'Life-changing': This empty Bay Area office building will soon be turned into supportive housing

ByCornell Barnard KGO logo
Saturday, June 17, 2023
This empty Bay Area office space will soon be turned into housing
Construction is happening to convert an empty office building in San Rafael into a supportive housing complex for those formerly unhoused.

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KGO) -- In the North Bay, construction is happening to convert an empty office building into a supportive housing complex for those formerly unhoused.

It's a place where meetings were once held and papers were shuffled, now an abandoned office building in San Rafael is getting a new life.

"It was basically empty and wasn't being used for a year, so getting it refurbished from that to an actual living space is the biggest task," said Robert Hendrickson from D & H Construction.

This 41,000-square-foot office building in the Canal District is on its way to becoming a supportive housing complex with 41 studio apartments for those formerly unhoused.

"Residents will get case management on site, as well as across the street," said Kate Blessing-Kawamura.

The $33 million project is all thanks to a partnership between Marin County and nonprofit Eden Housing, that's creating affordable housing communities across the Bay Area.

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Kate Blessing-Kawamura says the idea for this complex was born during the pandemic when empty hotels or commercial properties were used to shelter the unhoused or those at risk of losing their housing.

"The number of people who are in need of housing is so great, we're trying to make a dent," Kawamura said.

There are challenges to transforming empty office space into housing.

"So we still have elevators here, haven't passed inspection need to revamp them," said Hendrickson.

But a lot of red tape, and permits are being avoided.

"Cost wise, permit wise it helps the building is existing for sure," he added.

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Homeless advocacy group, Homeward Bound of Marin will get people into the new housing complex - directors say the idea is long overdue.

"Converting derelict office complex into housing is a great use of space and life-changing for those who get to live there," said Homeward Bound Marin Co-CEO Paul Forham.

Going forward, housing advocates hope this office building conversion can a model for other parts of the Bay Area and beyond.

This is Eden's first office to housing project, Kate hopes it's not the last

"It's expensive to do this but we're taking note of everything to see if we can do it again in the future," said Kawamura.

The project is scheduled to be complete in late 2024.

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