The fight to build affordable housing on a parcel of public land by Lake Merritt has once again turned into a tug-of-war between the East 12th St. neighborhood coalition with various community organizations’ support and market-rate developer UrbanCore backed by some of Oakland’s city staff.
On Monday, City Council held an emotional public hearing on the three development proposals for the E. 12th St. parcel, which were submitted by Bridge AVI Avant, Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA) with the E12th Coalition, and UrbanCore with East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC).
While each of the proposals includes affordable housing, SAHA and the E12th Coalition’s plan is the only one designed for 100 percent affordable housing on the site, arguing that city-owned land should be delegated to housing those facing displacement during Oakland’s housing crisis.
Organizations that showed up in support of the E12th Coalition’s proposal included SEIU Local 1021, Asians 4 Black Lives, Oakland Education Association, Causa Justa, Oakland Rising, Urban Habitat, Critical Resistance and Public Advocates.
However, a city staff report released before the public hearing on Monday recommended UrbanCore’s proposal to build 360 units on the site – 252 market-rate units in a tower overlooking Lake Merritt and a separate mid-rise building of 108 affordable units facing the neighborhood.
On Thursday, UrbanCore, EBALDC and city staff submitted a resolution to authorize the city to enter into an exclusive agreement with the market-rate developer to go ahead with their proposal.
The resolution will be voted on during the March 15 City Council meeting.
UrbanCore’s proposal is quite different from their previous proposal to build a luxury apartment tower that had no affordable housing at the site—a violation of California’s Surplus Lands Act.
A leaked legal memo to the City Council by the City Attorney revealed to the public that councilmembers were aware of the illegality of UrbanCore’s proposal but were set to make the agreement anyway.
Back then, supporters of the E12th Coalition took over the City Council meeting to prevent the agreement from being passed. After months of compiling input from hundreds of community members living in the area, the E12th Coalition submitted a proposal for 133 affordable housing units and found an affordable housing developer – SAHA – to make the goal a reality.
On Monday, over 140 speakers signed up to speak on the item, almost all of them in favor of E12th Coalition’s “People’s Proposal.” Young spoken-word artists from 67 Sueños recited poems about their painful experiences of displacement.
James Vann, co-founder of the Oakland Tenants’ Union, told council members they needed to pass a public lands policy to address the use of city-owned land in a way that stops displacement and to prevent the battle for affordable housing from recurring on a case-by-case basis.
While housing advocates are in agreement that market-rate housing needs to be built alongside affordable housing to alleviate Oakland’s housing strain, speakers argued that doing so on city-owned land would be detrimental to residents facing displacement.
“Oakland is in a serious housing crisis due to the evictions of working-class people living here. There is no market-rate housing crisis,” said Vann. “There is probably between 15,000 and 20,000 market-rate units coming through the pipeline in the next five years.”
“We need to use the small amount of public land that we have to house the people who live here,” said Vann.
Krishna Desai of the E12th Coalition said, “The market will take care of market-rate housing. 73 percent of projects currently in the pipeline are for market-rate housing.”
“They’ve got it handled, they don’t need Oakland’s help,” said Desai. “The poor and working class need your help. Luxury housing will displace these folks in the last affordable neighborhood in Oakland.”
Several educators spoke at the meeting, reminding council members that the lives of Oakland families, students and teachers are at stake with this decision.
“We need our students to be able to live here,” said a member of the Oakland Education Association. “Black families are having to move out of Oakland, but they are Oakland. We need them here.”
“I am so glad that this is an election year,” said Mike Hutchinson, a school activist in Oakland. “Five of these eight seats are up for re-election, and if this process of choosing developers over communities doesn’t stop now, we will remember come November.”