131-Unit Balboa Park Upper Yard Housing Development Awarded Final Approvals

Rendering of the Balboa Park Upper Yard housing development and plaza. Courtesy image

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The 131-unit Upper Yard housing development beside the Balboa Park BART Station received unanimous final approval at the Tuesday meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

The 100% affordable project is expected to break ground in July, said District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who oversees the neighborhood where the development resides. 

“This project has been years in the making,” Safaí said. 

A pre-construction ceremony was held last October during the height of the race for District 11 supervisor.

With backing nearly a decade ago from former District 11 Supervisor John Avalos, who lost his bid for supervisor last year, the project has been long-awaited. The site, located on a former streetcar storage lot, was recently occupied by a pilot project called the Vehicle Triage Center, which served people living in their vehicles.

All of the 131 units of rental housing will have two or three bedrooms, and go for an average of 60% of the Area Median Income. It includes 27 units at 41% the AMI, 23 at 50% the AMI, some units at 80% and a handful at 90-105% AMI.

At least a quarter of the units will be set aside for neighbors in the immediate area and the radius being worked on, Safaí said. Thirty-nine will be occupied by residents relocated from Sunnydale public housing as the units there are redeveloped.

The Upper Yard project includes 10,791 square feet of commercial space, an early childhood education center, community bike space, a resource center and community space, as well as two additional spaces for public benefit purposes or community-serving purposes, according to a Board of Supervisors memorandum.

With a price tag of $120 million, the development received $30 million from California’s funds for affordable housing development. It’s also being funded by the California Tax Credit Allocation Program due to a statewide transportation project falling out, Safaí said.

Support for the project was unanimous among supervisors, but officials acknowledged one letter of opposition that was not afforded a response.

On Feb. 24, Communities United for Health and Justice, a coalition of organizations with roots in District 11, sent a letter to Eric Shaw, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, and other city officials protesting the development and another housing project in the Excelsior for increased rents for its most expensive units. It stated that the AMIs used in the project were too high and out of sync with neighborhood incomes and demographics.

“The increase in higher AMI units, in the fallout of the global pandemic and economic downturn, will certainly diminish access at the only two 100% affordable housing developments in our communities in over 20 years,” the letter states, the second project being the Valente, Marini, Peralta & Co. development on Mission Street.

It was signed by heads of Communities United for Health and Justice, the Filipino Community Center, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, Chinese for Affirmative Action and People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights.

“I think they’re legitimate issues for discussion,” District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston said of the letter, adding that they ought to occur before the final vote of the Board of Supervisors.

Other than the letter, MOHCD had engaged with community members over the course of dozens of meetings, Safaí said. He added that it was made very clear to some community groups opposing the project that the more affordable units being offered at 40% of the AMI meant others would be costlier and “in the more moderate income ranges,” averaging out at 60% of the AMI.

MOHCD representative Amy Chan said that project leads did talk at length with community members about constraints on why financing can’t be changed. Competition for financing at the state level prevented further negotiation.

“I understand that’s not where the community would like to be at, but unfortunately we don’t have additional time to weigh in on the various income levels as proposed,” Chan said. “We are very open to continuing to engage and work with the community.”