BART Moves Forward With Developing Affordable Housing in West Oakland Station Amid the Pandemic

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The Oakland Planning Commission approved a massive housing program last week to be built at the West Oakland BART Station, which is one of the agency’s plans to provide more affordable housing within the vicinity of its stations.

The housing program consists of a 320-foot residential tower, 522 market-rate units, spanned across 14,350 feet of retail area, and has 125 parking spaces, which would be placed at 1451 Seventh St.

A secondary housing project plans to develop 240 residential units, 15,944 square feet of retail, and an additional 50 parking spaces.

BART’s prioritization of housing near its stations has given the massive project a massive boost to its development. It sacrifices parking space in exchange for a concept called “transit-oriented development” (TOD).

BART General Manager Bob Powers released a statement explaining the concept as crucial to the development of the Bay Area. He was confident the project was an unprecedented program that would benefit West Oakland. “Our stations are embedded in many communities, and we have a chance to make those areas work better for everyone,” he said.

The development project has a $690 million budget and is part of a dozen of BART’s building programs that are either being constructed, recently finished, or ready for ground-breaking this year.

Oakland’s planning commission approved the final plans for the two significant housing developments planned in the Mandela Station project. Officials agreed to remove unneeded space within the tower, spare space below the BART track, and cut down the number of garage parking space by 15 units, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

BART officials expect some existing ridership to lessen after parking spaces are reduced. However, analysts predict about 55% of displaced parkers would still choose to take BART, giving the station a net gain as it expects a daily increase of 1,237 trips made by the housing program.

Officials have placed a Community Advisory Committee to oversee the project since five years ago. The team includes China MacFarlane Partners, Harbour Engineering Company, Urban Development Alliance, Strategic local community members, BART, and other stakeholders.

In April, the Board of BART updated the policy of its TOD to include the construction of affordable housing. The revisions would give projects which include affordable housing characteristics, a discount of 30% of the fair market value for its land. If a project has a higher share of affordable housing, it would be eligible for a more significant discount, the Mass Transit Mag reported.

Last month, BART had to put out an economic-saving plan that included incentives for retiring employees and had thought of modifying their train service. Observers expect the worst-case scenario to consist of furloughing staff amid the pandemic.

Since March, BART has only seen its peak of 54,000 riders in October, which is still 13% below its average ridership before the coronavirus crisis. Officials expect the ridership rates to stay below the former numbers until July 2022.

The continuous loss of riders could cause the agency a staggering $33 million budget deficit during the last quarter of the fiscal year. If the cost-cutting measures that management has planned out do not meet the required savings, it could force them to layoff employees starting in February.

Powers told reporters that they would only reduce their staff as a last resort. He noted the agency carries about 54,000 people every day, noting that their team is needed to carry out the work to support their customers.

The economic situation has placed BART in a precarious position of balancing its budget-savings plan and meeting the needs of its public service mission. Trimming down too much would make it significantly more challenging to recover after the pandemic. However, the agency’s leaders are closely observing local governments and businesses to see how interdependent they are with each other to figure out the next step, MSN reported.

Danielle Joyce Ong

Danielle is a local journalist with a passion for exploring stories related to crime and politics. When Danielle isn't busy writing or reading, she is usually exploring the great outdoors and all the hiking trails in the Bay.