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A row of two-story East Oakland houses on a block. All are earth-toned and basically the same, with a garage, no porch and a prominent sedond-story window facing front.

Ballot measure would increase taxes to raise millions for affordable housing in Oakland

on June 7, 2024

When Alameda County voters go to the polls in November, they may be asked to decide how affordable housing is financed for decades to come.

At Tuesday’s Oakland City Council meeting, local and regional housing experts stressed the importance of an upcoming $20 billion regional bond measure that could bring as much as $765 million to Oakland. 

“It really is the most ambitious affordable housing program that we have ever embarked upon in the region and even in the state of California,” Kate Hartley, Bay Area Housing Finance Authority director, said during a presentation to the council.

BAHFA, which is spearheading the project, was established in 2019 under the Metropolitan Transportation Commission as a way for communities to collectively address one of the region’s most pressing challenges. The approach is meant to transform an affordable housing finance system that has become something of a zero-sum game.

“It really was an effort to find a better solution to the fragmented, kind of DIY approach that we in the region were doing — 101 cities and nine counties competing for the same resources and really trying to address housing needs on our own,” Hartley said.

The bond on the fall ballot would be the organization’s most significant action to date. Should it be passed by voters in all nine Bay Area counties, $20 billion will be used to bolster affordable development in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma.

“It is something that could really help us close the gap that we have been seeing and meet the needs of all of our residents,” Chris Norman, chief of staff for the Oakland Housing & Community Development Department, told the council.

To quantify that gap, Norman translated the dollar amount into potential housing units. With the city’s current resources, about 2,390 units could be built in the next eight years. With the $765 million from BAHFA, that number could bump up to about 7,032. Officials would prioritize permanent supportive housing for unhoused residents. Funds also would be used to preserve affordable units and protect residents from displacement.

“I’m excited by this,” Norman said. 

But the bond measure is far from a done deal.

It would have to be passed by a two-thirds majority. That will likely present a challenge, as the bond will increase property taxes. The proposed rate increase would be $24 per $100,000 of assessed property value per year for a $20 billion bond. There is also an option for voters to approve $10 billion, which would drop the rate increase on that assessed property to $10.

In 2022, Oaklanders overwhelmingly supported Measure U, a local affordable housing infrastructure bond. The new bond will need to pass regionwide, a much taller task.

“This is 100% dependent on what happens in November,” Hartley said.

But another ballot measure, known as ACA 1, could improve BAHFA’s chances. If voters approve it in the fall, it will decrease the vote threshold needed for affordable housing bond measures to 55%. 

Council members were optimistic.

“Oakland’s displacement rate for Black Oaklanders is 40%. Pushed out, shoved out, kept out, can’t get back in and are living on a fine line. This is a path to support them,” said Councilmember Treva Reid.

Should the measure pass, the City Council would be required to submit a spending plan for the money. Though there are some requirements to ensure program goals are met, the city would have significant sway over fund allocation. 

“This certainly is a potential really positive, positive addition to our housing budget,” said Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas.

The MTC board will vote once more on the bond before it is officially put on the November ballot. Then the decision will be in the public’s hands.

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