Thursday, March 3, 2016

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf Unveils Ambitious Plan for Housing Affordability

By Darwin BondGraham and Robert Gammon
Thu, Mar 3, 2016 at 9:47 AM

click to enlarge Libby Schaaf.
  • Libby Schaaf.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has unveiled an expansive plan to protect 17,000 existing affordable homes and apartments and build at least 17,000 new housing units over the next eight years. It’s all part of a multifaceted attempt to address Oakland’s housing affordability crisis.

Schaaf told the Express in an editorial meeting yesterday that Oakland alone cannot solve all of the problems that are causing housing insecurity and displacement, but that her administration will be focusing on a list of specific policy goals that they believe can be accomplished in the near term and will benefit the most residents.

“Protecting Oakland from displacement is our highest priority,” Schaaf said.

Schaaf’s “Oakland Housing Action Plan” builds on the city’s housing equity road map, a policy document developed during the administration of then-Mayor Jean Quan and published last year. Schaaf's plan also incorporates feedback from a housing cabinet of experts that she convened last year to implement the road map and generate new policy ideas.

Schaaf’s sweeping plan includes modifications to existing renter protection programs and an ambitious set of funding strategies that Schaaf estimates could raise hundreds of millions of dollars in new money to build up to 5,600 affordable housing units in the next eight years and spur the production of up to 14,400 market-rate units in the same time period.

One proposal is to pursue an Alameda County affordable housing bond of as much as $500 million, of which Oakland would receive about $105 million. If used solely for production, $105 million could add 600 housing units in Oakland. The city will also explore the option of issuing a $250 million infrastructure bond, with $50 million allocated for the rehabilitation of rental housing, enough to bring 2,000 affordable units up to code. That bond measure would need approval from city voters. The mayor's plan also calls for the city to purchase distressed rental properties, rehab them, and make them permanently affordable.

"Over the next eight years ... our first priority is to protect 17,000 units that are currently affordable to Oakland residents," the mayor said.

Two other revenue sources that Schaaf’s team is exploring include state cap-and-trade funds that will be granted by Sacramento to cities building housing near transit infrastructure and a new type of special taxing district that would tap into a funding stream similar to what city redevelopment agencies used to have access to. Schaaf estimates that Oakland could nab as much as $90 million from state cap-and-trade funds. And if the city establishes an enhanced infrastructure financing district (EIFD) with the mission of building and maintaining affordable housing, it could generate $90 million and produce as many as 800 new housing units.

“This is an action plan based on the housing equity road map,” said Schaaf, “fed through the lens of feasibility.”

Schaaf added that she has spoken to each member of the county board of supervisors and that they are all on board with the affordable housing bond measure, which would be on the November ballot. Schaaf's plan also calls for the council to immediately approve a housing impact fee on new market-rate development in the city.

Schaaf’s set of policies to strengthen renter protections against rapidly increasing rents, no fault evictions, and other threats that lead to displacement mainly involves modifying existing city policies and programs, especially the Rent Adjustment Ordinance.

Currently, City Auditor Brenda Roberts is auditing the rent adjustment program, and her report should be completed by April. Schaaf expects that the audit will show that by increasing the rental assistance program fee, which is paid mainly by landlords, the city will be able sustain higher levels of service and better help tenants and landlords resolve disputes over rent increases, withdrawal of services, and other conflicts. Currently, the annual fee is $30, but landlords can pass 50 percent of the fee onto their tenants. Last year, the rent adjustment program staff proposed increasing the fee to $110, but objections from both tenant and landlord groups prevented any action.

Schaaf also wants to expand the Rent Adjustment Ordinance so that it covers two- and three-unit buildings that are owner occupied. Currently Oakland renters who live in apartment buildings with two to three units, one of which is occupied by the owner-landlord, are not protected by Oakland’s rent adjustment rules.

Two other big fixes that Schaaf wants to prioritize are an update to Oakland’s Condo Conversion Ordinance, and an amendment to a state law known as Costa Hawkins.

Councilmember Dan Kalb’s office has been working on an amendment to the condo conversion ordinance for about a year now. The goal is to expand protections for renters living in two-to-four-unit apartment buildings across the city against being displaced without fair compensation when their landlord converts apartments into condos. The amended ordinance would also likely require landlords across the city to replace apartments lost through condo conversion with new rental apartments. Currently, only a small portion of the city around Lake Merritt is covered by the Condo Conversion Ordinance’s strict one-for-one apartment replacement rules.

Kalb and council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney also attended the Express' editorial meeting. They, along with councilmembers Annie Campbell Washington and Abel Guilen, were also members of the mayor's housing cabinet. Kalb said that the mayor's plan "largely has buy-in from the [four] councilmembers involved."

However, Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio, who also attended the editorial meeting, said not everyone in the housing cabinet supports the mayor's plan. Some tenant advocates and affordable housing activists contend that the proposal doesn't go far enough, while some landlord groups and developers are worried that it will stifle the production of new market-rate housing in the city.

Perhaps the most ambitious and most important landlord-tenant law change being floated by Schaaf is the need to amend the Costa Hawkins law. Costa Hawkins is a 1995 law that, in Oakland, exempts about 32,000 apartments built after 1983 from rent control. It also exempts single-family homes and condos that are owned by landlords from rent control. Schaaf believes that expanding rent control to newer units and to single-family homes and condos would help protect thousands of Oakland renters from large rent increases, which often cause displacement, and she said that Oakland will work with state legislators to try to introduce a bill that will accomplish this.

"We're nibbling at the edges unless we can reform Costa Hawkins," the mayor said.

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