Last Thursday, Mayor Libby Schaaf, Councilmember Abel Guillen, and OUSD Board President James Harris, along with other public leaders, joined neighbors and community-based organizations along our waterfront to mark a critical step in the long process to get much needed affordable housing constructed in Oakland.
It’s now been thirteen years since the formation of the Oak to Ninth (now Brooklyn Basin) Community Benefits Coalition, made up of three organizations with a membership of low-income families and senior citizens: East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN); and the Urban Strategies Council. And, it has been ten years since Oakland’s City Council approved a Development Agreement for a 3,100-unit project along Oakland’s waterfront. As part of that process, the Coalition was able to negotiate a legally binding agreement with the City of Oakland’s Redevelopment Agency to fund the construction of 465 affordable housing units. Thursday’s event served as a public reminder of that commitment.
With the dissolution of Redevelopment in California, and a delay in breaking ground at Brooklyn Basin due to the Great Recession, the fate of the Coalition’s binding agreement has been in limbo. However, last week’s Coalition-sponsored gathering marked the submission of a financing plan to the State to fulfill the Coalition’s agreement with the former Redevelopment Agency and make good on a decade old promise that will result in much needed affordable housing.
While the road has been long, it would come as no surprise to affordable housing developers that such effort is required to ensure affordable housing is built. This is especially true now that Redevelopment funds have disappeared after having played such a critical role in financing affordable housing in California for years. In fact, as part of a recent study, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco surveyed the state’s affordable housing developers to assess the impacts that the loss of Redevelopment had on their work. They found that 90% identified an “increased need for affordable housing in their markets over the past three years” and nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents have had pipeline projects “jeopardized, postponed, or canceled for funding reasons.”
The lack of funding for affordable housing is a cause for concern across California. In Oakland, where the number of market rate units in the pipeline dwarfs that of affordable units, the reality is that without the promised funds from Redevelopment, the 465 affordable units at Brooklyn Basin will simply not be built. However, if the State fulfills its obligation to Oakland’s residents, these funds would come at a time when an individual making Oakland’s minimum wage would need to work 3.7 full-time jobs to afford median rent ($2,444) in the city, and when families in Oakland making the Median Household Income ($52,962) need to devote more than half of that income (55.4%) to housing costs if paying the median rent. So, releasing the funds and recognizing the obligation put forth in the Coalition’s agreement isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes sound policy, as well.