Shameful Demolition of Homeless Housing

Rehabbed units on right

What a shame.  What a waste.  There is decent former Navy housing for the homeless near the Main Street Ferry Terminal just two blocks from Target, but our city is tearing it down.  Meanwhile a for-profit developer has upgraded similar units that were built next door in the same year and is getting market rate rent for them.

The three- and four-bedroom apartments were constructed in 1969.  Their interiors were remodeled and new dual-pane vinyl windows installed shortly before the Coast Guard families vacated the Navy-owned site in 2005, leaving the units pretty much in move-in condition.

In 2019 the Navy gave the city 13 acres containing 96 units of vacant housing in this area known as North Housing.  The sole purpose of the land conveyance was to provide housing and services for the homeless.

The city could have been housing homeless people in some of these units for the past decade under a special lease arrangement until the city took title of the land.  The Alameda Point Collaborative and the Midway Shelter did this at Alameda Point while it was still owned by the Navy.

Now the city’s Housing Authority is in the process of tearing down these remodeled units in order to implement a 10-year plan to build higher density units that could also potentially accommodate a private developer’s market rate homes.

The rationale for not using the existing units is that people who require supportive housing do not need three or four bedrooms.  It is hard to understand why strapped families would not want the added space but families of higher means demand it.

Debbie Potter, Director of Base Reuse & Community Development, also said it would be expensive to re-meter the units for utilities—a logic that was not an obstacle for the for-profit developer next door.

The city has long paid lip service to housing the homeless, but its primary goal is to add a large quantity of housing, mostly at market rate around the city, to meet arbitrary regional housing quotas.  The push is not to house the needy.

The soon-to-be-demolished units could have housed homeless people now while we plan for other units elsewhere.  Meanwhile, a mile way, city officials have provided a portable toilet for the homeless living in tents and cars by the side of the road, and four FEMA trailers have been provided for the homeless at Alameda Point.

Something is wrong when we decide to provide band-aid approaches while a larger remedy is sitting on our doorstep.  Rather than re-use the units like the developer next door did, and like the Navy thought we would, our demolition waste will end up in a landfill.  And many homeless individuals who could otherwise be housed immediately will be left to fend for themselves on the side of the road.

Originally published in Alameda Sun


Fenced in backyards with storage units

Covered entrances

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3 Responses to Shameful Demolition of Homeless Housing

  1. Mary Ellen McMuldren says:

    Thank you for writing about this. Without local journalists writing about our city’s activities it is very hard to figure out what is going on. I had noticed both the rundown housing and the refurbished housing and I was very confused. Your article just makes me wonder when the sale was to the private group that refurbished apartments. I vaguely remember objections to keeping the housing based on asbestos hazards, lead paint, etc.

    • Irene says:

      You’re welcome. The private group, Carmel Partners, won the auction bid for $38 million in July 2017.

      Lead and asbestos are only a problem when they are disturbed or when demolition happens. Almost all homes built before lead paint was banned in the mid-1970s, which includes almost every home on Alameda island, have lead paint on some of the surfaces. Some homes have asbestos, usually around furnace heating pipes and in old linoleum flooring.

  2. Mary-Jo Knight says:

    I am appalled that our City government is so uncaring about homeless people who are in desperate need. I forwarded your story to the editors of the NYTimes and San Francisco Chronicle. There ought to be city-wide protests to stop this demolition. Thank you for sharing this!

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