SF Homeless Project: Is Supportive Housing the answer? Emeryville moves forward with San Pablo Avenue Project

Published On July 2, 2017 | By Rob Arias | News & Commentary, Social Justice

In our last installment of our SF Homeless Project coverage, we spotlighted Oakland’s Compassionate Communities program. The project had ambitions to find housing for a group of 42 unhoused community members living beneath the I-580 underpass at 36th & Magnolia. The efforts were hampered by an unknown high-level of heroin addiction according to the Chronicle and in the end, the experiment literally went down in flames.

The “sanctioned” camp idea was always intended to provide a temporary solution for the unhoused until a more permanent one could be implemented. The City of Oakland is said to be negotiating with Caltrans on a more permanent site for Compassionate Communities under I-580 behind the Extended Stay America hotel. Without embedded services and a pathway out of the grip of addiction and mental illness, and into stable employment, you have to wonder if this will end up being a replay of 36th/Magnolia.

It’s back to square one for some unhoused after the Compassionate Communities program ended.

The Idea behind Supportive Housing

Many Cities these days are turning to the Supportive Housing model that pairs stable housing with “wraparound” services as a way to combat the most chronically homeless. The idea is not cheap, but is said to offer long-term savings by reducing the services that the chronically homeless put pressure on including ambulance, emergency room and police. It’s effectiveness is also said to be unparalleled.

The “housing first” model garnered attention with the success of “The Road Home” program in Salt Lake City. The program was credited with reducing chronic homeless by as much as 91%. Houston, Minneapolis, Denver and other major cities have followed suit by dedicating resources to their own programs.

Locally, the City of Berkeley is moving forward with a Supportive Housing Project at People’s Park and Oakland just passed their budget that includes about $60 million for a new navigation center and affordable/supportive housing. Little Emeryville is now looking to make a regional contribution to help make a dent in homelessness by considering its own supportive housing project.

Many of the accounted for homeless located within Emeryville are living out of their cars and RV’s (Photo: Cindy Warner).

Emeryville Homeless Data

Emeryville itself has a relatively small homeless population estimated to be less than 100 in a recent survey (although the data is considered unreliable by many). Emeryville has largely discouraged encampments from taking root in our parks, overpasses and other open spaces. A large portion of our homeless are said to be centered around the Emeryville Marina and live in their cars and RV’s. There are also some liveaboards which for some has been described at a last resort before being homeless.

Our borders are clearly another story. Most of the largest encampments including the infamous Wood Street encampment, are just across the West Oakland border. This recent KQED article estimates the number of Oakland’s encampments at as many as 200. It’s become hard to find an underpass in the area without tents. There are an estimated 6,200 homeless in Alameda County on any given day.

The site is a gateway to Emeryville from West Oakland and bordered by the I-580 underpass.

Nonprofit ECAP at center of project

The City presented findings from a financial feasibility analysis and held a study session on May 2nd to discuss options for a parcel of land that encompasses 3600-3620 San Pablo. The .39-acre property located on the east side of San Pablo Avenue is the current home of ECAP (Emeryville Citizens Assistance Program), Golden Gate Locksmith and the shuttered Doug’s BBQ. The project would essentially be bookended by the planned affordable development at 3706 San Pablo and the California Hotel affordable housing just on the other side of the I-580 overpass.

The line for food donations at ECAP often stretches around the block these days.

The location was chosen because of its long history of servicing individuals in need through the nonprofit ECAP as well its compliance with zoning regulations. The organization was founded by former Emeryville City Councilmember Nellie Hannon 30 years ago. The city currently subsidized ECAP’s rent of the space which is $63,000 annually.

Hannon’s brother Bobby Miller stepped in to head operations after retiring from his profession. He has helped advocate for amenities for the organization that would help them better facilitate assistance including an increased space for ECAP’s food pantry.

Financial Feasibility Study Presented to Council

The three parcels, all owned by the same private individual, would first have to be acquired by the city which is listed at $3.25 million (it may in fact be ultimately appraised or negotiated for a smaller amount).

Land acquisition costs, construction costs, operating costs and other expenses associated with the project are estimated to be upwards of $22.5 million (roughly $577K per unit). Their would likely be remediation costs because of the prior use of the space as a dry cleaner and auto repair service station with costs unknown at this time. Innovative ways of decreasing construction costs for these types of “micro-housing” units are being explored including the use of shipping containers.


Housing Coordinator Catherine Firpo presented various scenarios to Council back in May.

Funding for the project would be created by state housing tax credits and other housing programs. The city would be expected to pick up the remainder of the tab with is estimated to be at least $5.8 million. A funding gap could be created by the loss of federal funding for affordable housing which the Trump administration is said to be mulling. It would be unlikely the project would create much revenue because of the deep rent subsidies and free tenancy to ECAP.

Scenario 1 would include:

  • Three floors with 39 units of housing and 16 parking spaces
  • Ground floor amenities including an expanded ECAP operating space
  • Community services including a possible health clinic, job training, counseling or navigation center

After reviewing several development scenarios, Council opted to move forward with Scenario 1, which then went to the Planning Commission for their input. A majority of the Planning Commission seemed aligned with the choice and the goals of the project. For those experiencing or on the margins of homelessness and the neighborhoods that are being impacted, this project can’t be built soon enough.


This story by The E’ville Eye is part of The SF Homeless Project, a media consortium dedicated to focusing attention on the issue of homelessness in San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area. Follow @bayareahomeless on Twitter for links to additional stories. A complete list of contributors can be viewed here.


This story and others made possible through the contributions of our supporters.

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About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

2 Responses to SF Homeless Project: Is Supportive Housing the answer? Emeryville moves forward with San Pablo Avenue Project

  1. David Buchannan says:

    I would just like to point out that not ALL liveaboards in the marinas are “a last resort before being homeless” as you have specified. In fact, the vast majority fall well outside of this. Allow me to explain:

    Many individuals, myself included, have chosen to live aboard our boats because we enjoy the scenery, the freedom, and the close-knit community that boaters share throughout the Bay Area. I can’t even begin to tell you just how many people offered me their condolences when my wife passed away, from as far south as Oyster Point to up in Point Richmond – many people I’d never even met before. That’s the kind of community that we have, and it’s far preferable to any “apartment community”, condominium association, or so-called “neighborhood”. I know the names of the majority of my neighbors and we will often gather in an impromptu cookout on the docks, talking smack about our alleged “leaders”, trading sports scores, and tossing back a few cold ones, just because it’s a nice night. When I lived in an apartment in Adams Point in Oakland, I knew the people across from me and the one next door to them…that was it. No one else. And we never did anything together.

    When most people think about liveaboards, they have this idea in their heads of some scraggly un-employable type who reeks of booze and wears dirty, soiled clothes. Now, while there are a few of those, the VAST majority are just your average people. Also, liveaboards in a marina should not be confused with those who are living “off the hook” (anchored out) in places like the Jack London Aquatic Center or Richardson Bay – and while a lot of those who ARE “a last resort before being homeless” in this fashion, even they are doing their best to improve their situations.

    As for us? We pay our slip fees, pet fees, and yes, liveaboard fees. We also have our electric bills and other amenities such as cable, phone, and Internet. We just prefer to live a minimalistic lifestyle, free from the clutter of land-based homes, and the best part of it is – if we don’t like the area, we can easily take our homes elsewhere…and make a wonderful adventure of it!

    • Rob Arias says:

      Thanks for this David. I’ve been meaning to do some profiles on the different types of liveboards in the Marina (those that seek freedom, recreation, community … or avoid the crazy rents were experiencing on the “mainland”). I certainly didn’t mean to paint an overarching picture of all Marina residents and I hope this wasn’t your takeaway from the piece. I updated the language to say “for some” as I agree with you that the language sounded a bit harsh & insensitive. My sincere condolences on the loss of your loved one.

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