Construction and sales of upscale urban homes have taken off on a former industrial site near downtown Sacramento called The Mill at Broadway.
The land’s developer says the project will help revitalize an isolated and neglected corner of the city. But residents of two aging public housing complexes next to the new homes worry that they represent the start of broader gentrification that will push them out in time.
“It’s unfortunately going to displace a lot of people,” said Cherysse Davis, a working single mother who rents a subsidized unit in the Alder Grove apartment complex.
Alder Grove’s brick, barracks-like buildings occupy a sizable portion of the Upper Land Park neighborhood next to the Sacramento City Cemetery. A few blocks away, the Marina Vista public-housing complex provides affordable housing in stuccoed structures tucked amid shade trees.
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Across the street from Marina Vista, the new three-story homes of The Mill at Broadway are rising on land that had long been industrial. The Setzer Forest Products plant still operates on a portion of the large parcel along Interstate 5 but will ultimately close.
Plans call for The Mill at Broadway to cover 32 acres with 825 homes when fully built out in a series of four 8-acre phases.
The model houses at The Mill (formerly called Northwest Land Park) include a 553-square-foot unit priced in the $200,000s and a 1,451-square-foot two-bedroom house priced in the $400,000s. They feature sleek reproductions of midcentury furniture and splashes of bright color.
The per-square-foot prices put the houses in the category of highly sought neighborhoods such as Land Park, Curtis Park and East Sacramento.
Promotional materials target younger buyers. The development’s website (millatbroadway.com) and a glossy magazine that serves as a sales brochure show models pursuing outdoor and leisure activities, with the slogan: “Owning a home doesn’t mean settling down. Live on.”
“It really is a product for first-time buyers,” said Kevin Smith, a representative of Ranch Capital LLC, the San Diego private equity firm that’s developing The Mill at Broadway. So far, 24 of 29 units under construction at The Mill are in contract to be sold, though no closings have taken place and no buyers are in residence, he said.
The developer’s daughter, Nichole Zaragoza-Smith, 24, was the first person to sign a contract to buy a home at The Mill. She works on the sales team at the new development and intends to purchase a 1,400-square-foot house for about $375,000.
All the research I’ve read indicates mixed-income housing helps lift people out of poverty instead of creating a cycle of poverty.
Nichole Zaragoza-Smith, salesperson and future resident at The Mill at Broadway
She has been renting in nearby Southside Park, where she said she enjoys the diversity and growing urban vibrancy of downtown Sacramento. She said she thinks the new development, which won’t be fenced off, will help pull together the disparate nearby neighborhoods, including Upper Land Park and Southside Park across the W-X freeway.
“Right now there’s not cohesion,” she said.
The former sociology major at UC Davis also sees the potential redevelopment of Alder Grove and Marina Vista as a way to break up the concentrated poverty there and give residents a better quality of life.
“All the research I’ve read indicates mixed-income housing helps lift people out of poverty instead of creating a cycle of poverty,” she said.
Her father said the infusion of money and new residents from The Mill will benefit its public-housing neighbors. Leataata Floyd Elementary School, adjacent to The Mill, is one of the city’s lower-performing schools.
Developers have already paid $250,000 in school-impact fees, and will likely pay millions more, Smith said. An agreement with the city and the Sacramento City Unified School District funnels the fees to the elementary school and the adjacent Arthur A. Benjamin Health Professions High School, a magnet school that serves students from throughout the district.
“We’d like to be a positive contributor to the community, and we’ve always felt the greatest opportunity was to the school and the kids,” Smith said.
A 2.5-acre farm will be planted at The Mill, allowing schoolchildren to see food being grown, he said. A community park will be open to the public. And a public produce market will occupy an old brick warehouse on the site.
“We understand there are challenges to this neighborhood,” not the least of which is the still-operating wood-products plant and other neighboring industrial sites, he said. But the infill project will be “a catalyst for positive transformation” of the entire area, he said.
Neighbors aren’t so sure. Kevin Wiley, who lives at Marina Vista, said he thinks the influx of young, affluent residents will increase property crimes, and that residents of the public housing projects will be blamed.
“They’re going to say those people are doing the crime, and we might not be doing the crime,” Wiley said. “We don’t think the people moving in there will welcome us.”
Residents of Alder Grove and Marina Vista also say they’re uneasy about a plan by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, which owns and operates the housing projects, to tear down the aging structures and redevelop the projects as denser mixed-income housing in the years to come.
The proposal calls for moving the 1,900 residents in the two projects in successive groups over several years into temporary housing elsewhere. The current 751 units would be replaced with 1,200 to 1,500 new units.
In 20 years, any development that goes on close to the city center is just going to be prime.
Many residents could return to the new neighborhood, but some might be permanently relocated to make space for market-rate housing aimed at people with sufficient incomes to rent and even buy some units, including town houses and single-family homes.
Officials with the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency said in June, after the plan was sent to the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, that they were unsure what percentage of the current residents might be allowed to return.
Angela Jones, the agency’s spokeswoman, did not respond to requests for information last week.
Backed by federal housing dollars, cities around the nation have knocked down aging housing projects and replaced them with scattered units for the poor. The idea is to integrate low-income residents into the larger community rather than keeping them isolated in islands of poverty.
Critics, while acknowledging that the new housing is often a vast improvement over the old, nonetheless have raised concerns that the number of new units often falls short of the number that were demolished. In some situations, such as that of the notorious Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago, the demolished units occupied land next to wealthy areas.
Marina Vista and Alder Grove have long coexisted with the adjacent Upper Land Park neighborhood, where current home listings range in price from $359,000 to $849,000. Marsha Devine, 62, who has lived in the neighborhood for almost 30 years, said she thinks the concerns of public housing residents are justified.
The public housing projects “need a lot of work but are in a great location. As people rediscover downtown there’s going to be a lot more infill and interest in other large swaths of property that haven’t been developed.”
Devine compared it to what happened in San Francisco, where she lived in the late 1970s. That was when working-class areas such as the Western Addition became targets of city redevelopment and grew attractive to higher-earning residents.
“In 20 years, things can change dramatically,” she said. “In 20 years, any development that goes on close to the city center is just going to be prime.”