Upper Yard Housing Development Secures Funds As Groundbreaking Delayed By COVID-19

A rendering of the Upper Yard housing development project slated for Balboa Park station. Image courtesy of Mithun.

INGLESIDE, San Francisco — Despite the delay of a “soft” groundbreaking ceremony planned for this week and minor postponement of construction, the community has reason to celebrate the 131-unit affordable housing development to be erected beside the Balboa Park Station.

Years in the making, the project set for the Upper Yard, a Muni parking lot now serving as a center for people who live in their vehicles, has had its actual groundbreaking postponed six months, to the first quarter of 2021, due to the pandemic, Marcia Contreras, deputy executive at the nonprofit developer Mission Housing Development Corporation, told The Ingleside Light. However, millions of dollars has been secured for it at the same time.

“We’re celebrating the lining up of the money and the project moving forward, and the fact that this is on track,” said District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai of the soft groundbreaking. “We’ve worked tremendously hard on this project for the four years I’ve been in office.”

The project, which former District 11 Supervisor John Avalos previously said he’d worked on since 2009, will include a 6,000-square-foot child development center, 2,400-square-foot nonprofit office and a 3,000-square-foot storefront.

Safai, in the midst of a heated reelection campaign against Avalos, announced in June that the project would break ground “this fall or a little later.”

“The construction of the affordable family housing at Balboa Upper Yards (sic) and the Valenti Funeral Home (4840 Mission) continue to be top priorities for this City and the Mayor’s Rebalancing Plan WILL NOT affect the timeline for these projects to move forward,” Safai posted on Facebook in June.

Asked about the development’s groundbreaking delay, Safai said that like other developments, construction is set to occur in phases. He said the project is moving “full steam ahead.”

“We were able to get the mayor to give an additional $30 million to close the financing gap,” Safai said. “This and 4840 (Mission St.) will be two of the first 100% affordable apartment buildings in the entire District 11.”

Mayor London Breed announced in July that $30 million will be directed from the state’s funds for affordable housing development, infrastructure improvements and transportation, as well as the Affordable Housing Bond passed by voters in 2019. About $20 million will go toward affordable housing, $5 million toward construction of the southern Balboa Park BART Station plaza, almost $1.2 million toward bicycle and pedestrian safety on Ocean Avenue and $3.3 million toward three new BART cars.

Though the construction is running behind plan, that’s only the case when compared to the project’s original schedule, which was created before the project’s entitlement process five years ago, Contreras said.

California issued too much in tax-exempt bonds and tax credits to affordable housing developers around a year ago, which caused the federal government to slow things down, Contreras said. As a result, construction on the Upper Yard was moved behind other developments, nearly all outside of San Francisco.

Developers MHDC and Related California, which still require bonds and tax credits to fund most of the development, will be able to secure the remaining necessary funds after the intervention by the Department of Housing and Urban Development expires by the end of the year, Contreras said.

Also set to expire is a temporary homelessness support center, a pilot project known as the Vehicle Triage Center, serving people who live in their vehicles on the one-acre project site. 

Several neighborhood advocates expressed satisfaction with the center and didn’t appear concerned about postponing the development. David Hooper, president of the New Mission Terrace Improvement Association, said the delay may be an opportunity to create a more flexible closing date for the triage center.

“The temporary delay is acceptable so long as the commitment for financing is in place and it continues to serve as a vehicle triage lot focusing on the members of the community who are unhoused and underhoused,” Hooper said.

The “soft” groundbreaking ceremony is being planned by the developers, Safai’s office, BART and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. It will be arranged soon, according to Safai.

Public meetings will be held to review the site and involve community members in the BART Plaza redesign. Scott Falcone, a development consultant for Mission Housing Development Corporation, will work in coordination with the Balboa Park Upper YardCommunity Engagement Committee and Mission Housing Resident Services to schedule the community meetings.

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