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S.F. Mayor London Breed Announces Major Developments in Affordable Housing

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Mayor London Breed announced July 2 that the city of San Francisco was awarded over $130 million in state funds for affordable housing, transportation and infrastructure projects.

“This $130 million in grants from the state could not have come at a more critical time as we continue to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said Breed. “The funds will allow us to accelerate construction on more than 350 affordable homes and undertake major infrastructure improvements. This will help us free up financing capacity for other badly needed affordable housing developments across San Francisco and put people to work with well-paying construction jobs.”

The grants were provided by the California Strategic Growth Council’s Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program (AHSC) with funds from California Climate Investments.

AHSC provided $30 million, of which $20 million will fund a 157-unit affordable housing project scheduled to begin construction in the summer of 2021.

“I am thrilled that these important projects will receive state funding and applaud our City’s efforts to build affordable housing. Now more than ever, due to COVID-19 and the economic fallout, people are suffering financially,” said state Senator Scott Wiener, chair of the California Senate Housing Committee. “Housing insecurity and homelessness are spiking, and we need long-term solutions that get people housed. This is great news in a challenging time, and I look forward to seeing these projects serve our community.”

Balboa Park Upper Yard will be adjacent to the Balboa BART Station with 131 units of affordable housing, 39 subsidized by the San Francisco Housing Authority. The ground floor will have 10,000 square feet of community space, including an early-childhood education center and family resource center. Construction is scheduled to begin in spring 2021.

Road work will be done on Hillcrest Road on Yerba Buena Island and Sunnydale Block 3B will have mixed-use family residential housing with community spaces and retail at the intersection of Sunnydale Avenue and Hahn Street.

It will also have 92 units of affordable family housing with 69 to be set aside and subsidized by Project-Based Section 8 Vouchers from the San Francisco Housing Authority.

Also on June 30, the San Francisco board of supervisors approved Breed’s resolution to lease 833 Bryant St., formerly a surface parking lot in SoMa near the Hall of Justice at 855 Bryant.

The 145 units are scheduled to open in the fall of 2021 and is part of a city-wide effort to add 1,000 units by the end of 2024.

No city funds were used for the project currently under construction. Monies came from the Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF) and Tipping Point Community. Mercy Housing California is the developer.

The quick development process was praised by the interim director of the San Francisco Dept. of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. “This project not only provides much needed permanent supportive housing but also takes an innovative approach in reducing time and costs,” said Abigail Stewart-Kahn. “833 Bryant St. public-private partnership demonstrates that supportive housing can be developed rapidly and effectively to serve chronically homeless people in our community.”

HAF, which is contributing $35 million to the project, is “thrilled to be achieving its goals” to quickly get unhoused people into permanent shelter, said CEO Rebecca Foster. “Two years ago, the Housing Accelerator Fund set out on an ambitious mission:  to cut the time it takes to build permanent supportive housing in half and to significantly reduce production costs,” Foster added. She offered thanks to their partners Mercy Housing, Tipping Point Community and the city of San Francisco for helping advance the innovations that will soon result in 145 new homes for people experiencing homelessness.

Philanthropy plays a key role in the project, according to Daniel Lurie, chairman of the Tipping Point Community. “Philanthropy has the ability to act quickly and take risks to identify bold solutions of our community’s greatest challenges.  This project is a great example of how private donors can provide risk capital for a proof of concept, and work with government to sustain the solution for the long run.”

“By deploying modular construction and an entrepreneurial financing approach, this project demonstrates the potential for time and costs savings for developing affordable housing in San Francisco,” said Doug Shoemaker, President Mercy Housing California.

The city is also using hotels during COVID-19 for housing the homeless.

Activism

After Wood Street Clearance, Homeless People Stay

Advocates claim about a dozen of them showed up on November 8 to support residents. One of them, Annmarie Bustamente, said their presence “definitely helped the residents block the eviction” and that the residents were “tired of displacement and said no” to a member of Oakland’s Public Works Department encouraging them to move. 

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Homeless Oakland Jessie Parker stands on Wood Street in West Oakland on November 10. The city of Oakland had planned to move Parker and dozens of others from this location between November 8 and 10, but residents refused to move and remained on site after the attempted closure operation. Photo by Zack Haber.
Homeless Oakland Jessie Parker stands on Wood Street in West Oakland on November 10. The city of Oakland had planned to move Parker and dozens of others from this location between November 8 and 10, but residents refused to move and remained on site after the attempted closure operation. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

On the morning of November 8, members of both Oakland’s Encampment Management Team, Public Works, and Police Department came to an area encompassing about 1/5 of a mile from Wood Street and Grand Avenue to Wood Street and 26th Street with the stated goal of clearing the location of homeless people. But after the attempted clearance, homeless people remained in the area.

“The objective was to move as many people as possible,” wrote Oakland Communications Director Karen Boyd in an e-mail. “But that could not be accomplished without the full cooperation of the community.”

“You can’t push us back any further than this,” said homeless resident Jessie Parker, a 63-year-old lifelong Oaklander who came to live on Wood Street after being shot in the leg. The injury prevented him from being able to do the physical movement required for the construction and electrical work he had done in the past. On November 4, the city put up pink notices informing him that starting in four days they would force him to vacate the area he’s lived in for about nine years, but he, like dozens of others living in vehicles, tents or makeshift homes along Wood Street, didn’t leave.

Parker’s statement references the fact that Wood Street is one of the westernmost streets in West Oakland. A little further west from where Parker lives is land owned by Caltrans under the 880 overpass where still more homeless people live, as well as a 1.5 acre plot of land belonging to a company called Gamechanger LLC. To the east are businesses and residential areas.

After about two years in delays, Gamechanger agreed to lease its land to the city for $1 a year and the city opened a Safe RV Parking site on July 7 on the company’s land through the non-profit Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency.

In the Safe RV Parking site, residents who own RVs and trailers can legally live in them and receive services. It’s unclear how long this service will last, as the lease between GameChanger and the city can expire by November of next year. That same lease laid out plans to allow 75 RVs or trailers space to park, but while walking through the site on November 10, this writer counted 29 RVs while half of the site sat vacant. The site is not available for many residents, like Parker, who don’t have an RV or a trailer.

“I never received an offer to move in,” said Parker, who lives in a truck. “It’s for RVs only.”

The site opening has put other residents at risk of displacement who can’t or don’t want to access it. Since Oakland’s City Council unanimously passed its Encampment Management Policy in October of last year, despite protests and critical public comments during five hours of a meeting, city policy now states those living within 25 feet of such sites can face clearance.

Although their policy now allows it, the city had not attempted to move nor even encouraged people who are living near the Safe RV Parking site to leave the area until the November 8 operation. But recent communications from Justin Tombolesi, who is the constituent liaison for District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife, have led advocates and homeless people to believe the company is now pressuring the city to force people to leave the area. In a text message to a homeless resident who lives near Wood Street, Tombolesi wrote “Gamechanger is suing the city because people are too close to the RV site.”

Gamechanger denies suing or pressuring the city. When asked if the company was suing or threatening to sue the city, the company’s lawyer, Pat Smith of Smith LLP, responded in an email, writing “Not at all — no thought of suing the city. The city is solely in charge of the site and ownership has no involvement or concern over how the city is handling things.”

In an e-mail, Boyd wrote that “No filings or actions to terminate the lease have been served upon the city,” but that the city has “spoken with legal counsel representing GameChanger’s lot regarding the city’s plans to create compliance.”

In another text message to the same resident, Tombolesi also claimed the city would allow residents living on Wood Street to move to a vacant portion of land off the street and just north of the Safe RV Parking site during the November 8 closure operation. No residents have moved into that location and residents, as well advocates who were on site that day, claim no one was invited to do so. Boyd said the city offered nine spaces in the city’s Community Cabins, and five spaces in a rapid rehousing program called The Holland. One resident accepted a space in the Community Cabins, which is a program that offers small, unheated shelter in shed-like spaces made by the Tuff Shed company.

Advocates claim about a dozen of them showed up on November 8 to support residents. One of them, Annmarie Bustamente, said their presence “definitely helped the residents block the eviction” and that the residents were “tired of displacement and said no” to a member of Oakland’s Public Works Department encouraging them to move.

Although the closure operation was originally slated to occur over three days between Monday November 8 and Wednesday November 10, no one from the city came back after the first day.

“The ability to proceed Monday impacted the entire operation,” wrote Boyd in an e-mail, “and activities for the following days were cancelled.”

Although homeless residents did not leave Wood Street, Oakland’s Police Department’s Public Information Officer Kim Armstead said the department did tow six vehicles for long expired registration on November 6 and 7 in the area in preparation for the closure.

According to Armstead, the department avoided towing vehicles that served as people’s homes, as the department, following the cities’ direction, has “agreed not to tow vehicles where there is clear evidence they are being used as shelter.” Armstead also said on November 8, OPD supported the city operation with two officers, one sergeant, and six police service techs who provided traffic control and security for city workers.

One homeless resident named Evangeline said the towing of her and her husband’s vehicle has made it difficult to go grocery shopping and to visit her mother, who just had a heart attack. The couple can’t afford to pay the fees to get the car back, so it will remain in the tow yard.

“We’re really stuck,” she said.

Although residents like Parker avoided being moved from Wood Street, it’s unclear when or if the city will come back to move them. According to Parker, a member of the non-profit Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency has been working to secure some form of permanent housing for him, and he’s hopeful that the person will be successful.

“I’m a little older now so my peak interest is getting back into housing,” said Parker. “If I get into housing, I’m sure I won’t go back to this. I can’t take these harsh elements no more.”

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Activism

New California “Strike Force” Gives Teeth to State Housing Laws

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

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The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.
The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

To advance housing access, affordability and equity, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced earlier this month the creation of a Housing Strike Force.

The team, housed within the California Department of Justice (Cal DOJ) has been tasked with enforcing California housing laws that cities across the state have been evading or ignoring.

The strike force will conduct a series of roundtables across the state to educate and involve tenants and homeowners as the state puts pressure on municipalities failing to follow housing rules and falling short of housing production goals set by the state.

“California is facing a housing shortage and affordability crisis of epic proportion,” Bonta said. “Every day, millions of Californians worry about keeping a roof over their heads, and there are too many across this state who lack housing altogether.

“This is a top priority and a fight we won’t back down from. As Attorney General, I am committed to using all the tools my office has available to advance Californians’ fundamental right to housing.”

The Housing Strike Force will take “an innovative and intersectional approach” to addressing the housing crisis, focusing on tenant protections, housing availability and environmental sustainability, housing affordability, and equitable and fair housing opportunity for tenants and owners.

Bonta also launched a Housing Portal on the Cal DOJ’s web site with resources and information for California homeowners and tenants.

The strike force will enlist the expertise of attorneys from the Cal DOJ’s Land Use and Conservation Section, the Consumer Protection Section, the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, and the Environment Section’s Bureau of Environmental Justice in its enforcement efforts.

“California has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address its housing crisis, thanks to the historic $22 billion housing and homelessness investments in this year’s budget. But it’ll only work if local governments do their part to zone and permit new housing,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “The attorney general’s emphasis on holding cities and counties accountable for fair housing, equity, and housing production is an important component to the state’s efforts to tackle the affordability crisis and create greater opportunities for all Californians to have an affordable place to call home.”

According to the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), the level of Black ownership nationally has decreased below levels achieved during the decades when housing discrimination was legal.

The 2020 census reports that there was a 29.6% gap between homeownership rates for African Americans and whites. Homeowners accounted for 44.6% of the Black population as compared to 74.2% for whites.

“Blacks have made little, if any, strides at closing the homeownership gap. Systemic discriminatory regulations and policies continue to thwart any meaningful effort at increasing Black homeownership,” Lydia Pope, NAREB’s president, said.

In California, the DOJ reports that over the last four decades, housing needs have outpaced housing production. It has caused a crisis that stretches from homelessness to unaffordable homes.

Despite significant effort, the DOJ stated that California continues to host a disproportionate share of people experiencing homelessness in the United States, with an estimated 150,000 Californians sleeping in shelters, in their cars, or on the street.

Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

Due to decades of systemic racism, these challenges have continuously and disproportionately impacted communities of color. For example, Bonta said, almost half of Black households in California spend more than 30% of their income on housing, compared with only a third of White families.

In addition, less than one in five Black California households could afford to purchase the $659,380 statewide median-priced home in 2020, compared to two in five white California households that could afford to purchase the same median-priced home, the California Association Realtors (CAR) said in a February 2021 statement.

The percentage of Black home buyers who could afford to purchase a median-priced, existing single-family home in California in 2020 was 19%, compared to 38% for white households, CAR stated.

“Just as the price for a single-median home reaches a new record of more than $800,000 in California, everywhere you look, we are in a housing crisis,” Bonta said during the virtual news conference on Nov. 3.

“Among all households, one in four renters pays more than half of their income on rent.”

The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

Earlier this year, Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 215, enhancing the attorney general’s concurrent role in enforcing state housing laws.

AB 215 was designed for reforms, facilitating housing development and combating the current housing crisis.

Newsom also signed Senate Bill (SB) 9 and SB 10 in September, legislation designed to help increase the supply of affordable housing and speed up the production of multi-family housing units statewide.

Authored by Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), SB 9 allows a homeowner to subdivide an existing single-family residential lot to create a duplex, triplex, or fourplex.

In response to SB 9, homeowner groups have formed across the state to oppose it. The groups are citing challenges they anticipate the law will bring to their communities, from garbage collection to increased risk of fires.

Livable California, a San Francisco-based non-profit that focuses on housing, is one of the groups that opposes the new laws.

“Senate Bill 9 ends single-family zoning to allow four homes where one now stands. It was signed by Gov. Newsom, backed by 73 of 120 legislators and praised by many media. Yet a respected pollster found 71% of California voters oppose SB 9,” the Livable California website reads.

“It opens 1.12 million homes in severe fire zones to unmanaged density — one-sixth of single-family homes in California,” the message continues. “SB 9 could reshape, in unwanted ways, hundreds of high-risk fire zones that sprawl across California’s urban and rural areas.”

But Newsom says the laws are urgent and overdue.

“The housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity,” Newsom said in a Sept. 16 statement.

SB 10 was designed for jurisdictions that want to opt-in and up-zone urbanized areas close to transit, allowing up to 10 units per parcel without the oversight of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“Passing strong housing laws is only the first step. To tackle our severe housing shortage, those laws must be consistently and vigorously enforced,” said California State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), chair of the Senate Housing Committee. “I applaud Attorney General Bonta’s commitment to strong enforcement of California’s housing laws.”

The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send complaints or tips related to housing to housing@doj.ca.gov. Information on legal aid in your area is available at https://lawhelpca.org.

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Activism

Crime and Homelessness Reach an All-Time High

These depressing findings were recorded in a poll conducted by the Jobs and Housing Coalition (JHC) between October 16 and 18. They mark an all-time high in negative responses when Oakland residents are asked how they feel about the quality of their lives in Oakland and the direction of the city.

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The three most pressing issues that Oakland residents cited were homelessness and crime, which were virtually tied, and the cost of housing/rents which came in third place. No other issue was reported as a double-digit concern.
The three most pressing issues that Oakland residents cited were homelessness and crime, which were virtually tied, and the cost of housing/rents which came in third place. No other issue was reported as a double-digit concern.

Residents Want to Know What Can Be Done About It

By Paul Cobb

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of interviews with Greg McConnell who commissioned David Binder Research (President Obama’s polling firm) to find out the issues Oakland voters are concerned with.

Sixty-six percent (66%) of Oakland residents feel that the quality of their lives has gotten worse over the past few years. Sixty-three percent (63%) feel that Oakland is headed in the wrong direction.

Greg McConnell

Greg McConnell

These depressing findings were recorded in a poll conducted by the Jobs and Housing Coalition (JHC) between October 16 and 18. They mark an all-time high in negative responses when Oakland residents are asked how they feel about the quality of their lives in Oakland and the direction of the city.

Negative opinion has reached a new high over the last 10 years according to David Binder Research.

This trend has been steadily rising since 2015, however, the trend erupted in a 10-point leap in negative responses – from 53% to 63% – since last June.

The three most pressing issues that Oakland residents cited were homelessness and crime, which were virtually tied, and the cost of housing/rents which came in third place. No other issue was reported as a double-digit concern.

David Binder

“It would be foolish to overlook the obvious,” said Greg McConnell, president and CEO of JHC. “People believe their quality of life is sinking, and the city is headed in the wrong direction. We cannot not ignore those feelings or dress them up to make them go away. So, our options are either to surrender the city to the current trend of negativity or turn things around.”

The question now, asked McConnell, is how do we turn things around? “The last thing we need are big speeches and proclamations. You fix big problems by focusing on the small parts. My recommendation is to get government working more effectively.”

“Oakland must start doing the small things well,” explained McConnell. “Take the homeless crisis for example. This problem will not be solved with lofty speeches. Addressing mental health and addiction issues must be done one day and one issue at a time. No one gets sober overnight. They build one day on another until they have 24 hours, then 30 days, then years.”

The same is true with shelter for the unhoused. Oakland will not build thousands of housing units in a day. They chip away at the problem by building new units every day until we have a sufficient supply. “Doing little things well will impact the big things greatly,” McConnell continued.

“There will always be big political decisions like whether to fund or defund police, but to make a city better, it’s what we do every day that will make a difference and improve life in Oakland”, said McConnell. “If we operate government like government is supposed to operate and if government focuses on small things day by day, resident negativity, depression, and pessimism will fade away.”

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