Category: Affordable Housing

Op-ed: City Council Must Take Immediate Steps to Address to Housing Crisis

Representatives must take emergency action to halt displacement of Oakland residents

Housing rights activists are fighting to keep Oakland from sharing the fate of working families in San Francisco.

Anti-gentrification protest in San Francisco. Housing rights activists are fighting to keep Oakland residents from sharing the fate of working families in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Tim Porter.

By Margaretta Lin

In the tradition of Dr. King, Pastor Agee of Pastors of Oakland and Reverend Buford of Allen Temple remind us that housing is a human right guaranteed under international covenants. It is the job of government to ensure that these rights are safeguarded for its people.

MargarettaLin

MargarettaLin

Today, Oakland families making the median tenant household income of $34,195 would have to pay over 90 percent of their income to cover the current median rent of $2,650.

What can the City of Oakland do to address this unprecedented housing crisis?

There are emergency measures such as enforcing the City’s Tenant Protection Ordinance, using public lands for temporary housing, and requiring a City process prior to tenant evictions.

In addition, on Sept. 30 the City Council approved the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap. Specific ordinances must now be developed and sent to the council for adoption.

The crisis is real and immediate. Foreclosures have devastated Oakland, with the loss of over 11,000 homes. The African American homeownership rate in East Oakland areas has declined by 25 percent.

Over 90 percent of foreclosed homes in East and West Oakland were purchased by investors and largely flipped into market rentals. Under state law, rent controls are not allowed on these single-family homes.

What was once affordable homeownership for Oakland’s working-class became—overnight–unaffordable.

Further, the regional economic boom has escalated demands for housing but is generating jobs mainly at polar ends—high-wage tech and other professional jobs or low-wage service jobs. Housing supply has continued to grossly lag behind the demand.

Finally, structural racism continues to impact access to stable jobs for people of color. This has resulted in a racial wealth gap. From 2000 to 2010, incomes for Oakland’s African American, Latino, and Asian populations declined, while income for the White population increased.

We need comprehensive action from the City Council, Mayor, City Administration, and stakeholder groups. The roadmap identifies 17 recommended actions for these groups.

These strategies are pragmatic—vetted by City departments and based upon best practices.

Nine of these strategies require changes to existing laws and City Council action. The below is a modified City staff timeline for Council legislative action.

Fall 2015:

Tenant eviction protection & relocation requirements; Condo conversion protections; and Seismic retrofit with anti-displacement protections

Winter 2016:

Public lands for affordable housing; Allow second units; and Housing Impact Fee & Mixed Income Development;

Spring 2016:

Proactive rental inspection with anti-displacement; housing bond; and dealing with vacant lots.

Anti-displacement strategies include: preventing the conversion of 29,000 at risk rental units into market rate condo; improving tenant eviction protections and relocation requirements; and requiring the seismic retrofit of 14,000 at-risk rental units with anti-displacement protections.

In addition, city officials can prevent continuing foreclosures through a distressed mortgage notes program.

Strategies to produce more affordable housing include: using public lands for affordable housing; charging a housing impact fee; requiring mixed-income housing on private projects; facilitating second units; and waiving city liens to transform problem properties.

The City can also lead a housing bond measure.

To improve habitability requires a City Council proactive rental inspection policy.

While the city does not have the ability to change regional economic trends, it does have the ability and obligation to house its residents.

As former Congressman and Mayor Ron Dellums says, “Democracy rests on people asserting the fullness of their human rights.”

We greatly need Oakland’s people to engage and demand action from their representatives.

Margaretta Lin is the co-author of the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap along with Kalima Rose from PolicyLink. She was director of Strategic Initiatives for the City of Oakland’s Department of Housing and Community Development and is currently a principal at the Dellums Institute, a social justice advocacy organization.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 16, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Is Oakland a “Sanctuary City” for Its Sanctuaries?

Gentrifiers cause the city to use police and fines to punish drummers, churches and creative artists

Drummers of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians perform with members of the public at Lake Merritt in protest. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

Drummers of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians perform with members of the public at Lake Merritt in protest. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Ashley Chambers and Tulio Ospina

Black churches in Oakland are being asked to moderate their worship voices after neighbors have made noise complaints to the city about the volume of the gospel that is reaching beyond the church walls.

But these churches are not going to be silent. They are standing together to make a “joyful noise” in the community and demanding that sanctuaries in Oakland be protected.

Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church discusses with clergy and Post staff the noise complaints that the church has received from gentrifying neighbors. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church discusses with clergy and Post staff the noise complaints
that the church has received from gentrifying
neighbors. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

An unprecedented coalition is coming together between faith-based organizations and arts community activists, such as the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition and Lake Merritt drummers who are being silenced by Oakland police.

“The institution of the church is one of the foundations of the community,” said Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland. The church received a formal complaint in August from neighbors about loud noise during their Wednesday night choir rehearsal.

Although the church attempted to talk with the neighbors and addressed their concerns in a formal letter, that conversation never happened, said Harris.

The City of Oakland sent a letter dated August 31, 2015, alerting the church of the noise complaint and citing Oakland’s Noise Ordinance, Municipal Code 8.18.

However, clergy are concerned that this letter came without any sort of city outreach – no warning, personal visit or discussion with the church relating to the matter.

Anyka Barber

Anyka Barber

“This activity may constitute a public nuisance due to its impact to the use and quiet enjoyment of the surrounding community’s property,” the letter read, signed by Greg Minor, Assistant to the City Administrator.

According to the city’s letter, the church would be fined a $3,529 nuisance case fee as well as civil penalties of $500 a day if the city moves forward with a public nuisance abatement case.

“This letter from the city without any notification is a direct assault on the African American community in Oakland, especially West Oakland,” said Rev. Lawrence VanHook, pastor of Community Church in West Oakland.

Rev. Gerald Agee, president of Pastors of Oakland and pastor of Friendship Christian Church, said, “It seems a little disheartening that people would come into a community without first researching to see if there are things within that community that they would not like, (rather) than to come in and try to change the community based on their likes and dislikes.”

Pastor Harris, along with other local clergy, Oakland NAACP President George Holland, and Post Publisher Paul Cobb met this week to discuss how faith leaders in Oakland can respond to the attack on Black churches.

“We need to organize in the streets to make a joyful noise,” said Cobb, who encourages the city to protect houses of worship and to make Oakland into a “sanctuary for sanctuaries.”

“You (gentrifiers) don’t tell us how to worship. We will not be ashamed of the gospel,” he said.

Churches are planning outdoor worship services in coming weeks, connected with a voter registration drive.

Like the city’s Black churches, the arts community is finding itself threatened by a handful of residents who consider their cultural expression to be a nuisance. Cultural centers that are rooted in Oakland’s diverse cultural history – the Malonga Casquelourd Center, the Humanist Hall and the SambaFunk! Funkquarians – have faced criminal charges and expensive fines, following complaints by a few residents.

About 100 people attended a meeting Wednesday evening at the Asian Cultural Center, organized by the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, to discuss how to defend cultural expression.

“We are all neighbors in Oakland. We live, we work, we play together here,” said Anyka Barber, a member of the coalition’s steering committee and owner of Betti Ono, a local art gallery.

“The arts and culture community are what make Oakland known worldwide, and this is a critical moment to take action, to be proactive, well-organized and united in our agendas,” said Barber.

Speakers at the meeting emphasized the common interests of Oakland’s churches and the arts community.

“Let’s just say it. The things happening to Black churches in West Oakland are also happening to artists and residents who are predominantly people of color. These are underrepresented communities, and we are aligned, aligned, aligned in our goals,” said Barber.

At the meeting, Post Publisher Cobb called on “artists, the faith-based community and the media to come together and form a Holy Trinity connection.”

Stressing the need to have power at the ballot box, Cobb said, “We can vote artistically minded and faithful leaders into the city government.”

A multicultural drum circle protest last Sunday at Lake Merritt, hosted by the newly formed Soul of Oakland coalition, drew drummers and performers of different backgrounds from around the East Bay to share their cultural sounds.

Councilmember Desley Brooks spoke to the crowd about the importance of raising their voices to demand strong policies to protect residents’ livelihood and cultures.

“First, they came for the Black people in this city, and they pushed them out one by one. In 10 years, we lost about 10,000 Black residents,” said Brooks.

“Then they came and said that artists couldn’t drum at the park,” she said. “They told the churches that they were too loud.”

“Let them hear you,” Brooks said. “Do not let them silence your voices because we are a powerful people, and all of Oakland should hear us.”

In response to questions from the Post, city communications director and Assistant City Administrator Karen Boyd said the West Oakland church has not been listed as a public nuisance.

“We recognize that houses of worship are an intrinsic and vital dimension of Oakland,” said Boyd. “We are working to revise the language in our courtesy notices to reflect our intent to communicate openly with property owners about any complaints we receive so that issues may be resolved.”

Post Publisher Cobb says the City Administrator’s position does not protect the rights of churches.

“The position taken by the City Administrator doesn’t do anything to protect houses of worship that are in jeopardy,” said Cobb. “We must organize to protect houses of worship—we can’t equivocate on the First Amendment.”

The suppression of church and community cultural expression is closely connected to other aspects of gentrification, says community activist and educator Kitty Kelly Epstein.

“Treating the sounds of Oakland residents’ churches and drummers as a public nuisance is related to producing policies that ignore our demands for affordable homes and jobs that will support our ability to continue to live in this city,” she said.

For updates on the “Sancutary4Sanctuaries” Movement, follow Paul Cobb on Twitter @PaulCobbOakland.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 16, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Window for City of Oakland to Act on Housing Opportunities for Residents Is Closing Fast

People moving out

By Margaretta Lin

The international peace leader Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us to write love letters to our elected officials.

My mother taught her children that a true friend tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. This is my love letter to you – the Oakland City Council and Mayor Libby Schaaf – after the other night’s council hearing on Oakland’s housing crisis.

MargarettaLin

MargarettaLin

I am grateful for your unanimous passage of the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap’s action plan.  After so many years of not having sufficient Council votes to pass fair and balanced rules for development, thank you for taking the first step towards historic action.

Your approval of the roadmap means that the city now has one unified housing plan for its many parts—city departments, city administrator, mayor, council offices, and stakeholder groups—to implement.

We know through previous examples like with the federal stimulus efforts under Mayor Dellums or downtown development under Mayor Brown what can be accomplished when the city has unity of purpose.

I also need to share my concerns coming out of the council process with the hopes that it can help inform your future actions.

It deeply troubles me that no council action was supposed to occur at the meeting.

Had there not been intervention from faith, community, and labor leaders combined with the leadership of Councilmembers Brooks, Kalb, and Kaplan, it seems that the council would not have taken any action that night.

With unprecedented housing unaffordability that has contributed to the loss of more than 24 percent of Oakland’s African Americans and 16.7 percent of its children, the time requires swift action, not more study.

We have had years of studies and process, going back to 2007 when Mayor Ron Dellums’ administration and several councilmembers worked with stakeholder groups to develop policies that would have prevented some of the ensuing displacement.

But no council action then was taken because of blockage from private developer interests.

The city had an 18-month process to develop the roadmap that involved many update reports to the Council CED Committee, briefings with council and mayoral offices, integration of the best thinking of city departments and stakeholder groups, data analysis and research, and review by national housing policy experts.

The roadmap lays out this information in an organized way, including identifying the concerns of stakeholder groups as well as ways to achieve housing equity while balancing private interests.

If you haven’t already done so, please read and use the roadmap.

We need you to run, not walk, to work on the nine anti-displacement, affordable housing production, and habitability policies that require follow-up council legislative action.

These policies have been implemented effectively in other cities without landlords or private developers running away.

At the council meeting, it was an amazing sight to see the diversity of Oakland fill the Council Chamber and overflow rooms.  But most of the people were not there when the Council finally took action after 4 1/2 hours.

Please allow the public to speak earlier on the meeting agenda.  And please take Council votes early enough in the meeting so that your constituents are there.

It has been heartbreaking to see so many of Oakland’s elders and families struggle so hard to stay in their homes and hometown.

We greatly need your wise, principled, and courageous leadership and action. The window for Oakland to create opportunities for its struggling residents to remain is fast closing.

Margaretta Lin is the co-author of the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap along with PolicyLink. She served as Director of Strategic Initiatives for the City of Oakland’s Department of Housing and Community Development and is currently a principal with the Dellums Institute, a social justice action tank.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 10, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Churches Respond to Noise Complaints Filed Against West Oakland Church

Neighborhoods gear up to protest gentrification with a “joyful noise”

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland

By Post Staff

African American churches in West Oakland are responding to a neighbor’s complaints to police that worshipers at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church are being too loud.

Elder Ron Rosson, a minister at Pleasant Grove, said he has received complaints about the noise from the city and that he is not apologizing.

“We make a joyful noise is what the Bible says,” said Elder Rosson.

Post publisher Paul Cobb spoke about the complaints that Pleasant Grove has been receiving at last week’s City Council meeting, reminding council members that jubilant worshipping and celebration are a vital part of the Black church experience and must not be suppressed.

“Black churches matter. We will not allow gentrifiers to come into our community and tell us how to worship God,” said Cobb.

“People are in pain over the negative economic housing juggernaut. It is white arrogance to presume that we should be your hush harbor,” said Cobb. “The gentrifiers ought to be good neighbors and sing, shout and glorify God together.”

The Post will be organizing outdoor worship services to broadcast the sweet sounds and is inviting housing rights activists, concerned Oakland residents and those who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement to join him and the Post in attending churches that receive complaints about their loud worshiping.

“We are calling for church in the streets. We need to bring God into the streets of Oakland,” said Cobb. “We will have gospel concerts in the streets and we will have jubilee. And we will invite all these gentrifiers to join us and if they want to be good neighbors.”

Pastor Anthony Jenkins of Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church in West Oakland says his church has not received any formal complaints but stresses that the community needs to hear the message of the church.

“We’re continuing to do what we have been doing, that is getting God’s message and His music beyond the walls of our church,” he said.

On Wednesday Oct. 14, the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition will be hosting a public community meeting to address the effects of displacement on Oakland’s diverse cultures and to discuss community solutions to deal with city and police response to newcomers’ complaints.

The meeting will be held at the Asian Cultural Center located at 388 9th St. #290 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Oakland residents are seeking to organize in the wake of an incident at Lake Merritt last week when a white man assaulted a group of Black and Latino drummers from the SambaFunk! Funkquarians and then called the police on them for playing too loudly.

As a result, the drummers were detained by police for several hours while the man was allowed to walk away from the scene. One of the drummers eventually pressed charges against the man for assault.

Earlier this week, Facebook was full of photos of signs at Lake Merritt with a list of rules, including one that prohibits “musical instrument without permit.” The signs angered embattled longtime residents, who have enjoyed expressing themselves by the lake for years.

According to Councilmember Abel Guillen, in whose district the incident with the drummers occurred, the signs are between five to 11 years old and were mistakenly not removed after city regulations were revised.

“Bottom line, there is no prohibition against music while the parks are open “dawn until dusk,” including the unamplified drumming that has been the subject of recent conversations. A permit is required for amplified sound,” said Guillen in a press release.

On Thursday, a number of community members reported seeing the park signs being removed from around the lake following the confusion.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 10, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

City of Oakland and Local Businesses Must Hire Oakland Now, Say Community Leaders

Speakers at the Post Salon on jobs for Oakland residents were ( L to R): Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Couuncil; Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens' Foundation; Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP); Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember: and Caroll Fife, OaklandWORKS. Photo by Ken Eptein

Speakers at the Post Salon on jobs for Oakland residents were ( L to R): Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Couuncil; Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation; Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP); Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember: and Caroll Fife, OaklandWORKS. Photo by Ken Eptein

By Ken Epstein

A seemingly declining jobless rate masks the actual reality in Oakland where 19 percent of the city’s residents live in poverty, and many Oaklanders are being forced out of the city due to a lack of decent paying jobs, combined with out-of-control rent increases.

The issue of joblessness and what city government and local businesses can do right now to hire Oakland was the subject of a recent Oakland Post Salon, where a panel of community leaders discussed how residents can push for solutions to the continuing unemployment crisis.

“We need to call on every employer in the city to hire people from Oakland – an Oakland opportunity challenge so every business can be proud to say, ‘We hire Oakland,’” said Carroll Fife, a member of the OaklandWorks coalition and one of the speakers at the Sept. 27 Post salon.

The opportunity challenge, backed by a growing coalition of organizations, will encourage Oakland’s businesses and restaurants to hire Black and Latino residents and follow up with meetings with owners, as well as public protests, if necessary.

OaklandWorks also wants the city to enforce its local hiring policies on city-funded construction projects. Such a policy was passed during the administration of Mayor Ron Dellums but never implemented by city staff.

“We have a 50 percent local hire ordinance – We want contractors to recognize those priorities,” said Fife.

Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Council, moderated the panel and pointed out the realities of joblessness in Oakland.

“We’re talking about the lost, the last, the lonely and the left out – homeless people, the formerly incarcerated, displaced workers, younger and older workers who face age discrimination, those displaced by technology, those who face the barriers of physical limitations and immigrants,” said Cobb.

“All these groups represent the absolute urgency of what is happening and what is not happening,” she said.

Oakland’s official unemployment rate is 12.5 percent, higher than many other places, but the real unemployment rate is probably double that amount, because there are many people who stopped looking for work and are no longer counted, according to Cobb.

“Unemployment for African American youth and Latino youth is off the charts,” she said.

She said federal funding for job training and placement has been declining, but Oakland, unlike nearby cities, fails to invest any funds from its budget to support the programs that are carried out solely by nonprofit service providers.

Compounding the problem, Cobb said, the city spends one-third of its federal job funding for administrative overhead – to pay for city staff instead of putting the money onto the street to help the unemployed.

Another speaker, City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, said creating jobs for Oakland residents needs to be a city priority.

“Our job is to lift up those who are struggling,” she said.

Kaplan said she authored a resolution that requires a Disparity Study, which will show what companies are receiving City of Oakland contracts. Though the resolution was passed and funded a year ago, the study still has not been completed, she said.

“We still need the administration to actually complete the Disparity Study,” she said.

The last Disparity Study, completed over seven years ago, showed, “When (city) contracts go out, they overwhelmingly go out to a handful of white-owned, male businesses, (not) anyone outside the favored few,” said Kaplan.

Kaplan supports removing the oversight of federal job funds from the city, to hire an outside agency that will carry out the oversight more effectively and efficiently.

“Federal money for job training needs to be used for job training, not for administrative overhead,” she said.

Speaker Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation, emphasized the common fight of Blacks and Latinos, immigrants, people with disabilities and LGBT workers.

“We have to break barriers,” she said. “When we get all these minorities together, we are not a minority any more. We are a majority. We are all connected. That is the key for Oakland to move forward.”

Margaret Gordon, co-founder of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), said West Oakland residents had been promised jobs on the Oakland Army Base development, but they have not materialized.

“We still have to have a mechanism to connect the jobs to those who are most in need of those jobs,” said Gordon.

For more information, go to Oakland-WORKS on Facebook.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 10, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland Residents Push City Council to Protect Renters and Homeowners Who Are Being Driven from the City

 A panel of experts spoke at the Oakland City Councl's  housing crisis public hearing on Wednesday evening. Left to right:  Muntu Davis, Alameda County public health director; Kalima Rose, senior director of the PolicyLink Center; Edward Del Beccaro, Transwestern; and Alma Blackwell, Oakland Housing Rights Organizer at Causa Justa: Just Cause. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

A panel of experts spoke at the Oakland City Councl’s housing crisis public hearing on Wednesday evening. Left to right: Dr. Muntu Davis, Alameda County Public Health director; Kalima Rose, senior director of the PolicyLink Center; Edward Del Beccaro, Transwestern; and Alma Blackwell, Oakland Housing Rights Organizer at Causa Justa: Just Cause. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Ken Epstein

Angry, desperate and determined residents filled city council chambers Wednesday evening for a public hearing that had been called to discuss Oakland’s housing crisis, demanding that councilmembers move beyond talk to take immediate action to protect them from the runaway housing market that is driving Oaklanders from their homes and the city.

Pressured by speaker after speaker and some on the council, councilmembers ultimately voted unanimously to adopt an action roadmap that will provide a framework for them to deal with many aspects of the crisis.

Tenants spoke about rents being raised and being evicted after decades in the same apartment. A few said they were already packed and preparing to move out of the city.

A woman talked about losing her home and being forced to live in her car, while one man said that he has been fighting illegal rent increases and landlord harassment for five years.

The focus of the hearing was a document called “A Roadmap Toward Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland, California,” a comprehensive set of proposals to protect residents from displacement and to build more housing that Oakland’s low- and moderate-income residents can afford.

The plan was developed by city staff and the nonprofit organization PolicyLink after 18 months of research, examining what other cities are doing and evaluating the experiences of existing City of Oakland policies, programs and laws.

The roadmap’s many proposals include strengthening code enforcement to require landlords to maintain their units in habitable condition, a rent control ordinance to replace the existing one that tenants’ rights supporters consider ineffective and free legal support for the thousands of tenants who are evicted each year, often illegally.

Housing activists told a Post reporter that they were happy the document had passed but saw the unanimous vote as a small first step – the priorities in the plan have yet to be adopted.

While the council is sounding like it is willing to fight for residents, many of the housing activists are concerned that the council as a whole does not have a good track record on protecting tenants or assuring that new projects require developers to build affordable housing units.

Over the last decade, the City Council has repeatedly failed to muster the five votes needed to pass a number of the ordinances and policies that are now in the road map.

The council has repeatedly voted to support developers with little or no guarantees of affordable housing. Ordinances are passed frequently that have no budget to pay for staff to implement or enforce them.

Sometimes, staff failed to implement council decisions.

Councilmember Desley Brooks underscored the urgent need to take immediate and decisive council action.

Brooks proposed a motion for the full council to discuss and vote to fund a program to provide for rapid housing relocation money for tenants who are evicted and to help low-income home owners with loans to pay for code violations and retrofits.

The funds would also pay for outreach to support the enforcement of the city’s minimum wage ordinance.

Brooks’ motion, jointly seconded by Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Rebecca Kaplan, will be discussed by the full council on Oct. 20.

Brooks also called on the council to take steps to guarantee that the city signs contracts with local businesses that hire Oakland residents.

“We can look at our contracting process and give Oaklanders contracts,” she said. “We have to save ourselves. We have to grow businesses in our communities.”

Brooks said the roadmap contains many proposals that can make a difference in the coming years, but the council needs to focus first on those that can be done right away.

“We have to look at how we can assist people staying in place,” she said.

“We have everything we need, right now, right here in order to address this problem,” Brooks said. “We don’t have the luxury of working on one thing at a time. We have to work on many things at the same time.”

Kaplan said the council should look at steps right away to relieve the plight tenants are facing.

“We have people kicked out of their homes today, many in ways that are illegal,” she said. “We have a relocation assistance ordinance that is not effective – it is confusing.”

The city can make the ordinance more consistent with a high enough dollar amount to make sure it really helps people with their relocation expenses, she said.

In addition, she said, landlords can be required to pay $5,000 to $10,000 per unit for tenant relocation. Such fees would discourage landlords from evicting tenants to re-rent apartments at a higher rate.

Mayor Libby Schaaf, in a statement released Wednesday, discussed the work of the mayor’s housing cabinet, which she formed to propose concrete steps to deal with the crisis.

“I am working on strategies to immediately stabilize neighborhoods and protect existing residents by converting market-rate housing to affordable, as well as longer-term measures to build new housing at all income levels,” she said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 4, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Community Calls on City Officials to Adopt Housing Protections for Local Residents

Courtesy of crpbayarea.org

Courtesy of crpbayarea.org

City Hearing on Housing Equity Action Plan Set for Sept. 30

 By Ken Epstein

City of Oakland staff joined with the nonprofit organization PolicyLink earlier this year to release an “action plan” that proposes a comprehensive set of laws, programs, policies and investments to protect the city’s social and income diversity in the face of the economic hurricane that threatens the ability of most working people to continue living in Oakland.gentrification

The City Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee decided to send the action plan, “A Roadmap Toward Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland, California,” to the full council, where the recommended set of actions could be debated, modified, added to and adopted.

That process begins Wednesday, Sept. 30, 5:30 p.m., in council chambers at Oakland City Hall, where the “action plan” will be discussed but not yet acted upon.

Whether the city will adopt aggressive laws and policies to change the housing free-for-all that exists now – stacked in favor of investors and building owners with access to cash and credit – will depend on the determination of council members to take decisive action, the willingness of the City Administration to support these changes and the unity of the community in demanding a break with past practices.anti gentrification

Driving this change is a housing crisis that is widely reported and directly felt by many Oakland residents.

“A growing number of Oakland residents cannot afford to buy or rent a home within their own neighborhood. Facing a rising loss of families with children and dramatic loss of African American households, Oakland risks following in San Francisco’s footsteps and losing the intergenerational treasures of our community,” according to the introduction to the 106-page report signed by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink.

The report does not look to an elusive silver bullet that will solve the crisis. Instead, the document is a roadmap that advocates adoption of a wide variety of proposals clustered around three strategies.

The strategies include proposals to rehouse and prevent displacement of current residents; mobilize resources to produce affordable housing for low and moderate income residents; and upgrade the homes of many residents who are currently living in deplorable conditions.map_1

Some of the proposals call for passing new ordinances, while others suggest strengthening existing laws, and there are proposals to seek funds and regional partners to build new affordable housing.

Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney told the Post that she set up the meeting as a public hearing rather than a discussion connected to passing resolutions or ordinances because she wanted to give councilmembers time to deliberate and consider the complexity and consequences of the proposals.

“This body has never entertained a conversation about the housing crisis,” she said. “There has been no thoughtful engagement about the crisis in front of us.”

“Public meetings are difficult,” she said, adding that council is often under pressure “to take a specific action before we have a chance to think it through.”

Councilmember Desley Brooks says she hopes the public hearing will focus on the proposals developed by PolicyLink and city staff over 18 months, in consultation with city councilmembers and stakeholder groups, including housing justice and private real estate development associations.

These proposals are based on the experiences of city staff and its community partners over the past few years in its efforts to mitigate various aspects of the crisis.

The hearing should go beyond taking public testimony about the impact of displacement or general testimony of experts, said Brooks.gentrification

“It’s beyond the time for talking about displacement,” she said. “I hope we are going beyond talking and that we are going to get to work on these issues.”

“We need to come up with recommendations based on the significant work that has already been done by staff,” she said. “If we keep stalling, we are only letting the (market) forces do what they do.”

In a letter to the city and the mayor, a coalition of faith, labor and community groups called on the city council to adopt the Housing Equity Roadmap.

“We strongly urge you to move forward with great haste to hold the special Council meeting on the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap,” according to the letter, dated Sept. 8.

“There have been multiple efforts over the years to pass comprehensive housing policies that failed because of the lack of sufficient political will from a majority City Council or from the Mayor,” the letter said. “We hope and believe that today’s Oakland City Council and Mayor understand the gravity of the unprecedented housing problems that your constituents face and have the courage and political will to pass policies to help suffering residents and chart an equitable future for Oakland.”

Among the signers of the letter were Pastor Gerald Agee, Pastors of Oakland and Friendship Christian Center; Bishop Bob Jackson, Acts Full Gospel Church; Pastor J. Alfred Smith Jr., Allen Temple Baptist Church; Rev. Daniel Buford, Allen Temple Baptist Church; Pastor B.K. Woodson, Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance; Al Marshall, SEIU Local 1021 Oakland Chapter; Anthony Panarese, ACCE; Robbie Clark, Causa Justa: Just Cause; James Vann, Oakland Tenants Union; and Margaretta Lin of the Dellums Institute and co-author of the housing action plan.

The Housing Equity Roadmap can be downloaded at www.policylink.org/find-resources/library/roadmap-toward-equity 

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 27, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Berkeley Activists Call for City Department of Race and Equity

Marcel Jones, David Turner III and Spencer J. Pritchard, right, speak on Black Lives Matter panel at Berkeley NAACP forum on August 29 at the Sout Berkeley Senior Center. Photos by Rasheed Shabazz.

Marcel Jones, David Turner III and Spencer J. Pritchard, right, speak on Black Lives Matter panel at Berkeley NAACP forum on August 29 at the South Berkeley Senior Center. Photos by Rasheed Shabazz.

By Rasheed Shabazz

Over 100 people gathered at the South Berkeley Senior Center Saturday, Aug. 29 to strategize ways to eliminate racial inequality in the city.

The afternoon program–“Race, Equity, and Gentrification”–featured speakers, a “Black Lives Matter” panel discussion and an open forum.

Organizers proposed creating a Department of Race and Equity in Berkeley and the developing an “African American Holistic Resource Center” to eliminate racism and promote Black healing.

Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks discussed how she introduced the Department proposal during a City of Oakland-sponsored “Black Lives Matter” forum this past winter.

 Attendees of Berkeley NAACP forum on racial equality hold hands at South Berkeley Senior Center on Aug. 29.

Attendees of Berkeley NAACP forum on racial equality hold hands at South Berkeley Senior Center on Aug. 29.

Facing a cold reception when she later introduced legislation to establish the department, she rallied people through social media, events, and teach-ins.

“We kept building an army of support,” she said, explaining the large coalition that grew up in support of the new department.

Following the campaign, the city council unanimously voted to create the department.

Inequities are not always apparent to everyone, said Brooks. To illustrate inequality in Oakland’s zoning practices, she talked about the issue of zoning and the placement of clothing donation boxes.

When city staff proposed restricting locations for the green collection bins, they suggested placing them in Oakland’s flatlands and banning them from the hills and more affluent areas, she said.

“There are all types of things you take for granted,” Brooks said about how the city implements zoning regulations.

To combat unintentional bias in government, Brooks reached out to the Government Alliance for Race and Equity, an initiative affiliated with UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.

The national alliance partners with local and regional governments to achieve racial equity.

Following an Adeline Street Corridor meeting the same day, many expressed concerns about gentrification and the further displacement of Black residents from Berkeley.

Berkeley City Councilman Max Anderson said, “Berkeley is becoming a gated community without the gates.”

“We not going to sit by and watch this place be ethnically cleansed and economically cleansed,” he said.

Seniors, youth and people of color, and other people that make Berkeley unique are finding it difficult to remain in the city, Anderson said. “If that (diversity) goes away, the very heart and character of the community goes away.”

For those Black families still in Berkeley, there are unacceptable health inequalities.

“We’re talking about the tale of two cities, one where you’re healthy and thrive and another where you don’t,” said Babalwa Kwanele, a Marriage and Family Therapist. “We are in a state of emergency.”

The Saturday event also featured a “Black Lives Matter” panel discussion, with three UC Berkeley students: Marcel Jones, David Turner III and Spencer Pritchard.

Moni Law moderated the discussion. Other speakers included Berkeley NAACP President Mansour Id-Deen, Dr. Vicki Alexander of Healthy Black Families, and Berkeley Pastor Michael McBride.

Over the past two years, the Berkeley NAACP has led efforts to address racial profiling and discrimination in city hiring. The city hired consultants to review city employee allegations of discrimination.

Based on the findings, the “Mason-Tillman report” recommended five policy changes: auditing Berkeley’s human resources department; improving reporting requirements of applicants, employee turnover, training and Equal Opportunity complaints; creating surveys and focus groups to address the grievance process and retaliation and revising personnel rules; and improving the city’s communications methods.

In response to concerns about racially biased policing, the city has adopted the Fair and Impartial Policing policy. However, the policy has yet to be implemented, and results of data collected have not been released.

Berkeley NAACP Vice President Barbara White concluded the event emphasizing the event was not about getting Black faces in high places, but structural change.

“It’s about systems, not individuals,” White said.

The event was co-sponsored by the Berkeley NAACP, Healthy Black Families, African American/Black Professional and Community Network, the Berkeley/North East Bay Chapter of the ACLU and the East Bay Community Law Center.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

Community Proposes Alternatives to E. 12th Street Luxury Tower

Neighbors submit their suggestions for what should be constructed on the East 12th Street parcel at the Wish List event hosted by the Eastlake United for Justice neighborhood coalition on Sunday. Photo by Luke Newton.

Neighbors submit their suggestions for what should be constructed on the East 12th Street parcel at the Wish List event hosted by the Eastlake United for Justice neighborhood coalition. Photo by Luke Newton.

By Tulio Ospina

Nearly 200 community members attended the East 12th Street Wish List planning event in front of the Kaiser Convention Center on Sunday to collectively brainstorm proposal ideas for how the East 12th Street parcel could be utilized.

The event, held Sunday, Aug. 23, was hosted by Eastlake United for Justice, a group of neighbors from the East 12th Street community who led the fight against the construction of a luxury apartment tower by Lake Merritt that the Oakland City Council was poised to approve in July.

According to the group’s Facebook page, the purpose of the event was to “discuss with the community how the prime piece of public land can best be used for public good.” The gathering featured live performances, served food and had activities for all ages.

D. Alwan, a member of Eastlake’s Affordable Housing and Anti-Gentrification Committee, programmed the Imagine & Design tent, where community members were invited to provide feedback on the city’s management of certain issues and give suggestions for how the city could improve its services to residents.

“We asked people about eight questions for feedback around what they loved about Oakland and concerns they have, the kinds of businesses and services that folks want and the kind of community spaces people need,” said Alwan.

The neighborhood organization collected nearly 400 responses, with plans to share them publicly.

“These few hundred responses are the first time that the community’s feedback has been asked for in a proactive way,” she said. “The first time that community members were invited to come and talk and share and imagine.”

According to Alwan, issues of housing affordability and health were the most prevalent concerns among neighbors.

In terms of criticisms, community members overwhelmingly cited the city “prioritizing developers over its constituents” and its low-income housing communities.

Meanwhile, Alwan counted nearly 70 proposal ideas from community members for what could be constructed on the East 12th Street parcel.

In general, most proposal ideas were presenting affordable housing, safe passage for pedestrians from the lake to the site, a place for green space for community gardens and public housing for elderly folks, young children and immigrant families, said Alwan.

The next goals for Eastlake United for Justice are to transcribe the proposals and make visual representations that will be available to developers and, eventually, the city to review.

“The ideal situation is that a proposal will come out of this,” said Alwan. “We’re up against the city’s lack of will for a participatory process. No city representative attended the planning process and there have been no inquiries about what the feedback was,” she said.

At Sunday’s event, two members of the Oakland Unified School District announced their plan to submit a proposal to build affordable teacher housing on the East 12th Street site and to build new facilities for Dewey High School.

“Whoever gets the chance to move forward with their proposal, I very strongly encourage them to work with the community to fulfill the public’s desires,” said Alwan.

“This is public land being paid for by tax-payer dollars and the community should be in a leadership position to determine its outcome.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 27, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)