‘The Oakland we knew is not going to remain’

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Mercury News – By Marisa Kendall

SLEEK NEW CONDOS rise up amid the graffiti-covered warehouses, artist’s studios and homeless encampments of West Oakland. Construction cranes dot the downtown skyline, and scaffolding-shrouded towers march down Broadway into Temescal.

An extraordinary residential building boom is shaking up Oakland, part of a transformation sweeping the Bay Area as market forces and political initiative combine to address the region’s desperate housing crisis.

“The city is being radically reconfigured — the whole Bay Area is,” said urban geography expert and UC Berkeley professor emeritus Richard Walker. “The Oakland we knew is not going to remain.”

The change is particularly stark in Oakland, where developers and investors began clamoring to build after decades of dismissing the city as dangerous and crime-ridden. Oakland has permitted a staggering 9,710 new homes since 2016, more than twice as many as during the prior nine years. But the construction of those new dwellings — creating hip, trendy neighborhoods for newcomers while pricing out old-timers — is exacerbating the divide between the city’s haves and have-nots.

The building boom is altering Oakland’s skyline, ushering in a new wave of high-rise apartment buildings. Towers in the works include a 33-story building at Broadway and 17th Street, a 40-story building at 1314 Franklin St., and a 23-story building on Webster Street. Construction crews broke ground in May on the 24-story Skylyne at Temescal tower next to the MacArthur BART station.

Those developers have a big incentive to build — Oakland rents have spiked nearly 25 percent since 2015, according to RentCafe, and home prices have jumped almost 40 percent, according to Zillow. But as projects are completed, supply should go up and prices could come down.

“Over the next three years we’re finally going to see more balance between tenants and landlords, because there’s going to be so much more supply coming online,” said Michael Ghielmetti, president of Signature Development Group and Oakland director of city planning and research association SPUR.

Cities throughout the Bay Area are struggling to keep up with the demand to live here, and to make up for years of failing to build enough housing, but the amount of construction they are willing or able to approve varies widely. Oakland permitted 4,284 new homes in 2017, up from 2,121 in 2016. San Jose permitted 2,712 new homes in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, down from a five-year high of 4,724 in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. San Francisco permitted 6,731 new homes last year, a 20-year high.

But permitting is just the first step — projects a city approves may not get built right away, or ever, if the developer runs out of funds or faces other delays. To keep pace with the demand in Oakland, developers need to build an average of 2,125 homes a year for the next eight years, according to a 2017 report by the city’s Housing Cabinet. As of July 31, there were 884 homes completed so far this year.

The building boom and resulting gentrification are squeezing the city’s most vulnerable. After living in Oakland his entire life, 54-year-old Marcus Emery recently found himself homeless for the first time. His landlord died about three years ago, Emery said, and the new owner wanted to raise the rent beyond what he could pay. Emery, who already was behind in payments because of admittedly poor financial decisions, was evicted from the house in West Oakland he’d called home for almost two decades.

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