Oakland's Perfect Storm 

As the city has failed to build enough housing and has been slow to respond to the affordability crisis, more and more people are being displaced.

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Additionally, the report recommends the city council propose a measure for proactive rental inspections by city agencies to enforce tenant protections and for city agencies to aggressively pursue a $254 million affordable housing bond administered by ABAG and apply for additional state and federal housing funds.

But the money lost when redevelopment ended is still haunting City Hall. In 2014, the city council approved plans to develop vacant and underutilized areas of West Oakland — called the "West Oakland Specific Plan" (WOSP) — through extensive infrastructure projects, business development, and construction of both market-rate and affordable housing near the West Oakland BART Station and other major transit lines. The development projects, as described in the plan's "Vision and Goals" section, would coincide with projected "economic and demographic changes over the next 20 to 25 years."

The project was kickstarted with a $2 million federal grant, but other sources of funding for the project have not been identified. In a report released by the Planning and Zoning Department in 2014, officials loosely outlined a plan to identify funding from within the city, from state and federal programs, and from private developers. The plan's feasibility will depend on the resources city officials can cobble together from grant applications, regional bonds, and other fundraising initiatives in the short-term. "West Oakland is at risk unless real money is put on the policy table in the next two years," Rose said.

click to enlarge Unlike many Oakland landlords, Elizabeth Dougherty wants to keep her tenants' rent below market rate. - LUCAS WALDRON
  • Lucas Waldron
  • Unlike many Oakland landlords, Elizabeth Dougherty wants to keep her tenants' rent below market rate.

Phase II of the Fruitvale Transit Village, a development project similar to WOSP but smaller in scale, may have a better shot at success, according to Rose. This project centers on the Fruitvale BART station, one of the busiest stations in the multi-city system, according to The Unity Council, the project's primary developer. Phase I of the transit village was completed in 2003 with the development of 37 market-rate housing units, 10 affordable units, 40,000 square feet of ground floor retail stores, and more than 114,000 square feet of office space, largely leased by social services and nonprofit organizations. The total cost of Phase I was $69 million, according to a study of the project released in 2005 by the Urban Land Institute.

Last month, the Oakland's Community and Economic Development Committee approved a measure to allow the city administrator to delegate $7.5 million in funding to Phase IIA of the project. It will include the construction of 94 new housing units, 80 of which will be reserved for households earning 60 percent or less than the Area Median Income, according to the committee's report.

Chris Iglesias, CEO of The Unity Council, said construction of the 94 new units would cost about $44 million. He hopes to secure part of the funding through federal tax credits and said if the fundraising goes well, construction could start in the first quarter of 2017.

For middle-income residents like Tracy Inouye, projects like the Fruitvale Transit Village may be too little too late. Inouye, his wife, and nine-year-old daughter moved to small two-bedroom house in the Laurel district in June after being evicted from their two-bedroom basement apartment in the Glenview neighborhood. For six years, he and his wife raised their daughter in the apartment and paid $1,400 per month.

Last year, the property owners gave the family an Ellis Act eviction notice (which is not illegal) and told Inouye they intended to sell the house. Inouye said he was shocked. Rents in his neighborhood were listed at upwards of $2,500 per month, and, he said, most open houses had lines of interested parties out the door. He remembered that in the Rockridge District, a prospective tenant offered the landlord $2,800 for an apartment listed at $2,500.

Oakland law only requires landlords to provide a relocation allowance to tenants they evict using the Ellis Act if the tenant is a "lower-income household," defined as making 50 percent or less of the Area Median Income. Inouye made too much to qualify, but too little to out-bid the long lines of anxious renters.

Inouye said he feels lucky that he managed to find the two-bedroom house he lives in now for $2,000 per month. He doesn't direct his anger at the wealthy people moving into the Bay Area, either. Primarily, he wants to see legislation passed to protect tenants and ban bidding wars between prospective renters. "I just want it to be fair," he said, acknowledging that people at all income levels — tech workers and high-income households included — need places to live.

But Inouye said his current landlord warned him when he moved in that she intends to sell the property or move into the unit in the next few years. If his family is evicted again, Inouye said he will likely leave Oakland and look for cheaper rents in San Leandro or Hayward.

"I work all over the Bay Area, and I see what's going on," Inouye said. "The bottom line is, if you're middle class, or poor, it's really hard for you."

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