Opinion: Oakland City Council Should Prioritize Affordable Housing Impact Fees

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By Pamela Hall, ACCE State Board Member

 

In November this year, the city of Oakland will be considering passing an impact fee, a one-time fee imposed on developers that ensures private developers pay their fair share in mitigating the needs for housing, services and infrastructure created by their new projects.

 

When new market-rate housing is developed, it brings in new, affluent residents. These residents need goods and services – and that means new low-wage or service sector jobs.

 

The retail workers, childcare providers and other people in these jobs can’t afford market-rate housing, so new development increases the need for affordable housing.

 

At ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment), as a member-driven group organizing the flatland communities of east and west Oakland, we know that the shortage of affordable housing is the biggest crisis facing our city. At stake is the culture and vitality of Oakland’s long-standing communities, who are being displaced for the highest dollar.

 

The time is now for solutions, including impact fees and creating higher standards for development, affordable housing and jobs to lift up our communities and our workers.

 

Oakland is in a real estate boom – and predominantly African-American and Latino communities are collateral damage in the development frenzy enveloping our city.

 

As a housing advocate who works directly with folks impacted on the ground, I experience this every day. In 2012, rental costs shot up by 12 percent; in 2013, this number increased to 15 percent.

 

In the last 10 years alone Oakland has lost a quarter of its African-American population. This is despite an economic recovery that is bringing tens of thousands of jobs to the area. In fact, African-American median income declined from $42,975 in 2000 to $35,050 a decade later.

 

For these reasons, impact fees collected from developers should go, first and foremost, to building affordable housing so our communities can stay here.

 

Furthermore, the impact fee for affordable housing should not only be set at the highest level possible, but also be implemented as quickly as possible to take advantage of the scale and rapidity of development occurring now.

 

Housing impact fees demand greater accountability from the market-rate developers who contribute to the crisis of displacement in Oakland. This is the least that the City can demand from developers, and the least developers can contribute to the communities they are entering and profiting from.

 

Impact fees are not a new or risky policy move either. 27 other Bay Area cities have successfully implemented affordable housing impact fees, including cities like San Francisco, Emeryville, Berkeley and San Jose, with no major impacts on development or rents.

 

An affordable housing impact fee is the least the city of Oakland can do to help build permanently affordable homes for the city’s workers and families.

 

The time is now to place people over development.

 

Oakland requires over 7,000 new affordable housing units in the next 7 years. Its current plan will build only 1,500. With multiple developments in the pipeline, and Uber’s move into downtown Oakland there is a heightened need for impact fees. Thousands of low-wage jobs will be created, and these workers deserve to be able to live in Oakland and call this city their home.

 

If we are to maintain Oakland’s historic diversity, developers need to pay their fair share, to offset the impact of their development. An affordable housing impact fee is the least the city of Oakland can do to help build permanently affordable homes for the city’s workers and families.

 

We need an affordable housing impact fee, and we can’t wait any longer.

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