Oakland’s City Council took steps Wednesday night to address the city’s current housing problem by unanimously approving the “Housing Action Plan and Policy Framework” set out in the “Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap.”
The roadmap, which was submitted to the city’s Community & Economic Development committee (CED) this June, evaluates problems facing economically vulnerable people and families, and presents a framework for policy strategies to prevent the displacement of long-time residents, build new affordable housing, and improve housing habitability and tenant health while maintaining affordability.
The framework’s adoption was originally delayed in July so additional details could be added to the roadmap, but at the meeting Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan said the “urgent displacement crisis” can’t be put off any longer, and that Oaklanders need immediate assistance. Kaplan urged her council colleagues to approve the roadmap in an open letter on September 24 writing, “The displacement crisis is tearing families and communities apart.”
At the special council session dedicated to discussing housing policy, Oakland residents stepped to the podium to talk about race, economic displacement, gentrification and a lack of government support for those effected by the rising cost of housing.
“I work everyday,” resident Latifa Lewis told the council while trying to hold back her tears as she tightly held her two little girls. “But we’re being displaced.”
“We don’t know where we’re going to go yet,” Lewis said. “Your actions came a little too late for me, but I hope that by sharing my story, it will move you to take action a lot faster.”
Other residents shared their concerns about gentrification, and the difficulties faced by people of color being outpriced by aggressive landlords and affluent newcomers. “We’re made to believe that gentrification is a good thing, and this influx of white newcomers moving into Oakland makes things better,” said Javarre Wilson, a long-time Oakland resident. “I’m sick and tired hearing about this Christopher Columbus attitude suggesting that ‘We have discovered Oakland, and we’re making things better for everybody.’”
“Brown and black people have a culture that has been laid down in Oakland a generation before they arrived,” Wilson went on, to roaring applause from the audience. “I don’t disapprove of white people moving to Oakland; I disapprove of the self-entitlement, privileged attitudes that accompany them in displacing black and brown people.”
“The housing crisis is now,” said Kaplan speaking after the public comments section. “We have people being kicked out of their homes today, many in ways that are illegal.”
Councilmembers Desley Brooks (District 6), and Abel Guillén (District 2) also said it was necessary to immediately address the issue of affordable housing. “The bottom line is that we have a housing shortage in the city of Oakland,” said Guillén. “In the last seven years, the city of Oakland did not meet its regional housing needs analysis. I think we only met 25 percent of that goal.”
To better understand the roadmap, councilmembers heard housing equality presentations from a panel of three experts: Kamila Rose, senior director of the PolicyLink Center for Infrastructure Equity, Muntu Davis, director of Alameda County Public Health, and Ed Del Baccaro, director for Transwestern, a privately-owned real estate firm that works with owners and tenants to understand housing rights and real estate values in the East Bay and Silicon Valley.
The roadmap establishes more than a dozen strategies to prevent tenant displacement. Immediate actions recommended in the roadmap focus on “amending the city’s condominium conversion ordinance to prevent the future loss of rental housing units and tenant displacement,” the production of “new affordable housing, including housing for those living at 15 percent are median income (AMI) or below,” and the incentivization of property owners to “contribute to housing solutions through voluntary strategies, such as renting second units, donating vacant land for federal tax credits, commitments to long-term affordable rents for state tax credits, and creation of a workforce housing fund.”
In an effort to prevent tenant displacement, the city will also “weigh in with the U.S. Congress and the Administration to supplement dwindling federal investments in affordable housing” and “address bad faith evictions and evictions of long-term residents, develop a standard city tenant relocation policy, and fund city program operations.” The increase of funds to assist with “housing first and rapid rehousing subsidies and services to identify housing appropriate for homeless households” was also predicated in the roadmap along with “prioritizing public land for use toward affordable housing.”
Panelist Rose delivered a presentation using data from a 2014 University of Southern California analysis showing that between the years of 2000 and 2010, the number of children in Oakland dropped by 16.7 percent, the African American population declined by 24 percent, and that there has been a 25 percent decline in homeownership in East Oakland neighborhoods. Rose also sourced a 2014 Brookings Institute report saying Oakland is ranked as the city with the seventh highest level of income inequality in the nation, and data gathered from the Alameda County Clerk-Recorder’s office showing that “42 percent of all foreclosed properties in Oakland between 2007 and October 2011 were purchased by investor speculators.”
“There were 10,900 three-day eviction notices given last year, and the city doesn’t know how many of those resulted in full-out evictions,” said Rose. She recommended that the city have “landlords register their rental properties and when they issue tenant eviction notices, actually filing those with the city, and the city checking to make sure they’re actually legal evictions.”
Although the council unanimously approved the policy framework, both councilmembers and residents said throughout the evening that this is only the first step in a series of policies to be addressed in future meetings. “It’s not going to meet all the needs we want it to meet, so we need to look at other policies that we need to put in place to address the critical needs that we face,” said Guillen. “Oakland, for a long time, has been blessed to have a lot of diversity, and if we want to maintain that diversity, we need to be intentional about what that means and what that looks like.”
The complete report for Oakland’s Housing Equality Roadmap is available for download at: http://www.policylink.org/sites/default/files/pl_report_oak%20housing_070715_0.pdf