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HUD Asst. Secretary at Veterans Commons

Veterans’ housing project brings HUD official offcial back home

San Francisco Chronicle
City Insider

For Mercedes Marquez, assistant secretary for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, this morning’s visit to San Francisco for a look at a veterans’ housing project was a chance to come home.

Marquez, who joined Mayor Ed Lee and other local officials on a walk through the remodeled building at 150 Otis St., grew up in the Excelsior district and went to Immaculate Conception Academy in the Mission.

“When people asked me if I knew where this building was, I told them I knew exactly where it was,” she said.

One of the most important purposes of the project, she said, is that it will “serve people who have been on the streets for a long time. We don’t want to forget our older veterans as younger people come back from the war.”

HUD provided $2.5 million of the $34.3 million cost of converting the historic nine-story city building into permanent affordable studio apartments for 75 homeless veterans. Work on the building, which will be run by Swords to Plowshares, a veterans’ support group, is slated to be completed in time for Veterans Day in November.

The 1916 building was the city’s first juvenile hall and detention center. From the 1950s through the 1980s, it served as office space for the city’s Department of Human Services, headquartered next door. The building was vacated after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, serving as a storage facility and winter homeless shelter.

The chance to transform a rundown historic building into a much-needed facility for veterans is an example of what San Francisco can do with what it has, the mayor said.

“We don’t need all-new buildings when we can adapt the buildings we already have,” Lee said. “This is one of the most important projects we can be doing and it’s great to see that it’s going to get done.”

The non-profit Chinatown Community Development Center is the developer for the project. Swords to Plowshares runs a similar supportive housing program for 102 previously homeless veterans at the Presidio.

“There will be no problem filling these apartments,” said Leon Winston, chief operating officer for the support group.