By Pastor Gerald Agee, Andy Nelson and Elena Serrano,
The Oakland City Council will vote July 19 an unprecedented $600 million Infrastructure bond, allocating $350 million for street and sidewalk improvements, $150 million for facilities upgrades, and $100 million for “Anti-Displacement” and Affordable Housing.
Oakland’s streets and sidewalks in our flatland neighborhoods are a sad mess, so why did a group of long-time Oakland faith, community, and small business leaders write a letter to the mayor and council expressing strong concerns about the bond?
First and foremost, the city’s proposed bond will exacerbate displacement pressures for low-income homeowners and does not effectively protect Oakland’s long-time, lower-income, predominately African American people from displacement.
Research shows that there are an estimated 10,000 Oakland homeowners who are at high risk of losing their homes because they’re paying 50 percent or more of their income towards housing costs.
African Americans are disproportionately impacted with 32 percent of African American homeowners at high risk, three times the rate of other homeowners in Oakland.
Rather than utilizing the majority of the Bond funds for anti-displacement measures, Mayor Schaaf and Councilmembers Abel Guillen and Annie Campbell-Washington are proposing to add about $400 more to the property taxes of already struggling homeowners to pay for citywide improvements from which these residents may not be around to benefit.
The city’s proposal of a rebate program is insufficient given that struggling homeowners would have to first pay more property taxes and then apply and wait for the city to refund them.
And when those homeowners are behind on tax payments, interest and penalties then accrue on that additional $400 tax. We are already seeing seniors losing their homes to a few thousand in back property taxes—the City’s bond will only exacerbate this crisis.
The bond will also incentivize landlords to raise rents for tenants – while the city’s bond costs can’t be passed through to tenants of rent controlled units, about 40 percent of Oakland’s rental housing stock can’t be covered under local rent control protections so costs can be passed along to tenants in these units.
Second, before the City burdens its lower income residents, it should implement alternatives like the new State Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District that utilizes existing taxes or pass a real estate transfer surcharge on properties selling for over $1 million.
Third, there is no Equity Plan in place to ensure that flatland neighborhoods, historically neglected by City public works, will receive priority for the $350 million streets and sidewalks fund or ensure that sidewalks will be prioritized over bike lanes.
Fourth, the language on community oversight is vague and lacks sufficient accountability to provide confidence for a public that’s felt burned by previous City tax measures.
So why weren’t these issues adequately addressed and more funds dedicated to anti-displacement measures?
Perhaps this bond misses the point when it comes to the needs of Oaklanders because the city lacked an inclusive community process when vetting the Bond and lost an opportunity to get meaningful feedback from residents.
In contrast, the process for developing Alameda County’s Housing Bond was a model of inclusive policy-making. County leaders organized over 10 community stakeholder forums, conducted proactive outreach to different community, faith, and civic groups, and held over 6 public meetings-
Our experience informs us that Oakland does best when its elected officials act on their rhetoric of caring about the most vulnerable residents, with real, tangible, and inclusive policy action.
The city should go back to the drawing board, hold an inclusive resident engagement process in all parts of Oakland, and then return with a bond proposal that we can all get behind.
By Pastor Gerald Agee, Friendship Christian Center, Andy Nelson, District 5 homeowner and long time Oakland community member/advocate, Elena Serrano, EastSide Arts Alliance Collective