All Oaklanders should be deeply concerned about the ongoing displacement of long-time Oakland residents who can no longer afford to live in the city or who have been pushed out of affordable housing, whether through legal or illegal means. While we debate about the number of victims, what government or the private sector should do to alleviate the high demand for affordable housing, or what we should be doing to protect tenants, families continue to move out of the city to less costly locales in the Bay Area. As we struggle to decide what, if anything, can be done to stem the tide of displacement, we must also consider the fate of the displaced. What is the City’s responsibility to those former Oakland residents now residing in cities across the region where less government and civic infrastructure exist to support their needs?
Recently, the Oakland Community Land Trust’s director informed us of an effort in Portland, Oregon, to give first preference in affordable housing openings to displaced residents who had been priced out of their own neighborhoods. This sparked our own thinking, not only about what could be done to bring displaced residents back to Oakland, but whether the city has any obligations to displaced residents that have taken up residence in other cities. This issue also raises the question: Which important services tied to residency do displaced residents lose when they leave Oakland?
One of the most important losses for displaced residents is their eligibility for employment under two major community benefits agreements for large development projects: Brooklyn Basin and the Oakland Army Base. In partnership with Oakland Community Organizations, East Bay Asian Youth Center, and Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Urban Strategies Council is a signatory to an agreement with Brooklyn Basin developers, which will provide a minimum of 300,000 hours to new construction trades apprentices on the project to “qualified Oakland residents.” The Oakland Army Base jobs agreement between the City of Oakland and the Army Base developers requires that contractors utilize Oakland residents to complete at least 50% of all construction hours on the project. Under current agreements, displaced residents do not meet the residency requirements, making them ineligible for the developers to count against their local hire requirements and, thus, less desirable hires for the developers.
City officials, community benefits advocates, building trades unions, and developers should move immediately to fix this problem by developing or amending policies on residency that reflect the displacement phenomenon. This could be achieved by establishing simple, non-burdensome methods to document prior residency and then communicating through community- and faith-based organizations in Oakland and cities receiving large numbers of former Oakland residents that eligibility for these employment opportunities remain for those pushed out of Oakland due to the housing crisis.
While our most immediate concern is employment opportunities and the residency requirement connected to community benefits agreements requiring Oakland residency, a broader set of questions related to eligibility for other employment and social services remains. We will be talking with advocates, public agency staff and community-based service providers to understand if similar issues arise for displaced Oakland residents regarding eligibility for other critical services.