engagement has become clear because resident participation levels have been generally low and inconsistent. One of the problems is that the trauma of daily exposure to the stresses of poverty depletes social trust and cohesion, creates cognitive overload (which in turn makes it hard to engage in long-term planning), and generates a sense of hopelessness about the future.

In response, HOPE SF is designing more sophisticated approaches to resident engagement, which begin with community building: promoting supportive and cohesive relations among residents, which lays the groundwork for more traditional participation. For example, the Bridge Housing team at Potrero is developing a model they refer to as trauma-informed community building (TICB). TICB “recognizes the impact of pervasive trauma on a community…Through intentional strategies that de-escalate chaos and stress, build social cohesion, and foster community resiliency over time, TICB can increase the community’s readiness to engage in traditional community building.” TICB strategies, such as a walking club and other wellness activities, include incentives and tangible rewards, incorporate peer-to-peer support among residents, and emphasize dependability and long-term sustainability of activities once they have been initiated. It is also notable that the Bridge Housing community engagement team has successfully engaged higher-income residents from the surrounding neighborhood in activities on the public housing site, thus initiating mixed-income community building before the redevelopment has even taken place.

Effective service connection requires intensive case management, and access to programs sufficiently tailored to the needs of public housing residents. The original service connection model was based on the assumption that a key barrier preventing public housing families from escaping intergenerational poverty was the fact that they were unable to access the robust social services that San Francisco offers. Since the lack of connection was seen as the problem, the solution was to have on-site staff dedicated to connecting residents to services. Service connectors were tasked with needs assessment, referrals, and follow-up. HOPE SF implementers have learned, however, that their vision of the problem and solution was incomplete.

The first reason the vision is incomplete is that simple service connection is not enough: residents need more intensive supports (such as intensive case management) in order to access services successfully. In addition, service connector staff themselves experience trauma, and need their own social and psychological support. Finally, as discussed above, experience has shown that community building needs to be integrated into service connection, because community building supports trusting relationships with service connectors—and without trust, on-site staff cannot work effectively with families. Currently, HOPE SF is working to integrate trauma-informed practices into its community building activities, integrate community building into its service connection, and ensure that service connectors receive their own trauma-informed supports. If service connectors have the supports they need, have caseloads small enough to provide more intensive supports, and have the trust of the residents, they should be more successful in getting families connected to services.

The second reason the vision is incomplete is even more important. The services that exist are often not the right services to connect residents to. HOPE SF partners have found that resident and community needs are even greater and more complex than initially anticipated and the programs available are often not designed in a way that can truly shift the residents’ life trajectories.

While service connectors are still finding ways to get residents connected to existing services, and city departments are still finding ways to align their programs better with HOPE SF, the Partnership has also funded pilot programs customized to the needs and contexts of HOPE SF residents.

Organizing for Systems Change

Systems change goals for HOPE SF present a series of “wicked problems:” problems so complex and multifaceted that no single organization has the jurisdiction or technical capacity to solve them alone. Solutions to wicked problems demand highly effective structures for collaboration, leadership, and learning capacity. HOPE SF’s approaches to each have evolved over time, and the initiative’s experience offers insights into the challenges and promising approaches in each area.

A deeper and more systematic integration with public agencies is critical. Mayor Newsom and his successor, Mayor Lee, have made public their clear moral and policy commitment to HOPE SF. Their commitments, and the commitments of other public sector leaders, have given HOPE SF strong political momentum. Departments have responded to the needs of the residents and to the political momentum by engaging in collaborative planning committees and sometimes by developing programs specifically for HOPE SF.

However, because departments each have their own organizational interests, resource limitations, and regulatory constraints, they cannot easily offer sufficient resources to HOPE SF, nor can they easily change the design of the programs they fund or directly run. One of the most important constraints has been the lack of city funding allocated to departments for services that can target HOPE SF residents. The strategy of leveraging existing services more effectively for HOPE SF residents has sometimes been viewed as an unfunded mandate from the mayor’s office by city department directors. City department leaders have been in an institutional bind for much of HOPE SF’s history. They have resolved this bind through what can be referred to as “loose coupling”: offering their general support for and participation in HOPE SF’s structures and processes, and even some specific programming, while primarily adhering to their department’s own fundamental core priorities and routines.

Starting at the end of 2013, major changes came to HOPE SF that began to address this challenge. Mayor Lee created a HOPE SF director position in late 2013, which reports directly to him. The city has hired four additional staff who are dedicated solely to HOPE SF, and the team is working with a range of stakeholders (including the director of the Partnership for HOPE SF) to implement a new governance structure with a higher level of strategic coherence.

Regular and actionable feedback from evaluation is key to getting buy-in and support for investment in learning. One of the important ways in which the Partnership has supported HOPE SF is to fund its evaluation by the local evaluation firm, Learning for Action, which is led by two of the co-authors of this article. The evaluation was launched in 2010. The mixed-methods evaluation includes baseline household surveys, key informant interviews and focus groups, administrative data analysis, and document review.

Buy-in has been uneven, however, with some stakeholders seeing the evaluation as not having enough direct and immediate utility. One challenge is that the evaluation was meant to be initiative-wide, whereas the real need for learning feedback loops may actually be at the level of programs (and pilot programs in particular).

For example, in 2012, a professor from the Health Equity Institute (HEI) at San Francisco State University, along with 20 students in the Masters of Public Health program, conducted an assessment of peer health strategies at the HOPE SF sites. The outcomes from this assessment led the Partnership to fund the enhancement and development of peer leadership strategies at all four sites. HEI subsequently conducted additional assessments that have led to work on program design (with a focus on mental health and on youth health and well-being).

These successful feedback cycles created a new appetite for learning and evaluation within HOPE SF, and in 2014 the HOPE SF Learning Center was established (with the HEI professor as its director) to be the institutional home for assessment, reflection, evaluation, and feedback. HOPE SF stakeholders are currently planning a long-term learning agenda about which program designs work best for HOPE SF families. This knowledge will serve as a critical ingredient for systems change: it will enable the creation of new programs that more effectively meet the needs of HOPE SF residents, and encourage city departments to use public funding to scale up some of the most effective programs in the longer term.


Eight years in, rebuilding is underway at two sites and there are planned start dates for the other two. Hunters View, the pilot site, began construction in 2012 and the first 25 units were occupied in December of that year. There are now a total of 107 rental units occupied on site, including 80 public housing replacement units of an expected 267, and 27 affordable units financed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits. A very hopeful sign about housing stability for the residents of these new units is that the most of the occupants are now staying current on their rent to the John Stewart company—whereas many of these same families were not current on their rent to SFHA.

At Alice Griffith, infrastructure upgrades began in early 2014, and construction of the first units began in early 2015. Construction is planned to begin at Potrero in 2016 and at Sunnydale in 2017.

Like many comprehensive community change initiatives before it, HOPE SF has struggled to live up to the considerable hype and expectations that accompanied its launch eight years ago. However, unlike many of those initiatives, HOPE SF was championed and designed by local government, is bolstered by experienced interagency and cross-sector management and funding structures, and has survived a mayoral transition and turnover in other key local government leaders to remain a high strategic priority of the city. The creation of an initiative director position in the mayor’s office bodes very well for sustained focus and progress. The Partnership helped maintain critical momentum for the initiative during these transitions, continuing to raise funds and make services grants and acting as a thought leader for HOPE SF.

The initiative has weathered delays and setbacks caused by the Great Recession, but now aims to leverage the city’s economic vibrancy to accelerate progress on its public housing transformation. Major questions remain about whether the initiative can surmount the many challenges to promoting upward mobility among a public housing population that has been marginalized for generations, but HOPE SF’s careful design has infused it with an array of promising principles and strategies, and the initiative appears to be built for the long haul.

This essay draws from Learning for Action’s baseline evaluation report and three topical reports on workforce development, safety, and service connection as well as from “HOPE SF Collaborative Governance: Assets, Challenges, and Recommendations for Supporting Enhanced Collaboration” and “The Good, The Bad and The Future: Lessons from San Francisco’s Communities of Opportunity Initiative,” both written by LFA staff in collaboration with Harder+Company Community Research. The authors are grateful to Ellie Rossiter, Rich Gross, Theo Miller and Jessica Wolin, the San Franscisco–based sponsors of the evaluation, for their very helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay.


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