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San Francisco Project Emphasizes Housing In Poor Neighborhood

Although it's city that has been in the redevelopment business since 1948, San Francisco has recently created its largest redevelopment project area. The new, 1,300-acre Bayview Hunters Point project might also be the most controversial redevelopment project in a city where land use planning and development are always contentious.

The Bayview Hunters Point project area differs from more traditional redevelopment projects in that its top priority is housing. In fact, the city has committed 50% of tax increment revenue to housing for very low-, low- and moderate-income residents. That could amount to more than $90 million for housing over the next 45 years. The city also has set a goal that 25% of all new housing in the project area be affordable. State law requires only that 20% of tax increment go for housing, and that 15% of new units in a project area be affordable.

San Francisco's redevelopment agency has made housing - including a policy of "no net loss" of affordable units in project areas - a major emphasis in recent years. Moreover, the city's definition of "affordable" is even tighter than required by state law, as rental housing must be affordable to people making 50% of median income, and for-sale units must be affordable to people with incomes equal to 100% of median.

"It's not unusual for San Francisco," Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Marcia Rosen said of the Bayview project housing policy. "We devote 50% of net tax increment after pass-throughs to affordable housing. We do it in nearly every project area. San Francisco has an enormous affordability gap and enormous unmet needs."
Still, the Bayview plan's ambitious housing policies have not been enough to win over large portions of the historically African-American Bayview Hunters Point community in the southeast corner of town. That's because Bayview residents have long memories.

Prior to the 1960s, San Francisco's Western Addition was heavily populated by low-income African-Americans. But when the city undertook "urban renewal" style redevelopment, the city cleared away the homes of many African-American people to make room for projects serving wealthier people. A number of the Western Addition's residents relocated to Bayview Hunters Point, just north of Candlestick Point and east of the 101 freeway. Those people and their younger family members fear the city could undertake the same sort of clearance, followed by gentrification.

The local San Francisco Bay View newspaper has been a leading opponent, contending that redevelopment will only help developers at the expense of existing residents. And even some city leaders have remained skeptical. The Board of Supervisors' vote to approve the project this spring was 6-3, with dissenters arguing the plan does not give adequate power to Bayview residents.

But Rosen dismisses history as just that, and says the Bayview Hunters Point plan is "different from the urban renewal plans of old." Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who represents Bayview Hunters Point, has been among the biggest supporters, arguing that the district has been depressed for too long.

The plan is the result of 10 years of planning and hundreds of public meetings. Community members first decided on a vision statement, which emphasized the need for affordable housing, economic development and community enhancements. Those three issues became the cornerstones of the redevelopment plan.

"This project area was 10 years in the making because it was a bottom-up, community planning process," Rosen said. The process was deliberately chosen to decrease public skepticism.

Tim Colen, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, said the redevelopment agency deserves credit for addressing the city's affordable housing challenges.

"It's surprising to me, given the tax increment devoted to affordable housing, how controversial the Bayview Hunters Point redevelopment project is. Affordability is at crisis levels right now," Colen said.

"There's nervousness in the Bayview Hunters Point about people being forced out. But the redevelopment plan addresses that," Colen added.

As in all of San Francisco, housing that poor and even middle-class families can afford is an issue in Bayview. Plus, because the area has relatively inexpensive real estate, it may be only a matter of time before developers gobble up chunks to build expensive, market-rate housing. The redevelopment plan intends to ensure that Bayview has a diverse social and economic mixture, Rosen said.

"None of us can stop escalating rents or hoards of developers desperately trying to claim the last sizable lots of undeveloped land in San Francisco," Project Area Committee Chairman Angelo King wrote on the committee's website. "But I believe that community driven redevelopment can alter the change to benefit the indigenous people of the affected area."

In fact, portions of Bayview might benefit from a touch of gentrification. In some neighborhoods, more than 80% of housing units are subsidized, according to Rosen. A "better blend" of housing could benefit those poor neighborhoods.

One project that counts as both economic development and as a community enhancement is the planned Third Street light rail line. It would provide easy access from Bayview - which has long been somewhat isolated - to the Financial District and Mission Bay, where thousands of new jobs are being created.

The new project area abuts a 9-year-old redevelopment project area that encompasses the Hunters Point shipyard, a closed Navy shipyard on the San Francisco Bay waterfront. The city has signed a master development agreement with Lennar that calls for revitalization of the shipyard, thousands of new housing units and extensive development of new industrial and commercial space.

"We're really looking at two different kinds of redevelopment," Rosen said. "One is the transformative, economic use of a military base to a mixed-use neighborhood. The second is a much more modest plan for a much larger area that is intended to revitalize the Bayview for the benefits of the residents and businesses that are already there. It is building on the assets that are there."

Taken together, the redevelopment projects should have multiple benefits for the broader Bayview Hunters Point district, she said.

Contacts:
Marcia Rosen, San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, (415) 749-2588.
Tim Colen, San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, (415) 541-9001.
Bayview Hunters Point Project Area website: www.sfgov.org/site/sfra_page.asp?id=5581
Bayview Hunters Point Project Area Committee website: www.bvhp-pac.org

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