To ease its deepening housing crisis, Oakland is planning for as many as 36,000 new homes over the next decade — potentially expanding the total number of households in the city by almost a quarter.
Where will all of that new housing go in the city of over 440,000 residents that has long struggled to build enough affordable homes and prevent gentrification and displacement? The answers are beginning to emerge in a 132-page housing plan the city aims to finalize by early next year.
So far, the city has designated over 600 sites for new housing. Most are concentrated in downtown and West Oakland, though planners have identified parcels in suburban and urban areas throughout the city. Major thoroughfares, including Foothill and MacArthur boulevards, also could see much more housing to focus growth near transportation.
Housing advocates say the state-mandated plan is forcing the city to do more to confront its severe lack of affordable homes.
“The city needs to focus explicitly on how to increase production and preservation of housing for the lowest-income folks where the needs are the greatest,” said Jeff Levin, policy director for the advocacy group East Bay Housing Organizations, in a city-produced video about its housing plan.
Oakland is not going to build all of the new housing itself. Most of the construction would be done by private developers. But under state law, the city must specify sites to accommodate at least 26,251 more units for residents of all income levels between 2023 and 2031. That’s a 78% jump from its previous eight-year goal.
The city describes how it intends to meet and potentially surpass that ambitious target in its updated “housing element” plan released this month. By the end of January, all Bay Area cities must get state approval of their individual housing elements, or risk missing out on grant funding and facing other penalties.
Already approved “pipeline” projects could account for over 13,000 of the new units. Most of the rest could go on “opportunity sites” that the city has determined have a realistic chance of development over the next eight years, or where new projects are in the early stages of the planning process.
The state also is requiring cities to plan for more affordable housing in “high-resource” neighborhoods with a history of locking out low-income residents and households of color. In its plan, Oakland aims to rezone parcels in wealthier areas such as Rockridge, Trestle Glen and Crocker Highlands to allow more duplexes, apartments and low-income housing projects.
“A lot of (building affordable housing) boils down to money, but it also boils down to permitting,” said Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas in a city housing video.
Unlike in past years, there are actual stakes for meeting the state’s planning requirements.
If cities fail to get the state to sign off on their housing elements by Jan. 31, they could miss out on affordable housing and infrastructure funding and lose control over approving new homes. While only a handful of Bay Area cities have received state approval so far, Oakland officials said they are confident the city will meet the looming deadline.
For the current eight-year housing cycle now coming to a close, most cities have fallen far short of planning for and permitting enough affordable homes. Oakland has approved less than half its current low-income target of 4,131 units. That number will increase to 10,261 starting next year.
But there’s reason for optimism Oakland could make better progress going forward. Last week, the city announced it is the first in the Bay Area to earn the state’s “pro-housing” designation, giving it a leg up in applying for scarce affordable housing funding as a reward for removing barriers to getting projects built.
“This designation, in partnership with the State, will allow our robust pipeline of affordable housing to move forward at the time we need the units most,” said Christina Mun, Interim Director of Oakland’s Housing and Community Development Department.
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