Housing forum addresses displacement struggle in Oakland
on February 23, 2016
Oakland has become a city of mosts: the most unaffordable city in America, the fourth most expensive city, and the city with the fastest growing inequality, according the Brookings Institution. As a city affected by the Bay Area-wide housing crisis, Oakland drew nearly 400 stakeholders on Saturday to discuss causes and solutions to the issue of displacement, or the struggle to afford housing.
“Nearly a quarter of my residents here in Oakland are housing insecure,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf at the housing forum hosted by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and handful of community organizations. In other words, nearly 100,000 people are at risk for losing their home, are living in unhealthy conditions or are currently homeless. The forum, held at the Oakland Marriot City Center, was designed to bring representatives of the transportation, government, academic and building industries into discussion with community members about the issue of gentrification.
Theola Polk, who moved to Oakland from Arkansas in the 1960s to escape racial segregation, is one of these residents. She said she is at risk of being displaced, and the gentrification she is witnessing reminds her of the displacement she went through in the South.
“We are seeing now another cycle of segregation,” said Polk, a member of East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), which aims to expand affordable housing.
On the table is the “Plan Bay Area” mandate, which outlines how housing and transportation funds will be budgeted until 2040. About $292 billion is at stake. The MTC is the body in charge of transportation financing and planning for the nine counties making up the Bay Area. Nearly 87 percent of the Plan Bay Area funds will be used to maintain and operate transportation. The two agencies are assigned by the state work together on city planning projects.
Ken Kirkey, the planning director for MTC, said the discussions will influence the deliberations that will go into updating Plan Bay Area. He described the housing crisis as a “perfect storm” that is 30 years in the making and in part due to a lack of funding for affordable housing.
Mayor Schaaf and real estate developer Mike Ghielmetti, president of Signature Development Group, are asking the state to foot the $45 million bill for 500 units of affordable housing at Brooklyn Basin. The development has a total of 3,100 units planned and is estimated to cost a total of $1.5 billion. This is the largest real estate project in Oakland and is in line with Schaaf’s belief that providing housing for all income levels will counteract the threat of displacement. There is uncertainty about when Governor Jerry Brown, who backed the Brooklyn Basin project and formerly served as Oakland’s mayor, may respond to the request for funds.
Accosting Schaaf in the hallway, a community organization called the E 12 Coalition questioned the mayor about how her policy will play out on public property near Lake Merritt. Plans were proposed by private developer, Urbancore, to build a market-rate, luxury high-rise on East 12th Street, a piece of surplus land. However, the coalition is fighting back with the argument that the developer is violating the California Surplus Land Act, which states that priority is given to “housing for persons and families of low and moderate income.”
The coalition has developed its own plan with a developer, Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, which would reserve 87 percent of units for low-income residents and 13 percent for moderate-income residents. The city will hear the proposals next week, but it is not known when a decision will be made.
Ayohenia Chaney and Tia Monique, two Oakland residents who are concerned about the changing face of the city, are rallying for affordable housing on this parcel, which is on public land. Chaney lives near East 12th and works in the tech industry. She told Schaaf she has been displaced twice due to the high cost of rent in the area.
“I have too. I have too,” said Schaaf in response before delegating further questions to her chief of staff, Tomiqua Moss. (Her staff later confirmed but did not further explain the statement.)
“People are fearful that bringing high-income residents to that neighborhood will ultimately displace other folks, but if we have units for high-income residents to actually live in, then it doesn’t displace,” said Moss.
In addition to the type of housing built in Oakland, there is the issue of the rate of construction. According to a statistic cited by MTC chair Dave Cortese at the forum, the city has created one housing unit for every 10 jobs in the last five years. As the tech industry draws higher-income, mostly white workers to Oakland, there has simply not been enough housing to absorb the influx, said Moss.
Kirkey, MTC’s planning director, said the forum was meant to bring people from different agencies and levels of policy together to lead to “meaningful changes that can begin to scale the problem.” MTC is also pushing for a merger with ABAG in order to achieve unified solutions to both the housing crisis and weak transit infrastructure. Opponents of the proposal believe it will lead to less transparency.
Towanda Sherry, an Oakland resident of 28 years and a community coalition member, said she was disappointed that the panel didn’t include community representation.
“We forget sometimes were dealing with human beings and you can’t just throw people out like they’re trash,” said Sherry. “Right now the policies are not reflecting the humanity part of the community.”
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