Riaz Capital to look beyond Oakland to build workforce housing

Developer cites city’s public safety and cleanliness issues in East Bay city

Riaz Capital's Riaz Taplin (Riaz Capital, Getty)
Riaz Capital's Riaz Taplin (Riaz Capital, Getty)

Workforce housing developer Riaz Capital to the city of Oakland: We’re outta here.

The Oakland-based builder is now looking beyond city limits to develop moderately priced homes, saying frustration with the city is forcing it into new markets, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

Concerns about cleanliness and public safety have for the first time compelled the company to venture into neighboring Berkeley with a plan to build more than 300 affordable-by-design homes.

“We’ve been working in Oakland since 1998, and it’s worse than it was then. It’s just sad,” Riaz Taplin, founder and CEO of the company, told the Business Times. “So I look at doing business in other places.”

Taplin, whose 45-year-old company has grown roots in the East Bay city, joined Oakland business leaders this month to demand the city work to revive a dead downtown – where crime is up and homelessness has gotten worse since the pandemic.

The more than 1,000 business leaders declared a call to action, demanding Oakland reopen City Hall and enforce its encampment management plan.

Riaz Capital was founded in 1977 by Taplin’s father, Russ Taplin, who once slept overnight outside of San Francisco’s City Hall to snag condo conversion permits. Then the Loma Prieta earthquake struck in 1989, hammering business.

The company moved to Oakland, where it’s now one of its most active developers. It just finished a 64-unit apartment complex in West Oakland that’s more than half leased.

But two more Riaz projects are not leased up, Taplin said, because of the presence of a nearby homeless encampment. And two of his tenants were shot last year.

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So the company will now look to Berkeley and beyond to build homes, he said. “That’s what the whole Berkeley thing is about — a better quality of life for my customer,” he added.

Riaz Capital has 1,700 units in its development pipeline and will stay active on those projects in Oakland. But the pivot to elsewhere could be a blow for the city. Riaz has consistently built hundreds of units while other developers have yet to start construction. 

Riaz Capital builds mostly studio and efficiency one-bedroom apartments designed to serve the “missing middle,” young professionals who may not qualify for affordable housing but have a tough time paying market rates.

In July, it filed plans to build 189 studio apartments, and 16 one-bedroom units in Jack London Square. Overall rents at its apartments range from the high $1,000s to the low-to-mid $2,000s, according to the Business Times.

Oakland has built less than 3 percent of its state-mandated moderate-income housing, according to public documents.

Before the pandemic, Taplin said he saw Oakland as “this rising star,” with new companies pouring in, its population growing. But then progress was halted by the pandemic, which emptied Downtown and sent residents scurrying into the East Bay suburbs.

In the era of remote work, Downtown’s core business district suffered a 33.1 percent vacancy rate in the third quarter, with office attendance nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, according to business leaders.

— Dana Bartholomew

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