Oakland hosts meeting to address dire housing crisis

While acknowledging the urgent magnitude of a regional housing crisis driving up rents and pushing people out of Oakland, the City Council had no new polices ready to implement at a special meeting Wednesday night.

Instead, the meeting was held for informational purposes and to pass a broad policy outline for action -- a roadmap that anticipated the council would be well into its proposed measures by this point.

City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan criticized the slow response to addressing the skyrocketing cost of living in the city, saying she urged immediate follow up after the roadmap passed the Community and Economic Development Committee in June.

"Oakland does face a real housing crisis. It is significant, it is now, and it requires us to take real action," Kaplan said.

Councilman Dan Kalb, whose North Oakland district has seen some of the most drastic changes over the last decade, said the gravity of the situation could not be overstated.

"If you work here, you should be able to live here. If you live here now, you should be able to continue living here," Kalb said.

But more and more that is not Oakland's reality. Few Oakland residents could afford to stay in their neighborhood if they were forced to move: while the median income for renters is $34,195, the median rent has shot up to exceed $2,200, according to city data.

Numerous residents have already lost their homes in the last decade as the makeup of Oakland has changed considerably. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year there were nearly 11,000 evictions in the city. In the midst of the foreclosure crisis, 11,000 Oakland homes were foreclosed on between 2006 and 2013.

That has affected numerous low-income and minority families. The city's black population has declined by 24 percent from 2000-2010 while the homeownership rate in East Oakland dropped by 25 percent.

Despite 17,000 new jobs coming to the East Bay from 2013 to 2014, median income for black households in Oakland declined from $42,975 in 2000 to $35,050 a decade later while white income increased over that time from $79,102 to $81,959.

The city attorney's office has even alleged that black and minority homeowners were targeted for predatory loans leading up to the 2008 economic collapse, filing a lawsuit seeking damages from Wells Fargo earlier this month.

Wednesday night, the council voted to move forward with a broad package of measures intended to protect tenants facing displacement, shore up the existing housing stock and spur construction of new housing.

Tenant protections could include assistance with relocation and trying to come up with new ways to stop potentially illegal evictions that lower income tenants lack the resources to fight.

The council recently addressed one method landlords used to push rent-controlled tenants out by limiting the amount of capital improvement costs that can be passed down to tenants.

Another aspect of the city's broad plan concerns capital improvements in many houses that may become unlivable without them. According to city data, 42 percent of the city's housing was built prior to World War II and more than 14,000 units may need seismic retrofit.

The council is working on policies to require those improvements while limiting rent increases and providing resources and incentives for landlords.

But the most important -- and most challenging -- aspect of the plan will be to get more housing built.
Oakland's current strategy will see only 1,500 new affordable housing units built over the next 7 years while it estimates more than 7,000 units will be necessary to keep up with rising demand.

Overall the city is estimated to need 14,765 new units by 2023.

The extreme demand for construction creates its own challenges. Ed Del Beccaro, East Bay and Silicon Valley managing director for real estate firm Transwestern, said as he addressed the council tonight that as regional housing demand has shot up, so have construction costs as skilled workers necessary for construction like electricians and welders are in short supply.

The entire Bay Area is facing a housing deficit of thousands of units, driving median home prices to staggering levels -- over $1 million in San Francisco -- with little relief in sight. 

The council promised quick action on some of the proposed measures with some slated to appear on meeting agendas by the end of the year.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who did not attend the meeting, issued a statement during the meeting saying she supports the strategy laid out there.

"As someone who was born and raised in this city, I see and hear the crisis facing Oaklanders all over the city," Schaaf said. "Rents have increased 69 percent in seven years, putting Oakland at the center of a regional housing crisis that requires action now."