City of Oakland

Oakland Mayor Schaaf Should Focus On Affordable Housing Needs, Not Victory Laps During Pandemic

The Office of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf just sent an email that is a kind of victory lap for the production of affordable housing in Oakland. What’s bothersome about the message is the total lack of attention paid to what the total picture looks like. Here’s what the good mayor sent:

Oakland Produces Most Affordable Housing in Single Year, Impact Fees Create Affordable Units Within Market-Rate Projects

Oakland, Ca.— A new report from the City of Oakland shows a substantial number of new market rate buildings also included affordable housing under the city’s “impact fee” program.

Last year, Oakland created the most new affordable units — a total of 624 — in an decade.

Of those, 131 units were built by market-rate developers who opted to include affordable housing within their market rate projects rather than making a payment to fund future affordable housing under the city’s “Impact Fee Policy” adopted in 2016.

The City has also collected over $20 million in affordable housing impact fee payments to date, according to the report, which will be shared at the Community and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday.

“The impact of ‘impact fees’ is more than just money collected for affordable housing down the road,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said. “Our Impact Fee Policy is working along with the other recommendations of our 17K/17K Plan to steadily increase desperately needed affordable housing. We have far more work to do, but the data shows we’re making progress in recovering from the devastating elimination of redevelopment funding, as well as leveraging new market-rate development to create deeply affordable housing throughout the city.”

The comprehensive impact fee program, which also generates funding for transportation improvements and public facilities in the city, was created in 2016. Oakland’s Impact Fee program has been praised by U.C. Berkeley’s Terner Center as one of the most effectively structured programs.

It was part of the 17K/17K Plan created from recommendations in the “Oakland at Home” report produced by the Oakland Housing Cabinet, a group of housing policy experts, Councilmembers, community organizations, affordable housing advocates and residents convened by Mayor Schaaf in 2016.

Even though Oakland’s affordable housing budget was much greater with Redevelopment than with impact fees, which produced a measly $20 million, Libby and her staff insist on pushing impact fees as this thing that saved affordable housing. It seems that a negative echo chamber exists in the Oakland Mayor’s Office, where ideas from outside of it, are ignored over the constant repetition of policy takes based on their own baseless homespun ideas of how cities work.

Oakland new affordable housing units
Oakland new affordable housing units

There is a giant amount of work to do: 628 new affordable housing units is not enough to make up for the deficit in affordable housing that started over a period of years from 2011 to today. As the 2019 Department of Housing and Urban Development Report noted regarding Oakland:

Rising sales prices have acted as a barrier to entry into homeownership which is particularly pronounced for heads of household aged 35 to 44 years, a primeage cohort for first-time homebuyers. From 2000 to 2010, the homeownership rate in the HMA declined by an average of 1.5 percentage points to 59.0 percent as a result of both the dot-com bust and the Great Recession. As economic conditions began to improve, however, the homeownership rate rose slightly to 59.2 percent by 2017. Unlike the trend in the overall HMA, homeownership for heads of household aged 35 to 44 years declined significantly as affordability concerns limited the ability of this group to purchase a house; from 2010 to 2017, homeownership in this age group declined by an average of 0.7 percentage points annually to 49.3 percent in 2017, compared with an average decline of 0.6 percentage points from 2000 to 2010 (Table 6). Nationwide, the homeownership rate for this same prime aged cohort was 57.5 percent during 2017 even after declining by the same average as the HMA, 0.7-percentage points, annually from 2010 to 2017. Despite the improvement in economic conditions recently, high sales prices and rapid price appreciation have priced out potential new homeowners in the HMA. Overall homeownership has declined since 2017, to a current estimate of 57.0 percent

And while Mayor Schaaf touts her 628 new affordable housing units, the growth in the homeless population far surpasses that pop-gun number. The homeless population has jumped by 63% since 2017 in Oakland, where the median house sales price is about $750,000. There are by 2019 pre-pandemic count over 4,000 homeless people — many of them living in what by one estimate from 2019 is said to be 140 encampments of tents and RVs. Moreover, Oakland has not released numbers for a count of homeless people during the Pandemic. Some homeless Oaklanders, like mayoral candidate Derrick Soo, have said the homeless population count is closer to 10,000 people.

Stay tuned.

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