Around 2019, a luxury condo building arose on Vernon Street, primely situated across from Whole Foods and a couple of blocks away from Lake Merritt. It had expansive windows, and balconies.
“Your new home in the heart of Adam’s Point,” advertised the website set up to sell the nine units in the “Faraday” building.
But four years later, it’s still nobody’s home.
The high-end property has sat empty since it was built, prompting multiple neighbors to contact The Oaklandside asking why the new development, where condos were at one point listed for sale, is still unoccupied.
“Given our housing crisis, how are units just sitting vacant for years?” said Faith Kirkpatrick, one of the neighbors who reached out. “Walking by it everyday, it just seemed like such a shame.”
Developer Jim Diller, who’s based in the South Bay, told The Oaklandside that a confluence of COVID-era hold-ups and a person breaking into the building and causing a “catastrophic amount of damage” thwarted his plans for the property.
“I was really looking forward to this project, but it’s been a disappointing nightmare,” he said.
The developer bought the Vernon Street site in 2017. At the time there was a small, unoccupied apartment building there. Architect Larson Shores designed the Faraday, which Diller believes to be the first small multi-unit building constructed in Adam’s Point in several decades.
Diller said there were “lots and lots of delays” getting requisite approvals and inspections during the early pandemic years. Once the project had gotten over most of the hurdles, the city asked for some final work to make the building more accessible, the developer said.
While that work was taking place, Diller said he heard from the fire alarm company that his equipment was malfunctioning. When he took a look, he noticed someone was living in the Faraday.
“It went from near-completion to significant setback,” said Michael Hunt, Oakland Fire Department spokesperson. “There was graffiti all over it, and they tore up the walls.”
The fire department issued a red tag in July 2022. The tag, still there, notes that an inspector found a disabled fire alarm and that the building lacked a certificate of occupancy, a document that proves a building is compliant with building codes and other laws and is habitable. When a building is red-tagged, not only is it illegal for it to be used as a residence, but firefighters are also prohibited from entering the building during a blaze, instead fighting the fire from outside of it.
Diller, who changed the locks after the incident, said he welcomed the red tag as a way of keeping people from trespassing. But someone still figured out how to break in again. This time they set a fire.
They “messed with the sprinklers, and flooded the whole building,” Hunt said. “The developer told us they need to redo all of the drywall.”
A lawsuit filed by Diller in May 2020 indicates there were previous issues with the drywall too. The lawsuit alleges shoddy work by company Paradigm, and says the developer was forced to hire another contractor to fix the problems. Paradigm denied the allegations.
Linnette Edwards, a real estate broker who works with Diller, told The Oaklandside that the Faraday has been caught in a “perfect storm of events.”
“COVID, an increase in homelessness, the COVID economy, the real estate market getting tight and hard on the condo side,” she listed.
However, she said there were buyers interested in the units, and one sale was pending—but couldn’t be completed without a certificate of occupancy—for over a year.
The Faraday website still shows some units for sale, with one condo priced close to $1 million.
One of the neighbors who’s been wondering about the vacant building told The Oaklandside she wasn’t happy to see pricey condos built where there used to be an apartment building. The neighborhoods around Lake Merritt are home to many renters, as well as a large unhoused population.
“Oakland is in desperate need of housing that people can actually afford,” said Shawna Reeves, who lived a block away from the Faraday until recently. “Luxury condo buildings are the exact opposite of that.”
Oakland has surpassed its targets for market-rate housing in recent years, but the city lags on affordable development.
The developer and broker said they contacted the city of Oakland about selling the property for use as low-income housing but haven’t heard back. The city does not often buy real estate to operate as a shelter or low-income housing. Instead, Oakland typically leases property or helps a private organization buy a building.
Edwards and Diller said they’re preparing to put the entire property back on the market soon. Fixing the damage again would be too significant of an undertaking, said Diller. They’re planning to ask around $6 million for the property, which could be used as condos or apartments, Edwards said.
“The good news is this isn’t going to sit much longer,” said Edwards. “It’s been a journey, but hopefully it’ll come back to life and be good for the community again.”