Amid an intensifying housing crisis in Oakland, City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Councilmember Desley Brooks are speaking out against a new proposal from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Agency (HUD) to lower the value of Section 8 vouchers that pay for housing of low-income residents.
The HUD proposal was announced last week and would change the formula that calculates how much local Housing Authorities can subsidize rents in their regions. However, experts say the new proposal is based on data that is two years old.
The proposal would increase the burden on residents, especially in Oakland, who are already struggling with rising rent prices and a lack of affordable housing, housing advocates have said.
Currently, over 50 percent of low-income residents in Oakland contribute more than 30 percent of their income to housing, according to the Housing Equity Roadmap produced by the City of Oakland and PolicyLink.
Additionally, the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) says of the 609 residents who were awarded Section 8 vouchers this year, only 115 (18.9 percent) have been able to find places to rent.
“What we’ve found today in the HUD proposal is that (what they say is) fair market isn’t fair. Decreasing fair market rents is the wrong course of action for our city and for our nation at this time,” said Council President McElhaney, speaking at an Oct. 8 press conference at City Hall.
“Section 8 was, most importantly, intended to de-concentrate poverty. Our low-income families won’t be able to secure rental units with the fewer dollars to spend in a skyrocketing market,” she added.
The reduction will place more pressure on affordable housing, McElhaney said, which is already scarce in the city.
The new formula contributing to displacement, forcing more low-income residents out of Oakland, said Councilmember Brooks.
The Housing Equity Roadmap notes that between 2000 and 2010, Oakland’s African American population declined by 24 percent.
“The Section 8 program is supposed to be a program of choice to provide people an opportunity to move to the neighborhoods that they choose to,” said Brooks. “If it’s truly about choice and people’s choice is to live in the city that they were born and raised in, then we need to be able to give them that opportunity.”
“It is merely a matter of the HUD secretary making a decision to really truly allow people in urban neighborhoods to live in dignity and live in a manner in which they should be allowed to like anybody else,” Brooks said.
The City Council is expected to vote on the McElhaney and Brook’s recommendation to oppose the new HUD proposal on Oct. 20 at 5:30 p.m.
“We want our families to stay whole and we want HUD to play fair,” said McElhaney.