Committee Debates How to Tackle Homelessness, Affordable Housing

By Michael Orion Powell

An Oakland City Council committee convened Tuesday to determine how best the city can use its publicly-owned lands to bring relief to the mounting needs for more affordable housing and of the homeless.

“We need a ‘public lands policy’ because each fight over housing gets louder and more contentious. Developers don’t know what to plan for and the community doesn’t have accountability toward our long-term goals,“ City Councilwoman At-Large Rebecca Kaplan said.

Activists packed Tuesday’s meeting of the Community and Economic Development Committee to support the “People’s Proposal,” which is supported by the Citywide Anti-Displacement Network, a coalition of 25 community-based and labor organizations.

According to the network, the People’s Proposal would: “Ensure that public land is used to provide low-income Oaklanders with affordable homes, good-paying jobs, and healthy communities. It is the only proposal that recognizes the decades of racial discrimination that have harmed communities of color — especially Black communities — and that empowers these communities to have a say in how public land is used and to share in its benefits.”

The Building Trades Council and EBRRD support the “People’s Proposal,” which calls for the development of affordable housing on city-owned properties, built under project labor agreements (PLAs), with a Community Advisory Committee to provide oversight of the development of public land. The local hiring provisions are based on the successful PLA on the Oakland Army Base that has resulted in 50% of the work done by Oakland construction workers, and two-thirds of the apprentice hours going to disadvantaged Oakland residents.

City Council Members Rebecca Kaplan and Abel Guillén developed their own public lands policy that incorporates key elements of the people’s proposal but directs all of the proceeds from the sale of public land into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. In addition, Council Member Kaplan calls for a moratorium on the sale of city-owned property, pending the adoption of the new policy.

Mark Sawicki, director of the city’s Economic & Workforce Development Department, identified 20 sites of city-owned land that would be covered by a public lands policy.“We share many of the goals of community advocates. Our goal is to optimize production and to work on housing for lower-income individuals, and to leverage state and local resources to increase the numbers of households that we can help,” Sawicki said. “The city owns a lot of lands and very little of it is set aside for acquisition and development. The largest open space is the joint city-owned land around the [Oakland] Coliseum, which will likely (follow) its own development process.”

Sarah Ting, chief of staff to District 2 Councilmember Abel Guillén, said the first priority of the community advisory committee should be to adopt a “local hire” regulation to ensure that city residents benefit from construction projects through employment and training opportunities.

“It is critical that the way we use public land does not exacerbate displacement,” Ting said. “In a time of gentrification, cities can use public land as a resource in addressing high demand for affordable housing for low-income communities who faced displacement and homelessness.” Gloria Bruce, an advocate for the East Bay Housing Organization, received applause from the crowd as she called for “targeting locals and people with disadvantages for hire in construction and operations jobs.”
Bruce said she was optimistic that Oakland could overcome its homeless and affordable housing issues.

“(Oakland has) the resources, the tools, and the vision. All that we need is the will to do it,” she said.

Both the Kaplan–Guillén and coalition proposals were designed to go beyond the requirements of the state Surplus Land Act. But after months of discussions, it became clear that insurmountable differences on key issues surfaced and the parties agreed to submit separate proposals to the council committee.

The City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee will take up the issue again at its July 17th meeting.

Updated at 1:15pm, Friday, June 29, 2018

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