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Oakland council votes in affordable housing, bans investments in gun, ammo companies

on March 6, 2013

Affordable housing advocates gathered at Tuesday night’s Oakland City Council meeting to urge elected officials to prioritize building and funding affordable housing citywide, saying that for vulnerable groups, new projects are the difference between living on the streets or living in a home.

“Affordable housing has kept me from being homeless,” said Arthur Hutchinson, an Oakland resident who also said that he needed surgery to keep from going blind. “It kept me warm in the winter, it kept me safe. Before that, I had no pillow, no bed.”

Alton Wilson, an Oakland resident who has been doing community outreach work for the homeless, had one message for the council: “We can’t afford to stop building affordable housing.”

Ronald Whitfield, 68, who also lives in Oakland, said affordable housing here kept him from living on the streets. His wife was in an accident, and he could only afford rent or her hospital bills—not both. “I’m here to speak for the other homeless people and let you know that if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody,” Whitfield told councilmembers.

The speakers—roughly ten—were prompted by a proposal to fund three new affordable housing projects benefitting the elderly and the homeless. In total, the three community housing groups asked for a little more than $7 million in city assistance. The council approved $3.9 million in affordable housing assistance. Monies would come from a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant and from the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is money set aside from development projects to pay for new housing in Oakland.

The council unanimously approved funding for each project.

“We need to be cognizant that we not only have an affordable housing policy in the city, but a homeownership policy as well,” said Councilmember Desley Brooks (District 6).

In other business, councilmembers also quickly passed two other ordinances Tuesday night. A resolution banning any city investment or financial stake in weapons or ammunition manufacturers passed unanimously. The resolution also directs City Administrator Deanna Santana to look at the city’s current holdings and to ensure that all investments comply with the new regulation.

Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan (at-large), said the city does not currently hold any investments in weapons or ammunition companies. Kaplan, Larry Reid (District 7) and City Attorney Barbara Parker, who authored the legislation, also encouraged city pension plans including those representing police and firefighters, as well as other cities, to adopt similar legislation.

“There is a well-funded corporate effort pushing against our work to stop gun violence,” Kaplan said. “Oakland is now formally part of a national movement that includes cities like Chicago and Los Angeles—communities committed to stopping so many tragedies that take place at the hands of a gun.”

Oakland resident Ken Houston spoke to the council, noting said he witnessed a shooting last weekend. “The latest two homicides were in front of my mother’s house,” Houston said. “Homicides have been affecting me ever since I was a child. It’s a tragedy when a child can pick up a gun easier than they can find a job in our city.”

The council also unanimously passed a new ordinance requiring candidates running for public office as well as political action committees to file their campaign finance statements electronically.

Prior to the legislation, candidates and political groups could report campaign donations (worth $1,000 or more) through the city’s electronic filing system, called NetFile, or on paper. Now, all candidates and political groups must file online. The information would be available to the public immediately.

The city pays for the system based on the number of filers, according to City Clerk LaTonda Simmons. That comes to roughly $33,000 per year, each year, based on an average of 175 filers.

Members of the League of Women Voters, the city’s Public Ethics Commission and other civic organizations came out to speak in support of the ordinance.

“It’s very important in an election to find out who the backers of a candidate are,” said Judy Cox, speaking on behalf of the Metropolitan Greater Oakland Democratic Club, a group that lobbies for transparency in local government. “Electronic filing will make that much more available to any citizen.”

Some speakers said additional resources should be focused on enforcement of campaign finance deadlines and compliance. “We strongly support the public’s right to know, and making information open to the public requires the data to be searchable,” said Helen Hutchison, president of the League of Women voters, which is based in Oakland. “This proposal is an important first step. This will make enforcement of filing requirements more likely.”

The filing of campaign finance forms—for example, those that require candidates to disclose their financial interests and donations received—is enforced by the city clerk, as well as by the city’s ethics commission and the federal Fair Political Practices Commission.

Correction: The name of Alton Wilson, a public speaker, was originally misspelled as Arthur. Another speaker in this article, Arthur Hutchinson, was also misrepresented as being blind. In fact, he told the City Council that he needed surgery to keep from going blind. Oakland North regrets the error. Changes have been amended as of March 11, 2013. 

We’ve also clarified that although community groups requested $7 million in affordable housing assistance, the council approved $3.9 million. 

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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