San Francisco carries with it a lot of history and charm, but with it comes inherent challenges as well. From homes that are outdated and not meeting needs, to a lack of access to healthy food and safe recreational spaces for kids, there is a need to address core issues in order to keep families in the city.

Ash Gujral is a native San Franciscan, who launched the Gujral Community Fund. According to Ash, more than half of the homes in the city were constructed before 1940, meaning they are in need of improvements and don’t meet a lot of the requirements of families.

Ash & Susan Gujral
photo credit: SF Gate / Chronicle / Paul Chinn

For example, he says, many of these homes contain lead paint and asbestos, which carries health risks and may not be structurally sound enough to withstand a significant earthquake, which is likely in San Francisco. Adding to that is the fact that some of these older homes are not large enough to accommodate families that wish to stay in the city, which is causing an exodus to the suburbs.

This is backed up by a recent report that shows there is a historically high inventory of homes sitting empty in San Francisco compared to just last year. More recent events have also contributed to the low occupancy of San Francisco homes. The pandemic has shifted people to remote work and as a result there’s no reason for many tech employees to stay.

To help counteract lack of families leaving the city due to housing concerns, including the high cost of testing for hazardous materials, the Gujral Community Fund directs some of its support to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, including the work of refurbishing homes to make them safer and protect their value, says Ash Gujral.

Play Spaces Falling into Disrepair

Meanwhile, while the lack of quality, affordable residential homes are causing people to leave the city, another cause is a lack of suitable play spaces for children. That’s why one of the core values of the Gujral Community Fund is to provide safe and engaging play spaces to encourage exercise and community. While San Francisco has no lack of green space, the park facilities are falling into disrepair due to a lack of funding, he explains. To combat this, the fund supports the San Francisco Parks Alliance with a mission to “champion, transform and activate parks and public spaces throughout the city.”

Those who choose to remain in the city despite these challenges are often faced with lack of access to healthy and nutritious food, which is another core value of the Gujral Community Fund. According to Ash Gujral, about a quarter of residents in San Francisco have a shortage of proper food, causing children and seniors in particular to skip meals or eat food that has low nutritional value.

Food bank
photo credit: Joel Muniz / Unsplash

The Ongoing Need for Nutritional Food

A lack of access to healthy food has very tangible health impacts, such as opening the door to infections, causing impaired learning and mood, as well as the social stigma that affects relationships. In response, the Gujral Community Fund supports organizations in San Francisco whose primary mission is to provide a healthy diet to its residents. They include the SF-Marin Food Bank, which serves more than 200,000 people a year as well as including a high percentage of fruits and vegetables, along with the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture or CUESA that operates farmers’ markets and provides education about sustainable agriculture including leading gardening workshops.

Meanwhile, another organization supported by the fund, Garden for the Environment, is a half-acre space in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset neighborhood dedicated to teaching sustainable gardening practices. The initiative is under the leadership of the San Francisco Parks Alliance, notes Ash Gujral.

Part of a healthy diet is ensuring healthy babies are born, which is another core focus of the Gujral Community Fund. More specifically, the fund also aims to provide easier access to prenatal care for expectant mothers as well as providing parenting guidance. This is especially important to help break the cycle of poverty and assist mothers in providing a secure future for their children in San Francisco, which is why the fund supports the Homeless Prenatal Program. Many individuals who work within this organization were once recipients of help from it.

Meanwhile, the percentage of the population of San Francisco that is aged under 18 has fallen to 13% due to all of the factors mentioned, stressing the need for healthier childhoods for a brighter future within city limits.

Ash Gujral Knows Challenges of Growing Up in San Francisco

The initiative to help kids get a better start is linked to the childhood experience of Ash Gujral growing up in San Francisco. While he has been a successful real estate investor and philanthropist, as well as founding the Gujral Community Fund to benefit the city at large, he had to learn how to navigate the city from an early age and take a leading role in running the household as his grandmother (who was also his caretaker) aged.

In the process of this he developed a “deep love” for San Francisco despite the challenges. He helped people achieve home ownership until the Great Recession of 2008 triggered by the subprime mortgage crisis, shifting his focus to instead revitalizing homes with the help of an experienced interior designer. Having grown up in San Francisco, Ash feels motivated by his experiences to create safe and sustainable spaces to raise kids in the city while providing access to quality food and shelter.

While the main goal of the Gujral Community Fund is to ensure families choose to stay and thrive in San Francisco, says Ash Gujral, the fund also supports other charitable organizations aimed at improving lives including the Pomeroy Recreation & Rehabilitation Center (providing opportunities for the disabled) as well as the San Francisco SPCA to address the need for homes for the many animals without one.