As the housing crisis intensifies in the Bay Area, financial coaches, social workers, and other income and asset building service providers have found the focus of their work changing. Clients are more than just housing ‘cost-burdened,’ (spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing), they are often spending more than 50 or 60 percent of their income on a place to live, leaving them with very little money to budget, save, and pay off debt. The focus moves from planning for the future to finding stability in the current moment.
Bobby Stahl, Housing & Economic Development Coordinator at Urban Strategies Council, started off the Convening by framing the issue of affordable housing. He clearly outlined the shape of the housing crisis by explaining that although rents in Oakland, and Alameda County as a whole, have increased hugely in the last few years, wages have remained relatively stable, creating an enormous gap between what it costs to live here and how much the average family is earning. When the median rent for a one bedroom apartment in Alameda County is $2,974, a family would need to hold 5.7 full-time California minimum wage jobs to live here and avoid being cost-burdened. Stahl concluded his introduction by highlighting three main issue areas where work needs to be done to address the housing crisis: tenant protections, production of new affordable housing, and protection of current affordable housing.
Many AC CAN members and supporters were drawn to attend the Convening because both they and their clients are engaged in the struggle to find safe and affordable housing. Direct service providers reported that they do not know where to send their clients for help when they have received an eviction notice or when their rent becomes more than they can afford to pay. Impacting the housing crisis requires both longer term systemic strategies and immediate services for those in crisis. The Convening addressed both areas in two panels where experts in the field of affordable housing shared their work, key issues, and services which their agencies provide.
The first panel, Making Long Term Change, was moderated by Gloria Bruce, the Executive Director of East Bay Housing Organizations. She led a conversation about housing policies which are currently under consideration with panelists Kalima Rose, the Senior Director at PolicyLink’s Center for Infrastructure Equity, Linda Gardner, the Housing Director at Alameda County Housing and Community Development, Steve King, the Executive Director of Oakland Community Land Trust, and Zach Murray, a State and Local Policy Specialist at Grounded Solutions Network.
Conversation among the panelists covered the loss of affordable housing development funding to Alameda County and the County Housing Bond, how community land trusts work to take housing stock out of the speculative market, the importance of involving local communities in policy development and policies working together to create real change in housing, as well as the report A Roadmap Towards Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland, developed by PolicyLink with data support from Urban Strategies Council, as a guide for housing development. Audience members were encouraged to get involved with making change through continuing to educate themselves on the housing bonds which will appear on the November ballot and by educating their clients on the importance of voting for these measures which will improve the housing situation in Oakland and Alameda County.
The second panel, Immediate action – what can you do today to promote affordable housing, was moderated by Maeve Elise Brown, the Executive Director of Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA). The panel addressed some of the programs and services available to support those who are currently in danger of losing their housing or living in unsafe or unsanitary conditions. Panelists included Leah Simon-Weisberg, the Legal Director of Tenants Together, Martina Cucullu Lim, the Housing Program Director at Centro Legal de la Raza, and Pam Hall, a Housing Management Counselor at the City of Oakland’s Housing Assistance Center.
HERA helps clients advocate for their rights with mortgage servicers, debt collectors, lenders, and credit reporting agencies. Their lawyers can help clients to identify their rights as well as determine the best advocacy strategy to impact their situation. Tenants Together provides counseling through their tenants’ hotline to tenants with questions about their rights and their living situations as well as organizing to change housing laws affecting tenants throughout California. Centro Legal de la Raza holds multiple rent adjustment clinics every week at the Housing Assistance Center in Oakland. They also provide Legal assistance for Hayward and Oakland tenants to address issues relating to repairs, security deposits, unlawful rent increases, evictions, and housing discrimination. The City of Oakland’s Housing Assistance Center runs a tenants hotline to provide information and advice. They can also provide temporary assistance with rental costs such as back rent, moving costs, and security deposits to renters who qualify, and assistance with finding affordable housing. They also refer for foreclosure prevention services for homeowners.
For more specific information about all of these services, and their contact information, please download the Affordable Housing Convening Resource Packet at the end of this post. All of the presenters on this panel also emphasized that they are available to present trainings to organizations and staff who serve low-income clients, and to clients themselves. Please contact the organizations directly to schedule workshops for your organization or community group.
Many of the participants in the Convening reported that they now had much more information about the housing crisis and were better able to understand how the struggles of their individual clients were part of a region-wide lack of safe and affordable housing. They were eager to take this information back to their organizations, and to continue the housing conversation over the coming months.
Please download the Affordable Housing Convening Resource Packet to access the event agenda, speaker biographies, brochures about referral services for tenants and homeowners, and information about the Alameda County Community Asset Network.
Please also use the following links to access additional resources for tenants, homeowners, and policy makers.