Off of Site, Out of Mind

A preacher and S.F. developers promised 20 affordable town homes in Bayview by Christmas 2003. Many families are still waiting.

What Gary Evans wants now, after years of promises and paperwork, are the keys to his house.

In 2002, Evans and his wife Diane were approved for a town home in Bayview Hope Housing, a not-yet-built complex at 900 Gilman Ave. Bayview Hope was created as part of a controversial deal cut by Downtown developers. To gain approval for construction of high-end condominiums in Rincon Hill, they agreed to build less-expensive units "offsite" in Bayview.

Evans, only vaguely aware of the agreement's details, was elated. After renting in San Francisco for 30 years, he could finally afford his own home.

Yet Bayview Hope, once scheduled for completion by Christmas 2003, wasn't finished until this February, and just a few residents have moved in since late June. Evans remains among those who've spent months in escrow limbo. No one can give him a straight answer as to why he can't move into the home that's ostensibly his.

"If I were a paranoid kind of person," Evans says, "I'd think maybe they just didn't want me to buy here in the city."

The idea for Bayview Hope started in 2000, when Tim Tosta, an attorney at Steefel, Levitt & Weiss, learned from African-American ministers that several church parking lots remained empty six and a half days per week. In a city in dire need of housing — especially inexpensive housing — this seemed like a waste of space.

San Francisco's inclusionary housing laws require developers to sell a percentage of a building's units below market rate. Tosta thought they could construct these units offsite, in neighborhoods where low- and medium-income residents already lived.

He teamed with politically connected pastor Rev. Arnold Townsend to find a minister agreeable to building housing over his parking lot, and a developer willing to experiment. The pair matched Dr. Arelious Walker of the True Hope Church of God in Christ with Union Property Capital (UPC) and Tishman Speyer Properties, who were planning projects in Rincon Hill. They would build inclusionary housing for the 300 Spear St. low-rise condo buildings as town homes at 900 Gilman. The group asked Haight Street Mortgage to run first-time home-buyer workshops in conjunction with a lottery to find buyers.

At the time, laws didn't allow inclusionary housing to be offsite, and some residents and officials believed that building below-market-rate housing offsite would further segregate city residents by class. UPC paid Steefel about $20,000 during 2001 and 2002 to lobby for the deal to happen, according to public filings. They also hired public relations firm Reputation to create a marketing plan, including the Web site www.faithbasedhousing.com, which displayed the life stories of 10 families (including the Evanses) expecting to move in.

Then-Supervisor Mark Leno introduced legislation allowing offsite inclusionary housing if developers built additional units (17 percent of total units, versus 12 percent onsite). It passed, with community support.

"This could revolutionize affordable housing production throughout the United States!" read a press release.

The project was behind schedule almost immediately and construction was delayed more than two years, in addition to the now six-month holdup for buyers to move in. Everyone involved has a different opinion as to what slowed things down.

Initially, Evans says, the developers told tenants the war in Iraq caused a setback with construction materials. UPC managing director Marty Dalton blamed a host of unexpected issues, including five months of PG&E-related delays because of electrical wires too close to the building, and difficulties that first-time buyers had wading through a complex lending process.

Doug Shumaker, deputy director of the Mayor's Office of Housing, said the real problem was the lenders' "growing pains with understanding how the system works." Bayview Hope buyers will receive down-payment assistance and loans from the city, the state, and private lenders. All are dependent on each other, but no agency coordinates the services or answers buyers' questions.

Walker was traveling and unavailable for comment. Townsend did not return calls.

"Everybody had a part in the delays. I don't think there's anything wrong with being honest about that," said Tracy Dearman, president of Haight Street Mortgage. "I'm not pointing fingers; I'm saying, 'Let's all be real.'"

Frustration with the process is one reason just three of the original 10 families are still planning to move into Bayview Hope.

"There was delay upon delay upon delay," said Dearman. "People just didn't really think it was going to happen."

Some prospective buyers gave up and moved to the East Bay; some had salary increases or bought cars on credit, so they no longer qualified financially; some older residents balked when they saw homes with three flights of stairs. A second lottery was held early this year to find more buyers.

At press time, buyers had closed on half of Bayview Hope's 20 units, and a few residents have moved in. One is Regina Chavez, who said it was worth the wait and logistical headaches to own a home. "I love the city," said the former Daly City resident, who works at UCSF and attends church here. "I had a dream of buying a house in San Francisco. I didn't want to live across the Bay."

Chavez said her job as a benefits administrator helped her to navigate the bureaucracy and piles of forms that slowed down other buyers. Many others have been calling the bank, the title company, the city, Haight Street Mortgage, and UPC, trying to understand why delays persist.

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