Can we build a community to create a pathway out of poverty for people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco?


catalyst-for-change-prize goa-citation

Affordable Housing in San Francisco

Project Statement

This project aims to create new affordable housing in Downtown San Francisco with jobs for its tenants to help with SDG #1 and #10. Housing in San Francisco is expensive, leading many to live on the streets. As of March 2020, San Francisco is home to over 8,000 homeless people. Tent camps have been set up throughout the city. Police have started to remove the tents pushing people experiencing homelessness out of the city. Without a job, many are unable to buy or rent a place to live creating a vicious cycle. Having affordable housing could help many of these people stay in the city where there are jobs. The building is designed to create jobs for the tenants in the  retail spaces and as cleaners the apartments. The multi purpose room is available for weekly group meetings, including substance abuse, mental health and life guidance.

Phase One – Predesign


The users of the upstairs living space would be low-income families or homeless people. The users for the second floor would be all the supporting officers for the building, preschool teachers/day care workers, and all the tenants for the supportive offices, the lounge, multi-purpose room and for the day care center. For the downstairs shops, anyone from the neighborhood could come there to get a coffee and the upstairs tenants would be able to get a job there. This building will provide housing for people who are living alone or families. They can be any age to qualify for this permanent supportive housing.
The users of the area are mostly people that either live or work in the area. This would mean that the shops that would be helpful would be places where people can eat on their lunch breaks or get coffee in the morning. This area would also benefit if there was a starbucks since many people go there and know the place.


The housing upstairs has different size apartments ranging from studios to 3 bedrooms, so families are also able to benefit from the services. Each apartment has at least one bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom. On the roof, there is a community garden which will allow all the tenants to create a community and make friends in the building.


San Francisco is prone to earthquakes so this building would have to be up to code for earthquakes. The city has also already spent a lot of money on the homelessness issue so the project would have to be cost-effective, so important to think about the materials being used. The building could additionally be eco-friendly. There could be solar panels on the roof, collection of rainwater and energy saving lights.

San Francisco Tent Camp
San Francisco Homeless Shelter

The Site

I chose the corner of 3rd and Harrison Street in downtown San Francisco. It is currently a vacant parking lot, so I thought it would be perfect for this project. There are many offices and job opportunities nearby which would also be beneficial for the tenants.

Site Location and Analysis 

  • Existing Conditions – There is currently a parking lot on the site that I chose to have my project built. There is also a parking lot on the other corner of the block, so the removal of this parking lot won’t impact the community too much. 
  • Circulation – There is a bus stop right on the corner of this building that can take you outbound or inbound as well as a bus that goes to Marin. For tenants that have cars there is a freeway nearby which goes both north and south. The bus and freeway both help with the circulation of the tenants through the city.
  • Sensory – This area is a perfect place for a building like this because there are other communities nearby that can benefit from having another community.  There is a community garden nearby which could help connect the tenants in the apartment building with another community across the street.
  • Potential – This site has a lot of potential since there is not an existing building. There are some constraints on how tall the building can be because of the location but this isn’t a problem for this project.

Phase Two – Brainstorming and Schematics

Mood Board


Meeting with the Associate Director of Permanent Supportive Housing at Mercy Housing – Sharon Christen
Meeting with the Director of Construction Services – Erin Carson


  • Important
    • Health center on site
    • Community spaces for social services
    • Lounge space to bring the community together – as residential as possible
    • Courtyard with outdoor spaces
    • Make it not look too much like a mental institution – making floors look different
    • Durable surfaces and materials
    • Complete Unit with privacy 
    • Interior of units – simple so tenants can customize it
  • What to avoid
    • Not having services in the building
    • Carpet – hard to clean
  • Guidance
    • Studio Apartments – about 300 sqft
    • 2 bedrooms – about 700 sqft
    • 3 bedrooms – 900+ sqft + 2 baths
    • Look at other floor plans to get an idea for how apartments are designed

Bubble Diagrams

Elevation Drawings

Needs Analysis

  • Lobby
  • Retail spaces (First floor)
  • Multi-Purpose room for tenant meetings – kitchen + storage (2nd floor)
  • Lounge – area for tenants to engage with each others – play cards + read books + play board games (2nd floor)
  • Offices – career guidance + other (2nd floor)
  • Laundry Rooms (2nd floor)
  • Area for child day care (2nd floor)
  • Apartments
    • Kitchen
    • Bathroom
    • 2-3 bedrooms
    • Living room
    • Kitchen
    • 1-2 bathrooms
  • Rooftop garden/deck – community space

Floor Plans

Phase Three – Final Design

Three Dimensional Model

Sketchup Design – Walk Through

If you would like to see my Complete Presentation please follow this link.


I would appreciate your Feedback


Works Cited:

Click here for the bibliography for this page.




  1. Hi Olivia – I am one of the other architecture teachers for the course…. I just sent this to Mr. Sarsfield, “Clearly engaged throughout the entire course. Well documented, thoughtful analysis, interviews, design. Couldn’t really ask for more from this course.” Well done! You did a fantastic job working with the SDGs and responding to an architectural need in your community! You should be very proud of your work :). Mr Schwartz

    1. Thank you Mr. Schwartz!

  2. Excellent work. I only wish it would be completed earlier so that we could move in.

  3. Hi Olivia, your project looks really good, and I especially like the model you made, as it looks really well done. I like the idea, and how the building incorporates both living spaces and job opportunities for people. Overall I think you did a great job.

    1. Thank you Ethan!

  4. Hi Olivia,
    Congratulations on the project! I admire your courage to work on a very difficult subject in our beloved city. The city needs the energy of young people like you to address our inequalities, so I hope you will continue with this great work. I really like your sketches; they demonstrate your thought process in creating the units, but also building the community that the proposed building will become one day. I was also impressed with your thoughtful holistic approach and making the connections between affordability, community building, economic opportunities, and wellbeing – and how all this play a role in shaping the building, and as a result, our city. Fantastic work!

    1. Thank you Luiz! I really appreciate the help and guidance you gave me through the design process.

  5. Awesome work — I love the blend of changing the world for the better with a very practical, creative, and thoughtful solution!

  6. I’m so impressed with all the details and additional services / job availability that you worked into this project. Also– the design on the windows is absolutely stunning. It’s such a beautiful building supporting a beautiful idea.

  7. Very impressive plan, great work and trying to deliver a solution to a troubling issue. Thanks for putting in the thought!

  8. What a spectacular project! So professionally rendered and presented! Excellent work!

  9. Hi Olivia,
    Such a well thought-out plan and design! I loved watching the shetch-up video! Keep up the great work!!!

  10. This is so amazing!!! You are clearly meant to go into this field as you have such a natural eye and talent for architecture.
    Great job!!!!

  11. This is absolutely amazing! I am so excited to see you enter this world of architecture professionally as you are going to create such wonderful work for the world. So proud of you Olivia!

  12. Your amazing! Great job. You seem to have thought of a real path for people to get back on their feet. The group meeting room in their residence with other services is a very good idea. Also, maybe future residents could be offered jobs to build the building?

    1. Yes, definitely! Thank you for that great suggestion!!

  13. LOVE THIS. More affordable housing and affordable connectivity for all people!! Great work Olivia.

  14. Impressive work, Olivia!!! It’s clear you put a lot hard work and effort to your project paying great attention to the details, I’m a huge fan of windows!!! Our country can use much more affordable housing. Proud of you, Olivia!

    1. Thank you Manila!!

  15. Love this so muchhh!! definitely a great way to help the community!!

  16. Hey Olivia,

    I really loved your project and thought it was very well put together with really great visuals. I think your project shows that you have really taken this topic seriously and exhibits your passion. I think it is really important that we get more affordable housing all around the world, and seeing your ideas for your community is really inspirational.

    1. Thank you Ilham!!

  17. Absolutely stunning ideas, drawing, and research notes. Really drew me in by the extensive research and notes throughout the entire project. Well done!

    1. Thank you Bren!!

  18. Hi Olivia! You did such a great job designing this apartment building! I especially appreciate how you used color to clarify your drawings. your video tour was also incredibly detailed and worked very well to show the building’s design both inside and out. Awesome job!

    1. Thank you Sarah!!

  19. Hi Olivia!
    Your apartment building design is so incredible and I love that it supports a cause that you care about. Great job going through the details of the location to even creating a mood board. I could really envision your building and as someone who doesn’t know much about architecture, I found your site to be very informative and clear to understand!

    1. Thank you so much Samantha!

  20. Good job on this project, it would be addressing a major issue not just in San Francisco. You did a good job designing the building, and the planning inside is well thought out too.

    1. Thank you Landon!

  21. Hi Olivia,
    What a great idea to address the ever increasing homelessness problem. Your ideas and research are creative and well thought out. It is a humane approach and offers solutions. I look around Portland and see the growing number of tents set up along freeways, sidewalks, and the mounting garbage from this increase.
    I wonder how we, as a society, can include voices of those who are homeless and get input and perspective. Did any of your research find where cities did this successfully?

    1. Yes, I did. If you look at the full presentation link, you can see the past projects that I looked at during the brainstorming face.
      Thank you so much!

  22. I liked Olivia project. I could tell it took a lot of time and effort. She went into detail about the reasoning behind he ideas and made it easy to understand. She is also doing it for a good cause to get the 8,000 homeless people in homes.

    1. Thank you Trey!

  23. Hi Olivia, like you I also did a permanent supportive housing building for my project. I think that the idea to have a shop area on the main floor is an incredible idea as it not only makes it feel like less of a bother to many locals but it also provides job security for the residents which is often a major problem. Your effort on the 3D model really shows and overall, Great project!

    1. Thank you so much Cooper! I will make sure to check out your project:)

  24. Hey Olivia! This is such an amazing idea and I respect the ambition and realism. This is a massive project that is very well done and laid out. The sketches and model are remarkable and are very detailed. You must have spent a bunch of time on this and it shows the effort. I believe that affordable housing is needed everywhere but they idea you have created can definitely help get on that path. Excellent job!

    1. Thank you so much Roni!

  25. Olivia, it has been so cool to see your project progress throughout our course! It is very obvious that implementing affordable housing in your hometown of San Fransisco is something your extremely passionate about from all of the context and detail you have provided with your project. After watch a bit of one of your interviews, I noticed you did a good job of staying engaged, asking beneficial questions. Your SketchUp models are a whole different level of amazing. The amount of detail included in them allows for your audience to get a clearer picture of exactly what you want to do with this project down to the furniture style. Overall, your project is amazing and I think the likelihood of it be successful in real life is very likely! Good luck!

  26. What a brilliant concept to contribute to the discussion of solving homelessness. I think you are right on the money with an affordable housing approach. Very impressed with the degree of your research and consideration. You and your peers are the future of progressive problem solving!

  27. This is a fantastic idea and project! I hope that it gets built someday. Well done!

Leave a Reply