Ali Youssefi, a dynamic young developer involved in some of Sacramento’s most important projects during its current renaissance, died Saturday after a battle with cancer. He was 35.
Youssefi was the driving force behind the Warehouse Artist Lofts on R Street, an affordable housing project where some of the city’s newest wave of musicians, painters and poets live. He was partnering with developer Bay Miry on the redevelopment of the 700 block of K Street and with the Sacramento Kings on building apartments in the 800 block of K Street.
Youssefi’s family announced his death on Facebook.
“We are broken-hearted to share that our beloved husband, son, brother and friend Ali Youssefi passed away in the early hours this morning, Saturday March 10th,” his wife, Azzie Youssefi, wrote.
The family said it was arranging a memorial for Youssefi. “I know that Ali had effected so many lives and formed special relationships with many people in this city and across the country,” the post read.
"Ali was a friend whose generosity, vision and determination helped shape Sacramento into the vibrant and inclusive community it is today," said Mayor Darrell Steinberg in a statement. "He was an embodiment of Sacramento values and was unfairly taken too early from this world."
Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the central city, choked back tears as he spoke about a young man who “was not only the future of our development community, but had the biggest heart.”
“For as young as he was, he made just an undeniable impact on not only the city, but on everyone who knew him,” Hansen said. “He left a sense with you that he was a good soul. So there’s a palpable sense of loss not only because of what he had given us, but because of all the promise that is taken from his family and the community. It’s indescribable what we don’t get from not having him here.”
As Sacramento grapples with a housing crisis and skyrocketing rents, Youssefi was one of the few local developers who focused on high-quality affordable housing - especially in the central city. Artists slept on the sidewalk trying get a spot in Warehouse Artist Lofts. Youssefi and the Capitol Area Development Authority were partnering on a new six-story affordable housing apartment building at 17th and S streets with 159 units.
“If we embrace the idea of building mixed-income neighborhoods, Sacramento will be an even more diverse and integrated city than it is today,” Youssefi told the Sacramento Bee in October. “That’s pretty exciting for us.”
Youssefi was born in Sacramento and educated at Dartmouth College. His father, Cyrus, immigrated from Iran and launched the family’s development business.
Youssefi was married in June. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer the next month.
Despite a dire diagnosis, Youssefi remained upbeat. He believed that a positive outlook would contribute to ultimately beating cancer. As recently as three weeks ago, Youssefi believed that his next round of chemotherapy - combined with meditation and positive thinking - would result in his deliverance from cancer.
Last fall, in an interview with the Bee, he gave voice to his outlook on life and how he was coping with his diagnosis. “I’m not daunted by (cancer),” Youssefi said. “I’m convinced that I’m going to overcome this. I’m motivated and focused and deliberate in what I’m doing. It’s just another challenge to overcome.”
In a Feb. 13 text, Youssefi remained positive. "I've been dealing with some annoying (intestinal issues). But I guess that comes with the territory. I'm starting a new chemotherapy regimen...that hopefully will help."
Youssefi represented the next generation of Sacramento leaders. Friends and associates said he had the unique perspective of a child of immigrants who excelled in his studies. He was a standout at Jesuit High School, then ascended to an Ivy League education at Dartmouth.
As a young man he worked in high finance in San Francisco. But he loved Sacramento and he loved his family, opting to return here to make his mark. His father, Cyrus, called Ali "one of the best people I know. I'm lucky to know him."
Father and son worked together as partners, building badly needed workforce housing. Ali Youssefi said he envisioned a Sacramento where people lived near their workplaces and where housing complexes were adjacent to public transportation.
Youssefi also was a well-known partner and part-owner of the Sacramento Kings. He partnered with the team in the development of the 800 block of K Street, which has been a long-time eye sore for the city. Youssefi planned a mixed-use space with apartments and retail.
"His passion to make Sacramento a better place for all forever changed the landscape of the city and we are all better for having known him," said Sacramento Kings Owner and Chairman Vivek Ranadive in a statement. "Ali’s generosity, kindness and warm spirit have left an indelible mark and I'm grateful to have called him a partner."
Youssefi’s loss was felt deeply by those who knew him.
"Ali is the kind of thoughtful, committed leader the development community should emulate," said Maya Wallace, a Sacramento resident and friend of Youssefi.
"Ali was a rare person. He managed to be magnetic, humble, dedicated, hardworking, kind, smart and make a visionary impact on our community all at once," she added. "We were fortunate to benefit from his affable tenacity and his genuine goodness."
Tre Borden attended Jesuit High School with Youssefi and curated the art that fills the walls, halls and elevators at Warehouse Artist Lofts. He said Youssefi “understood Sacramento was at a pivotal turning point” when he developed the arts project.
“Ali had a very empathetic grasp that (artists) are the people that make culture happen and they’re not often the people who are looked after,” Borden said. “He was poised to do so much more and that’s why this is just a gut punch.”
To celebrate Youssefi's life and work, a walking tour of his projects will be held Monday night, starting at WAL at 6 p.m. and proceeding to his 7th Street project.