BRIDGE HOUSING: EARLY HISTORY
The BRIDGE Housing Corporation, a non-profit company considered by many to be the state’s foremost developer of affordable housing, has built more than 13,000 housing units since its founding in 1983. Although Bridge’s original focus was housing for working families, it has diversified and now has several affiliates and a staff of about 250, enabling it to handle every aspect of financing, planning, development and maintenance of the projects it owns and manages.
Although outreach to the community surrounding its projects has always been an integral part of BRIDGE’s approach to building housing in California, its scope has expanded to include the components of communities and to transforming existing neighborhoods.
This article focuses on the early history of BRIDGE, beginning with an account of its founding and its early projects, Holloway Terrace in 1985, and Parkview Commons in 1990. The recently completed Mission Walk development comprises two buildings on Berry Street in Mission Bay. The missing period of enormous expansion between 1990 and 2009 will doubtless be covered in the detail it deserves, but a blog post is not adequate for that task.
The impetus for starting BRIDGE in San Francisco, which remains its headquarters, was an anonymous gift of approximately $650,000 entrusted to the San Francisco Foundation in late 1980.
The funds were dedicated to creating affordable housing and came at a time when the Bay Area’s high costs of living threatened the stability of the workforce because its members were being priced out of the housing market.
The nine-page document that accompanied the gift contained the following statement:
“The donor has had and still has a strong interest in housing for persons and families of low and moderate income. However well intentioned, various federal programs, e.g., Section 8, have not delivered enough housing to either the inner cities or elsewhere to meet the enormous demand. This in turn suggests that what the private sector needs is a program for the construction or rehabilitation of housing for low and moderate income groups which would attract private investors interested in meeting a real national need and still make economic sense to investors and the business community.
Accordingly, this gift must be used to form a relatively small task force to study the problem, using all the academic disciplines from Bay Area universities at the faculty and graduate school level. Membership of the task force should also include enough experienced businessmen and bankers to avoid too heavy an academic orientation.”
The foundation asked Alan Stein, an investment banker, to chair the task force and select its members. Stein had come to San Francisco from New York City in 1971 to head the office of Goldman Sachs. In 1978 Governor Jerry Brown appointed him Secretary of Business and Transportation, which had ten departments, one of which was Housing and Community Development. Since the HCD department lacked a director at that time, Stein’s first task was to fill that position.
For advice in finding a new director Stein consulted Richard Bender, then dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. Bender recommended a faculty member, Don Terner, who was an ardent housing advocate and had worked successfully in affordable housing programs in New York.
In 1980 Terner was appointed director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development. He moved to Sacramento where he worked closely with Alan Stein and, according to Stein, educated him about the housing field by taking him to see projects throughout the state. Terner left the state government in 1981.
In 1982, to fulfill the donor’s stipulation that a task force be formed to administer the grant, Stein convened a group of people who were successful in various fields and interested in affordable housing. Rather than create another report, the task force chose to start building. The next step was to hire executives to run the operation.
Don Terner’s actions as Director of Housing and Community Development made him a leading candidate to head the organization. He had sponsored legislation which gave non-profit housing developers the first option to purchase surplus public lands and had also initiated legislation that included density bonuses that allowed selected developers to add up to 30% additional units to their projects, thus giving them extra units at no additional land costs.
Terner was hired to be the president of the new organization, which was then called Bay Area Regional Housing Investment and Development Group, later turned into the acronym, BRIDGE. A close associate and former student of his, Rick Holliday, was made vice president.
To raise the capital needed to start building units, Stein and Terner, supported by their board of directors, held fund-raising events for members of the business community. This use of the methods of private developers was a radical departure from the 1960s approach of community non-profit housing organizations which were oriented toward government funding and focused on individual projects.
A highly successful fund raising event in 1983 allowed the first project, Holloway Terrace, in San Francisco’s Ingleside Terrace to start; it was completed in 1985. According to Alan Stein, the success of this and other projects that followed came from diligent outreach to the projects’ neighborhoods, ownership of the projects and careful management, and the serious involvement of board members in the projects’ development.
The original task force members are Dick Bender, Gordon Chin, Ken Phillips, Tony Ramos, Alan Stein, Clark Wallace, Susanne Wilson, Gerson Bakar, Preston Butcher, Tom Flynn, Tony Frank, Dean Macris, Sunne McPeak, Ken Rosen, Mary Lee Widener. The picture on the right is of Alan Stein and Rick Holliday, 2009.