Blogging Bayport Alameda

February 14, 2020

$1 million per unit

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

One of the most eye opening and shocking pieces of information from Monday’s Planning Board meeting was this piece of the public comment from the director of Housing and Community Development at Alameda Housing Authority.  This came after many comments by public speakers, who seemed to want to put more, non subjective criteria in this objective checklist, talking about how Everett Commons is the ideal design for affordable housing developments in Alameda.

The public comment:

I’m concerned that this list of the standards could have unintended consequences from subjective interpretation unrelated to the production of affordable housing because of cost implications.

I know specifically it’s been discussed and it was in the presentation, Everett Commons, which is our property, multifamily property, that was built over at Everett right off Park which has been applauded for its context.  I will say that that project is currently subject to a public records request because of the intense, high cost.  It cost almost $1 million a unit to built that.  And while there are a number of different reasons why the cost was high, design definitely had an impact.  Currently we’re actually waiting for an article from the LA Times that discusses a number of high cost properties throughout the state of California, so we’re not the only one, but that one was specifically targeted as being too high cost.  And we know, from being on the inside, that design played a definite role in that.

What was not mentioned by the public speaker was how much money was spent probably in the delay of approving the design.  That project went back multiple times because of design issues which added unnecessary cost every single time.  And for what?  Neighborhood context? For context, this is what surrounds Everett Commons:

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Yeah there are some cute houses, but the property literally sits next to a PARKING LOT. The neighborhood is not some time capsule or jewel box needing everything to be matchy matchy.  The $1 million per unit price tag for an all AFFORDABLE HOUSING project is exactly why the legislation was passed.  So that well-meaning historic preservationists and maybe not so well meaning NIMBYs don’t suck all of the money from an AFFORDABLE HOUSING project in order to kill it.

I haven’t even been able to finish listening to this PB meeting because I’m so livid.  I bet if you set up a Venn diagram of folks insisting on “neighborhood context” and those that claim we should only be building all affordable housing before we even think about building market rate housing the overlap would be substantial.  The lessons of Everett Commons is that the insistence on bowing down to “neighborhood context” means that all affordable housing projects will never get built if they all end up clocking in at $1 million per unit.  The fact that sheltering people seems to come up secondary to aesthetics almost every single time is infuriating.

13 Comments »

  1. Ah the memories. 15 years I sat on working group that was looking to build affordable housing units on that property for AUSD employees. Since AUSD is not housing business we were not able to make much progress with the idea. Eventually AUSD transferred the property to Housing Authority as part of the great land swap that should lead to more housing near the Del Monte property and Naval Station besides the completed project on the East End.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — February 14, 2020 @ 7:18 am

  2. 71% of locals says homelessness is the top issue.

    The photos and commentary seem very dismissive of the aesthetics of the neighborhood-as if “they” don’t deserve a reasonable design…sadly, public housing has often been an eyesore. But clustered affordable housing also lowers property values in the surrounding neighborhood.

    Second: Construction costs are high and there are many local rules. The Army Corps of Engineers could put up Quonset huts, but then advocates would probably bring a lawsuit about the homeless losing their humanity and being caged like criminals, and I doubt neighbors would be thrilled.

    Let’s hope corona virus doesn’t hit homeless encampments first or we’ll find ourselves forgetting all about cost and design and building emergency hospitals in a week like in Wuhan.

    Comment by Nowyouknow — February 14, 2020 @ 7:51 am

  3. I grew up in a public housing complex in San Francisco. Back then, there was little discussion or thought about design — the goal was to house as many people as possible. Over time this model created a ghetto effect (a large concentration of low income families), separated from the rest of the community and surrounded by sub-standard public schools and public facilites which in turn created a sense of hopelessness for its residents. While the construction unit costs were low, the hopelessness it created was the human cost.

    The current goal for housing low income families is to spread low income housing more evenly in the community which I believe is a superior model. To be sucessfull, I think its important to find that balance between design and cost; a design that fits in the surrounding neighborhood — at a cost that makes building affordable housing feasible. I think it can be done, as long as we remember the ultimate goal.

    Comment by Karen Bey — February 14, 2020 @ 9:28 am

    • Peace Karen,
      Thanks for sharing your experience of living in the public housing in SF and the encouragement to build more affordable housing. I want to share two things. First, I think you touch on a common narrative related to public housing that I want to share an alternate perspective of. The film “Pruitt-Igo Myth,” touches on this somewhat, the idea that the issue or “problem” of was just poor design. You can read plenty of the design schematics for public housing at the National Archives in San Bruno. Some of the thought at the time, as I recall, related to green space and courtyards, common and play areas. While SF had towers, California had more low-rise projects.

      In reality, “public” housing became a (larger) problem when white people left to move into federally subsidized suburbia while Black folks remained.

      Look at the Alameda example. The whites-only Woodstock Homes were created in 1941 as permanent housing and are fairly integrated into surrounding area between Main and Third St. The temporary housing where Black folks could live was built in 1943 and, yes, only met federal design standards. But I think it is less about architectural and urban design, and more about the social and economic design: the Housing Authority sited housing projects in isolated areas close to industrial places for workers. Like you mention this isolation–but also the blight due to maintenance neglect–created the “ghetto.” Still, for some, the people themselves were seen as the “blight.”

      As for substandard schools, the old Times-Star newspapers have contrasting accounts of whether John Muir School inside the Estuary Projects was substandard. It is clear that the student body became racially segregated.

      The second thing relates to the goal. Some people promote mobility and seek to integrate lower-income families into areas that have more “opportunity” (i.e. moving to opportunity). Compare Edison and the old Longfellow Schools. Similarly designed but different neighborhoods. One neighborhood was whites-only with single-family zoning and can only be accessed by higher income families. The other school site–recently a charter and now the “continuation” school, is in Alameda’s densest neighborhood.

      All that to say, it may be less about the design of the individual subdivisions or buildings or complexes, but how our neighborhoods are “Segregated by Design.”

      Comment by RAsheed ☥ Shabazz (@Rasheed_Shabazz) — February 21, 2020 @ 8:13 am

      • I know you’ve done a lot of Alameda-specific research on this issue, as reflected above. Do you mind re-minding us where to find some of the articles you’ve published (in the Sun, etc.)? Thank you.

        Comment by MP — February 21, 2020 @ 8:55 am

  4. A million $ a unit? That is way too much. I live in a 5 bedroom house and it wouldn’t cost $1 million to build. The land is 1/2 the value of our house but this land was paid for? Who cares if they fit into the neighborhood. They are next to a parking lot and an auto shop

    Comment by joelsf — February 14, 2020 @ 11:40 am

  5. The Planning Board lost sight of their purpose on Monday Objective Standards are required by state law to reduce the burden on building affordable housing. Ignoring that, the Board morphed into the historic preservation board and sought ways to increase the burden on housing in order to preserve existing architecture. Of particular concern is that they chose to totally disregard state law and make the objective standards a requirement in addition to all other zoning standards, instead of a replacement for all other zoning standards.

    Comment by Doug Biggs — February 14, 2020 @ 12:40 pm

    • I wish I could say I’m surprised. Would like to learn more.

      Comment by Gaylon — February 17, 2020 @ 8:17 am

  6. “I bet if you set up a Venn diagram of folks insisting on “neighborhood context” and those that claim we should only be building all affordable housing before we even think about building market rate housing the overlap would be substantial.”

    This is exactly right. Have a conversation with people in a particular NIMBY org, and ask them some questions (I have), and you’ll soon see their true motivation is to change nothing. Ever. Ask them about what that does for other people, be they low-income, young or new arrivals, and their defensive responses reveal that they really don’t care. It’s all sophistry–at least with the smarter ones.

    Comment by BC — February 14, 2020 @ 3:08 pm

  7. What exactly added to the cost of the design? Was it just the re-review of the design or the design in itself? If it was just review, and people love the design, why don’t they just copy that design some where else to fast track approvals?

    Comment by michonnekatana — February 14, 2020 @ 11:05 pm

  8. I applied for a board/commission one time that I was quite qualified for. Nothing. The process may not be the best.

    Comment by Dj — February 15, 2020 @ 7:57 am

  9. You fail to mention that 2412 and 2416 directly across from the project are listed on the HBSL as state eligible historic resources. 2500 – caddy corner from the project is also in the HBSL as a state eligible historic resource. Most of the rest of the houses are listed as contributors. This neighborhood is one of the oldest in Alameda. If the project developers had thought to check with the neighbors first about their concerns before designing the project, they might have alleviated the delays and hence reduced the costs.

    Comment by Kevis Brownson — February 26, 2020 @ 9:32 pm


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