The Forces Driving Gentrification in Oakland 

The East Bay has seen a widening gap between rich and poor and the displacement of people who are low-income and of color. But it doesn't have to be this way.

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What are the solutions, and where are we in the process?

Gentrification and displacement may feel unstoppable, but there are ways to combat them. The Urban Displacement Project highlights three main strategies to counter displacement: increasing tenant protections, producing more housing (in particular affordable housing), and preserving existing affordable housing.

There has been movement in recent years to strengthen renter protections in Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond. Four years ago, Oakland passed a Tenant Protection Ordinance prohibiting landlords from harassing tenants. And in December, the city extended financial relocation assistance to renters displaced by certain types of no-fault evictions.

In November, East Bay voters will have a chance to further strengthen rental protections: A proposed ballot measure in Oakland, Measure Y, would extend Just Cause protections to two- and three-unit buildings. In Berkeley, Measure Q would extend rent control to housing built after 1995 while providing new units with an exemption from rent control for the first 20 years.

Most everyone agrees that not enough housing has been built to accommodate demand, but Kalima Rose, vice president of strategic initiatives at PolicyLink, said market-rate housing alone isn't enough.

"What we've seen is that market-rate development drives gentrification and raises costs in a neighborhood," she said. While more housing is necessary, the problem is that the benefits of market-rate housing don't extend to lower-income people soon enough. "The time frame between building market-rate units and the trickle-down to lower-income people not being evicted is what you're seeing under the freeways right now," said Rose.

Thus, it's important to build housing specifically for low-income people. The challenge, of course, is that it's hugely expensive to build housing in the pricey Bay Area. Zachary Murray, program manager at the Oakland Community Land Trust, pointed out that the average cost of building an affordable unit is about $600,000.

Impact fees on new housing development are one way to generate revenue for affordable housing. Oakland finally adopted impact fees in 2016, although they max out at $25,000 per unit. (Berkeley's impact fees are higher.)

Another way to generate funds is by issuing bonds. In Oakland, Measure KK has raised hundreds of millions for affordable housing. This November election, Berkeley voters will decide on Measure O, which would authorize a $120 million bond toward affordable housing.

Inclusionary housing, which requires new housing to have a certain percentage of below-market-rate units, is another way to create affordable housing. But Oakland still doesn't have such a requirement.

Rose of PolicyLink notes that there are three statewide propositions on the November ballot that would improve housing conditions: Prop. 1, a $4 billion affordable housing bond; Prop. 2, which would invest millions in homeless prevention; and Prop. 10, which would repeal Costa Hawkins.

Perhaps, as Darwin BondGraham reports, the market-driven approach to housing is really the problem. Community-ownership models, such as the Oakland Community Land Trust, remove housing from the market altogether.

"Development isn't the problem," said Murray. "It's the paradigm of development that's the problem." He wants developers to be more transparent about the amount of profit they're making from housing, and bring the community, specifically Black residents, into the conversation.

That may sound like a radical idea, but with the homelessness problem not getting any better, it's clear that a fundamental change to our approach is necessary.

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