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The San Francisco Shipyard: Who will live in San Francisco’s new town

Under CC license from Flickr user Chris D 2006
Hunters Point Building

Linda Richardson is sitting in her car just outside a huge, fenced off, construction zone. This is where Lennar Urban is slowly building a new development at the site of the abandoned Navy shipyard. 12,000 homes by 2021. Richardson, a long time resident and community activist, wants to show me who will be most affected by the redevelopment.

“This one is Mariners’ village, part of the shipyard long time ago. This is where, when the shipyard was in operation, the Navy workers lived here," she says. "It’s ordinary folks live here now, and it’s also mixed use income and low income."

These homes still look like army barracks. Many are run down. Gutters are littered. More than a third of the city’s public housing is in Bayview Hunters Point and neighboring Potrero.

“This is called AIMCO properties," says Richardson. "It’s very low income housing. It's probably 30 or 40 years old or more."

As we continue towards 3rd street the neighborhood changes. Houses are nicely painted, the streets are cleaner, and the cars parked here are more expensive. At the end of the block though, there is a barricade. It’s a dead end.

"The reason that they block it up is that they have public housing and a lot of crime," says Richardson.

This community wasn’t always like this. People here used to make a good living when the shipyard was open. But the neighborhood gradually disintegrated after 1974 when the shipyard closed down. Richardson takes me to one of the biggest public housing projects in the area.

“This area is called Hunters View, and just like I mentioned to you before, these are the old units and they have been demolished," she says.

Residents have already started moving in to the new apartments. The city is spending spending $100 million on infrastructure and rental homes over the next two years. Richardson is impressed.

“If you’re low income, and you’re going to move there," she muses, "I don’t think that the mayor of San Francisco has a view like that."

Richardson, who owns a home here, thinks the redevelopment of the shipyard will benefit the entire community. But others do not.

Concerns about San Francisco's redevelopment failures

"I was born and raised over here," says Lenisha Jefferson. "I feel like it’s no help. I don’t feel that the Navy yard is going to be giving the opportunity that they should, that they claim they are giving."

She’s not concerned that the renovated shipyard won’t provide opportunities, exactly. It’s more who it will provide these opportunities for.

"I feel that a lot of people who are going to afford that is going to be a little higher middle class, maybe upper class. They are trying to get more whites, because of course there is a crime rate over here. Violence. A lot of stuff goes on, so of course they want to clear it all out and start over,"

Jefferson says the construction that’s already started on housing projects in this community is already changing the neighborhood’s complexion.

"You know they are remodeling up in West Point and all these places, but half the people can’t move back there. They say it’s low income but then you have to think about the credit report they are going to pull," she says. "What if you don’t have the right credit?"

The city says that credit score is not a factor for existing residents. But Jefferson’s concerns are not lost on city supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents district 10, containing the shipyard and surrounding neighborhoods.

"So this fear of displacement, this fear of being pushed out, is real, and I empathize with it”, Cohen says. "The fear of trusting a system that has historically, systematically isolated, left out, abandoned a community."

In the 1950s and 60s, urban development decimated San Francisco’s African American population in Western Addition and the Fillmore. The city has been adamant, this time, that every current resident of public housing will be relocated to the new and better complexes.

"Another thing that I’m really focused on is that I want to make sure that we are not concentrating poverty in one or two or few isolated pockets," she says. That’s largely the case right now in San Francisco. Poverty is concentrated in the Tenderloin and South of Market, in parts of the Mission and near the Shipyard.

"I want to make sure that we are creating housing on every income level," says Cohen. "That we are not just spending resources and allowing luxury development to happen and not public housing."

Even if nobody gets displaced, though, the new development may drive the market prices up. And that will mean wealthier people moving into a neighborhood that has suffered more foreclosures than any other in San Francisco.

“I would imagine the value of the land will increase. I mean that is just generally the trend of the market," says Cohen.

Concerns about San Francisco's gentrification 

"There was concerns about increased price pressure on housing which we took into account into our planning process," says Thor Kaslofky. He's the project manager for the Hunters Point Shipyard for the San Francisco Office of Community, Investment and Infrastructure. In cooperation with Lennar they are responsible for the implementation of the entire project.

"So we have a very strong affordable housing program. We got this in writing. So our agreement is very strong, it is legal," Kaslofsky says. "On average it's 32%."

So in the next 5 years, Lennar will build about 14 hundred units. 461 will be considered affordable.

"Affordable today," Kaslofsky says, "if I remember some of the numbers were in the mid to the upper 60,000 per year for a family of four. A lot of working class people can afford it with their salaries."

That’s s the first phase. The second promises another 11,500 units, a third of which will be considered affordable.

"We’ve used this opportunity to built a very dilapidated area of the city," Kaslofsky says.

Lennar’s promises include almost 29 million dollars paid to a Community First housing fund. It’s to help neighborhood residents with things like down payment assistance if they want to purchase a home in the revitalized shipyard. These are the kinds of things that Linda Richardson has been wishing for.

"The shipyard, when it’s built, it would generate economic opportunities for them," she says. "People will to be able to locate their businesses there, people will be able to work in there. And that’s the hope."

Richardson says that this redevelopment has been an enormous experiment, in which the community, the city and the developer have worked together to avoid displacement. In a few years, she’ll know if that work can actually offset the pressures of one of the nations hottest real estate markets.

This is the second story in a four part series exploring redevelopment in Bayview Hunter's Point.