Oakland Chinatown Residents Demand Community Benefits from Market Rate Housing Development


Oakland Chinatown affordable housing advocates achieved a short reprieve Wednesday when the Planning Commission voted for a two-week delay on the approval of a 416-unit development project known as W12. 


The Planning Commission will revisit the two-building, seven-story project, which is proposed to be built on 12th Street between Webster and Harrison, at a special meeting on Aug. 17.


“Oakland needs more density and more housing, but that housing and development has to be equitable and it has to be inclusive of long time residents, particularly low-income communities of color that are getting pushed out every day,” said Lailan Huen, an organizer with the Chinatown Coalition.


Speakers from both the community and the coalition, which represents over 1,500 Chinatown residents, businesses and organizations, said they feared displacement if the proposed development were to go ahead as-is.


They said they already started negotiating with the developers but have yet to come to an agreement, urging the commission to hold off on approval until a formal Community Benefits Agreement is signed.


“Affordable housing is the number one priority,” said Huen. “We made a little bit of progress, but we need more time.”


A project of San Francisco-based Martin Development Group, the W12 project has no plans to include affordable housing on site. Instead, the developers have opted to pay the city’s new affordable housing impact fee, which would generate about $2.3 million.


The coalition sent a letter earlier this week listing demands and concerns to Oakland City Planner Christina Ferracane, who is overseeing the project.


“While San Francisco Chinatown has zoning protections, Oakland Chinatown does not currently have protections to keep current properties from flipping to corporate developments that could diminish and eventually erase our community,” the letter stated.


Their list of demands include the need for affordable housing, local hire, affordable retail space, and protection of local schools like Amethod Downtown Charter Academy School, which currently occupies about half of the block where the development will be built.


“We don’t know what kind of agreements the owner and buyer has worked out. It’s basically just ‘sign here, shut up and get out of the way,’” said Amethod Public Schools CEO Jorge Lopez.


Lopez said the seller has offered to let the school stay until June 2017 if it waives all claims. However, due to recent toxic environmental concerns, Lopez said he has no idea how much financial liability that may entail.


“It’s like signing a blank check,” he said.


Jason Osler, a principal of Martin Development Group, refused to comment when contacted by the Post.


However, on Wednesday Osler told the Planning Commission the developers have worked extensively with local groups and that paying the impact fee would have huge community benefits.


But Huen said several of the organizations that Osler mentioned, such as the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, do not actually support the development without a Community Benefits Agreement.


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