Oakland mayor announces bold rental assistance pilot program

Given all its problems, the City of Oakland keeps fighting for fairness and equity for all its citizens and launched a new program Tuesday that will be big news in other cities. This closely monitored and independently analyzed bold project could lead to other national programs.

"Housing is a human right," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who zoomed reporters in to announce a program with deep importance: Shallow Subsidies. 

200 families will each get ongoing support, averaging $750 a month, for up to 18 months, to reduce their rents by 50%. The $3.4 million fund was created by donations from many nonprofits as well as the Benioff family of Salesforce.

This pilot program is aimed at keeping low-income people in their homes when rents overwhelm them. 

"Every night, thousands of Oaklanders: our elders our children, are sleeping on the street or are one economic emergency away from losing the housing they have," said the mayor. 

"I don't know what I would have done. You know, I can't pay the rent by myself. I only receive income of Social Security," said Shallow Subsidy recipient Laura Sloan.

The human impact in what is perhaps one of the nation's most diverse cities is appalling. Though Oakland's African-America population is only one in every four Oaklanders, African-Americans represent about three out of four of its homeless folks. 

"Families are being displaced. They're being separated from their communities and we want to keep them here in Oakland. We're focused on neighborhoods whose rents have increased by upwards to 90%," said Logan McDonnell of Bay Area Community Services.

The ultimate goal: learn from this experiment and take it from from pilot to policy to permanence. 

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"And so, it's our hope one day that this pilot will no longer be a pilot but it's a way that thousands of other people across the state of California can stay housed," said Janasha Higgins of Tipping Point Community Services. 

"Frankly, a system that allows families to go to bed every night without the fear of losing that most basic human need: shelter," said Mayor Schaaf.

America itself was made rich and powerful by its diversity of people, thoughts and contributions. Oakland is fighting to maintain that treasure trove of human capital.