City Guts Affordable Housing Funds for Low-Income Oaklanders


Oakland City Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee on Tuesday approved an ordinance sponsored by Mayor Libby Schaaf that affordable housing advocates say will “gut” low-income housing funds by expanding the definition of “affordable housing” to include moderate-income housing.


The council chamber was packed as low-income residents and housing groups spoke against the ordinance’s shifting of priorities from assisting low-income renters to people in the higher income scale.



The ordinance itself would implement Oakland’s first citywide housing impact fees, which are one-time fees imposed on market-rate housing developers that can add up to millions of dollars for the city to build much-needed affordable housing.



The organizations at Tuesday’s committee meeting generally supported the implementation of impact fees but were outraged by the last-minute and secretive modification to the ordinance that redefines affordable housing to include housing for households earning up to $110,000 a year.



As a result, this would mean less money to build housing for those earning less than $70,000 a year. Currently, the median household income for Oakland renters is $40,250 annually.



Organizations that opposed this change included SEIUUSWW, East Bay Housing Organizations, East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, Causa Justa: Just Cause, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and Oakland Community Organizations.



The CED committee listened to over 50 speakers who said the shift of funding should not be written into the ordinance, but council members approved the resolution and sent it to the full council.



If passed by City Council, the ordinance would divide Oakland into three zones: Zone 1 for downtown Oakland and the hills, Zone 2 for parts of West Oakland and Coliseum City, and Zone 3 for East Oakland.



Each zone would have different impact fees that would be charged to developers. During a four-year phasing process that begins on Sept. 1, Zone 1 fees would gradually increase from $7,000 per market-rate unit to $24,000 by 2018.



Zone 2 would increase from $5,500 to $19,250 per unit by 2018, and Zone 3 would increase from $750 to $13,000 per unit by 2020.



By comparison, Emeryville and Berkeley have had housing impact fees in place for years, which are currently set at $28,000 per unit regardless of where in the city they are located, considerably more than what Oakland’s fees would look like in 2018 if the council passes the ordinance.



Speakers also opposed a modified provision that would allow developers to forego paying the impact fees if they include 10 percent affordable or moderate-income housing units on site.



“Given the choice to build an equal number of moderate-income units as affordable units, the developers will only build moderate-income units and it won’t generate money for trust funds,” said Gloria Bruce, executive director of East Bay Housing Organizations.



Since developers are likely to choose building moderate-income units, there would be no affordable housing being built on site and no fees going into the city’s affordable housing trust fund, which would also be competing with moderate-income housing for funding, said housing activists.



Housing advocates are calling the ordinance’s overall redistribution of funds for very low-income and low-income housing to moderate-income housing a “Robin Hood in Reverse,” meaning the city is taking money from the majority of Oaklanders who are low income and giving it to the more affluent.



Housing activists say this ordinance – backed by the mayor and city staff – would further displace Oakland’s poorest populations, which are disproportionately communities of color, while incentivizing middle class households to move to the city with the city’s assistance.



Lifelong Oakland resident Gregory Ward told the council members that it seemed they did not want to acknowledge what is currently happening in Oakland as a housing crisis.



“We voted for you because we thought you’d represent and address our needs,” said Ward. “I’m tired of having to come here and say the same thing over and over again. We need housing for the people who are living here right now.”



Another longtime Oakland resident, Theola Polk, said that due to skyrocketing housing prices and rent increases, her grandchildren will not be able to afford to live in the city they grew up in.



“We need to keep the families of low-income residents here so that their families will have a future here,” said Polk. “We do have a housing emergency. It’s an emergency.”



Councilmember Anne Campbell-Washington justified the shift to moderateincome housing in the proposal, saying she had teachers in mind when she backed the change.



The top household limit would be $110,000 for four people. “That’s a family of four with two teachers as parents. That’s who we’re trying to house,” said CampbellWashington. “It’s very important for me to keep our teachers here in Oakland.”



But according to Kitty Kelly Epstein, a longtime Oakland teacher, the councilmember’s ideas are misconceived.



“The typical Oakland teacher doesn’t make anywhere near $70,000 a year so making that number affordable doesn’t make any sense,” said Epstein. “It takes decades for an educator to earn $72,000 a year and the idea that there’s a few families that have two educators in them is not typical.”



“Teachers are concerned for their students,” she said. “They face a constantly rotating set of students because their families are being evicted. What teachers want is a classroom of students who are housed and able to sleep at night.”



Council President Lynette McElhaney responded negatively to the public comments. She said she felt heartbroken seeing low-income residents “vilifying” middle class people who have “finally made it out of the poverty cycle.”



According to James Vann, co-founder of the Oakland Tenants Union, Oakland currently has 6,000 housing units in its pipeline and 98 percent of them are for moderate- to high-income households.



By 2020, the pipeline will have 20,000 moderate- to high-income units, said Vann.



“Nobody is looking out for low-income people,” said Vann. “You’re raising the limit to $72,000 (for one person), and the average income is $30,000. So who are you housing and who is concerned about the people who live here now?”



Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan abstained from the vote, criticizing the city’s lack of transparency in making these last-minute modifications to the ordinance.



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