Affordable housing boosts Ocean Avenue

A wave of development continues to wash over Ocean Avenue as a new affordable housing complex opens up this month.

“This is a good contribution to the Ocean Avenue commercial district,” said Dan Weaver, executive director of Ocean Avenue Association, a neighborhood merchants’ union.

On the 1100 block of Ocean Avenue, a 71-unit affordable housing complex is ready for occupation starting this month. Non-profit organization Mercy Housing has, together with the city of San Francisco, transformed a former public parking lot into an apartment building, thus boosting development in the area.

“The re-development of [three] blocks of rubbish- and graffiti-filled asphalt parking lots is a great achievement of the 10-year Balboa Better Neighborhoods program,” Weaver said. “We got rid of a block of an unattractive asphalt bus and car parking area.”

Featuring a modern, sleek design with neutral colors, the new apartment complex includes a mix of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units. The five-story building offers amenities such as a multi-purpose room for youth residents, on-site laundry facilities and an outdoor play area.

Weaver said that those who remember the former parking lot are pleased with the transformation. The look and feel of the new complex complements the area and helps transform the neighborhood in a positive way.

“When we had the [three] blocks of asphalt, people generally did not walk or even drive through this area,” Weaver said. “It was an unattractive and dangerous mess, particularly at night.”

According to project developer Ileah La Vora, the Mercy Housing complex will be ready for occupation starting this month.

“The building is complete – office staff has started to move in,” she said. “People should be moving in this month.”

In addition to shelter, the complex offers other services to residents, such as after school education and economic strategic planning. The ground floor of the building features more than 6,000 square feet of commercial space, something that La Vora believes will benefit Ingleside.

“It is 71 units above 6,500 square feet of neighborhood-serving retail,” she said. “I think it will have a positive impact on the neighborhood.”

Rick Sprague, regional vice president of Mercy Housing California, said that the demand for affordable housing is greater than the supply, especially in San Francisco’s rising real estate market.

According to Sprague, about 7,000 applications were submitted and processed for 1100 Ocean Ave., but only 70 were approved, through the process of random drawing.

“Guess how many applications we received?” he said. “We received about 100 applications for every apartment.“

According to Sprague, Mercy Housing’s luxury buildings often pioneer further development in a given area. For example, the neighborhood of Market and Mission streets, where an affordable housing complex was built in 2009, used to be underdeveloped but is today home to Twitter, among other large technology companies.

“We build gorgeous buildings in not very nice neighborhoods so usually we are the nicest thing in that neighborhood,” Sprague said.

There are about 136,000 homeless people in California and about one-quarter of all households spend more than half of their combined income on shelter, leaving little money left for other necessities such as food and clothing, said Sprague.

“The numbers are overwhelming – the need is overwhelming,” he said. “The buildings that we are developing are just a drop in the bucket.”

This particular block of Ocean Avenue used to be a large public asphalt space, serving no specific purpose. To turn it into an affordable-housing complex is, according to residents, a good use of the city’s resources.

“I absolutely think it is a positive thing to use the space for something more efficient,” said Tina Wisborn, a visitor of Ingleside, “something that can benefit the community and the people in it.”

A long-term resident himself, Weaver said that many native San Franciscans find it hard to keep up with the rapid increase of rents. He said that the affordable housing complex on Ocean Avenue will benefit Ingleside, not hurt it.

“We appreciate the great diversity of race, age and income in the Ingleside,” he said. “This is one of the main characteristics of our neighborhood.”

About the author

Linda Karlsson