Plumbing

S.F. opens $110 million housing complicated for homeless veterans

Mike Bartell wakes up every morning on Treasure Island to an amazing view of the San Francisco skyline through the gaping window of his studio apartment. But for Bartell, the landscape is not the main attraction.

For the first time since 2008, he has his very own sleeping space – no roommates to steal his art supplies, groceries or whatever else has been lost in recent years. And the sparkling new building he lives in is filled with fellow military veterans like him, who can relate to years of homelessness and feeling abandoned by their country.

Bartell, a 72-year-old former Marine who fought in Vietnam, was one of the first veterans to move into the new Maceo May supportive housing complex on Treasure Island for formerly uninhabited veterans. Rent is only 30% of the government grant check that residents receive.

When the 105-unit complex officially opens on Thursday, it will be a triumph for those falling through hard times after retiring from the military and for a building that once seemed doomed.

“There’s been a lot of construction going on in this place, but all I can say is that I’m grateful to be alive and to be here now,” Bartell said while standing in his tidy apartment, the walls of which were resplendent with the abstract art he’s decorating the island manufactures and sells. “Everyone here has a positive attitude. We already have a community of vets who know what each other is about.

An outdoor green space for residents of the newly constructed Maceo May Veterans Housing Complex on Treasure Island in San Francisco on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.Jessica Christian/The Chronicle

“It’s the first time in my life that I can really relax and not feel the paranoia that I have to fight someone.”

Maceo May is the first 100% affordable housing development to be completed on Treasure Island, which is home to a construction boom. Swords to Plowshares, the city’s premier nonprofit that helps homeless veterinarians, and the Chinatown Community Development Center co-led the development, using mostly private and state loans from San Francisco.

However, it was difficult to get everything done.

The complex was due to be built by mid-2022, but the cyclone-fueled storms that devastated the Bay Area in October 2021 inundated the partially built-up site — made up of stacked modular units awaiting roofs — and delayed construction by an agonizing seven months .

The damage added more than $35 million to the project’s cost, bringing the final price to $110 million, while also exacerbating political tensions over the project.

There were bitter allegations between the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, which said the setbacks proved modular housing was shoddy, and the Nor Cal Carpenters Union, whose workers built the modular units in Vallejo and blamed bad weather .

The Trades Council has opposed modular construction since it was used in San Francisco a few years ago, saying that working on modular projects underpays and reduces quality because it reduces the kind of care that plumbers, electricians and other union workers would dedicate a building. project on site. The carpenters, who supply the units with much of the wiring and wiring already installed, stand behind their work as cost-effective, quality union work.

A grant of nearly $15 million in additional credit from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development saved the project, and the final nails were finally hammered in January of this year.

Hats lie on the bedside table of U.S. Army veteran James Kauffman, 62, at his apartment in the newly constructed Maceo May Veterans Residence complex on Treasure Island in San Francisco, Tuesday, May 16, 2023.Hats lie on the bedside table of U.S. Army veteran James Kauffman, 62, at his apartment in the newly constructed Maceo May Veterans Residence complex on Treasure Island in San Francisco, Tuesday, May 16, 2023.Jessica Christian/The Chronicle

Since then, the place has organized recruitment – primarily through Swords and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Some residents like Bartell have already come in, and the building is expected to be filled next month.

In stark contrast to most of the city’s public housing stock, which resides in often-understaffed, old residential hotels in crisis neighborhoods, the six-story Maceo May is a cutting-edge architecture on Treasure Island’s western edge, with huge rectangular windows, wide hallways, and unobstructed views of the city’s profile. The island was a naval base from 1940 to 1997, and San Francisco is currently overseeing a spate of construction that is expected to bring 8,000 homes to the island by 2036.

But this complex — named for the late Vietnam veteran who was Swords’ first housing director — offers more than housing for the underprivileged. It’s the latest installment in a successful attempt to get veterinarians off the streets, a rare bright spot in the city’s homelessness crisis.

With the help of federal veteran funding and a focused grant for housing and counseling, the city reduced the number of homeless veterans by 45% between 2010 and 2022. And that number is likely to improve at the next biennial census in 2024 — the city is currently estimated to have about 350 homeless veterans living in San Francisco each night, up from about 600 in 2022.

With lavish living quarters, patios, and meeting rooms, the complex is an architecturally soothing place for veterans who often suffer from post-traumatic stress from combat operations and years of instability from poverty without shelter. The Maceo May will have one case manager for every 18 residents, a ratio well above that of many other supportive housing complexes in San Francisco.

For vets like Bartell, who was orphaned at 6 and struggled with abandonment and anger issues during fighting in Vietnam and beyond, the sanctuary feels so complete it’s unexpected. Bartell lost his apartment after his body wore out a decade ago and he was unable to do any construction work. The Maceo May is the happy ending of a journey that took him through street dormitory and temporary homeless shelters that were either in dangerous neighborhoods or involved with roommates he couldn’t stand.

“For Mike, the key word is ‘surrender’ — releasing the anger, accepting the calm,” said Kayode Gbadebo, one of the complex’s case managers. Bartell, a stocky man with a tattoo of Yosemite Sam on his arm below the Marines emblem, laughed but then nodded gravely.

“He’s right,” Bartell said. I’m still learning to trust and I’ll never stop learning until I’m in the ground. But I’ll tell you one thing: in a place like this, learning is much easier.”

Air Force veteran Regina Record, 62, helps her father, Grant Record, 86, adjust his collar as they share their apartment in the newly constructed Maceo May veterans' living complex on Treasure Island in San Francisco on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 is.Air Force veteran Regina Record, 62, helps her father, Grant Record, 86, adjust his collar as they share their apartment in the newly constructed Maceo May veterans’ living complex on Treasure Island in San Francisco on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 is.Jessica Christian/The Chronicle

Air Force Reserve vet Regina Record, 65, lives with her father, 86-year-old Navy vet Grant Record, at Maceo May. She’s his caregiver in their two-bedroom apartment — and moving in this month ended years unstable life where she eventually lived in her car and he surfed the couch.

Like Bartell, it’s the simple things most people take for granted that matter most to them: their own bedroom; all around calm; secure terraces for relaxed relaxation; her own bathroom.

“I can finally sleep through the night,” Regina said. “We never thought we could move in together like this.”

“You’ll be amazed at how creating a dignified housing that is new and that vets can be proud of helps keep them stable,” Colleen Corliss Murakami, Swords Chief Development Officer. “It’s not about putting them in an SRO with inadequate services, in an area where they don’t feel safe.

“It’s an investment in human life.”

Reach Kevin Fagan: kfagan@sfchronicle.com; Twitter: @KevinChron

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