Oakland City Council Must Heed the Homeless Advocacy Working Group

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       Homelessness:  The Community Has Acted-What Will Oakland Do ? 
          Guest Commentary by James E Vann for the Homeless Advocacy Working Group
 
Presentation of Plan to the City Council
On May 23rd and May 30th, the ad hoc Homeless Advocacy Working Group presented a comprehensive plan of action to ameliorate the homeless crisis. The homelessness proposal — the product of 4 months of meetings and the collaboration of dedicated advocates to seriously address Oakland’s escalating crisis — was presented to both the Life Enrichment Committee and the full City Council for consideration.
 
Concurrently, the Human Services Department presented a profile of Oakland’s homeless crisis and a $2 Million composite budget based on hoped-for funds from HUD, OHA, and Alameda County.  $300,000 of the Human Resources proposed budget is credited to the Oakland General Fund, but only for the 2018 mid-budget cycle and would be solely dependent on potential and unknown increases in other sources of revenue, namely cannabis taxes and fees from the escalation in real estate prices.    
 
Mayor Schaaf’s FY 17-19 budget proposed only $250,000 over 2 years for homelessness programs.
This amount, however, is already exceeded by the unbudgeted expense of at least $210,638 in 2016 alone for cleaning and dismantling homeless encampments throughout the city. City spending to date has had virtually no discernible impact in reducing homelessness. Meanwhile, the homeless crisis continues to escalate while the current level of city funding is totally at odds with the accelerating growth of homelessness.  
Study Shows 39% Increase in Homelessness 
The just released 2017 biennial homeless “Point-in-Time Survey” for Alameda County shows a 39% increase since 2015 in the number of homeless persons on the streets. The fact that homelessness is decimating Oakland neighborhoods and blighting the entire city, and will only continue to grow, seems not to have gotten sufficient attention from city leaders.   
 
Homelessness must be acknowledged as the priority crisis in Oakland and must be treated and funded as such. Legislative and financial responses to the accelerating crisis to date have been totally inadequate. The Department of Human Resources can compile statistical metrics and produce reports but lacks the resources needed to provide the monitoring and oversight required of multi-faceted projects and services dispersed throughout the city. In order to effectively address this crisis the skills of the Human Resources Department must be augmented with the creativity, resources, and outreach of a community-based Task Force.   20170710_142334
 
Proposal of the Working Group
This 4 page organizational proposal puts forward a workable program and budget drawn from Measure KK and general funds which, together with available outside financial resources, will produce a visible and measurable impact on the negative effects of the crisis. Specifically, the proposal of the Homeless Advocacy Working Group would:Re-institute the 2016 “Oakland Shelter Crisis Declaration,” with authorization for private property involvement; and annual renewal of the ordinance.
  • Authorize and staff the Working Group as the “Oakland Homeless Housing Task Force” to function as an open and inclusive collaborative-representing a cross-section of views and interests of the general public, including homeless, community, and organization advocates with directives to coordinate with public and private agencies for grants, services, and co-funding.

 

  • Empower the Task Force to develop proposals for (a) various “camper” installations; (b) portable/modular transition housing developments; (c) tiny houses, including ‘Tuff-Shed’-type facilities; (d) tiny house agreements at volunteer homeowner sites; (e) weather-protection shelter roofs; (f) SRO-type buildings; (g) repurposing of vacant and available warehouse-industrial-commercial-institutional buildings; (h) privacy installations; (i) utilization of vacant houses, where appropriate (particularly for large families and women-headed households); legislative proposals relating to “vehicular dwellings” and “right to sleep;” and (j) to bring forth recommendations, timelines, and budgets for implementation. 

 

  • Direct the Task Force to assess and implement recommendations for needed supports and services, including: (a) porta-potties (b) potable water; (c) K-rail traffic separators; (d) site security; (e) site management; (f) counseling for substance abuse-medical-mental occurrences; (h) harm reduction; (i) home navigators; and (j) “compassionate” outside support servicers (police, fire safety, environmental health, vector control; education & training, skill services, pet care & animal control, licensing, etc).

 

  • Direct the Task Force to assess appropriate “sites” for relevant uses, including costs and impacts.  20170710_142150 

 

  • Allocate from Measure KK and general budget funds an initial year budget for homelessness programs and expenses of $10 Million, and a continuing annual budget of $5 Million to efficiently initiate programs of relief and positive impact on the crisis of homelessness in the shortest amount of time.   

 

For years, the City has experienced a growing and spreading homeless crisis.  In January 2015, the City Council enacted a 12-month “Emergency State of Homelessness Declaration.”  Despite the emergency declaration and the fact that the crisis continues to worsen, city actions and expenditures have been practically non-existent. It is undeniable that the “homeless problem” will not go away on its own, but instead will continue to worsen.
 
 
At this time of escalating homelessness and its attendant problems, it is imperative that Oakland act … and act decisively. The Proposal of the Working Group demonstrates both the capacity and commitment to mobilize needed resources, projects, and services that can truly make a difference. 
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The Long Sordid Record of Oakland’s Neglect of Affordable Housing, continuing saga…

I turned on the radio today, KPFA of course, in time to hear my old friend, architect and well-respected political and tenant activist, James Vann being asked by Kitty Kelly Epstein why a progressive council in a city like Oakland couldn’t seem to pass serious tenant protections. James answered, “I just don’t think we have anyone on the present city council who is progressive.”

That’s quite an indictment, especially when that little island city of retired military across the Estuary, Alameda,just passed stricter renter protections and extended a moratorium on no-cause evictions plus a cap lower than Oakland’s on rent increases.

James also stated (also embedded in his letter) that the city manager in charge of the mayor’s housing cabinet declined to even pass on the recommendations of the Renters’ Working Group to the mayor because….

I don’t think I need to add much more to this long, sad history of Oakland’s abrogration of its responsibility to its renters which is equivalent to neglect of its citizenry since the majority are tenants. What the hell is going on, Oakland??

[I have changed only typos in the following. Warning:read only with a strong drink, a good glass of wine, or your suitcase packed.]

Sordid Record of Oakland City Council on Rental and Housing Issues

jamesevann@aol.com

I presented this letter in October to the Renter’s Working Group of the Mayor’s Housing Cabinet process:
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Oakland’s current affordable housing crisis — particularly for renters — is not new, and has been acknowledged as a “crisis” by successive city councils since before the economic downturn of 2008. Events that have characterized the “crisis” over many years have at least included:
• the real estate “flipping craze” of the late 1970s that caused tenants to qualify “Measure E,” a rent control initiative that barely failed 53% to 47% in 1980, because Mayor Wilson and landlords quickly wrote the current and one-sided “Rent Arbitration Ordinance,” backed by over $20,000, and trumpeted as “Oakland-style rent control.”
• the condo conversion explosion of the 1970s, that resulted in the flawed condo conversion ordinance of 1981.
• appeals by tenants to make the “Rent Arbitration” ordinance more fair for tenants. Referred by CM Spees to a task group of tenants and landlords. No mutual decisions reached. No action by CC.
• the condo conversion rush of 2005-08. A tenant offered proposal not acted on by CC.
• appeals to end the passing to tenants of LLs (landlords’) “mortgage payments” from Rent Law (2007-08). Rent Board approved removal in 2008. Not acted on by CC until 2015.
appeals for needed revisions of the Condominium Conversion Ordinance; a continuing request since 2006. No actions ever by CC.
• appeals for “inclusionary zoning” in 2006; No CC action on “Inclusionary Zoning” and “Condo Conversion’ proposals. Referred by CM Brooks to a Blue Ribbon Commission. CC took 8 months to appoint the Commission.
• Blue Ribbon Task Force of 2006-08. After meeting for 18 months, and presenting a report of “lukewarm” recommendations, CC took no action on the Committee’s report.
• Mayor Dellums’ comprehensive Affordable Housing Program Plan of 2008; Presented to CC in 2009. No action by CC.
• uprising by tenants in 2013 – 14 against excess pass-through of 100% capital improvements, and lack of action after 5 years on “elimination of debt service pass-through” from Rent Board. Referred by CM Reid to “landlord & tenant work group. Repeal of debt service and compromised report of work group on capital improvements accepted by CC in 2014.
• “Tenant Protection Ordinance” struggle of 2014. CC approved text in 2014, but stripped “implementation and remedies” sections from the ordinance, rendering it useless to tenants.
• revised condo conversion ordinance developed by OTU in 2008 – 10 with CM Brunner, who refused to submit to CC unless prior assurance of passage.
• Condo Conversion Ordinance refined by housing advocates in 2014-15. Resubmitted to CM Kalb in early 2015. Held Up 5 months by City Attorney’s office for legal review. Finally released by CA in Nov 2015. No action by CC in last 2 months.
• CED staff announces “crisis” in Rent Program because tenant petitions increased from 1/2% to 1% of tenants, and applied to CC for a quadruple rental fee in order to double staff capacity. Both LLs and tenants strongly disagreed, and called for audit of Rent Program’s efficiency. OTU also argued that the city’s “one of a kind” rent program is the problem; that because it is a program that is activated only by tenant petitions, and that the program relies on landlords to inform tenants of their right to file a petition against that same landlord’s exorbitant increases or other illegal action (which many LLs don’t do), that tenant petitions should actually be at least 20% of tenants, not 1%, thus as more tenants learn of their right, it is impossible that increasing staff will solve the problem. It is the program that must change. What Oakland needs is a real rent control program, rather than the present landlord designed farce.
• As an assist to the current RAP problem, OTU submitted to the Renters Work Group of the Mayor’s Housing Cabinet the draft of a “Rent Control” ordinance recommended for inclusion in recommendations of the Housing Cabinet for the mayor. Manager Byrd decided against forwarding the recommendation to the Cabinet, perhaps considered “too radical.”
• Renters Work Group urged that a “resolution of urgency” be recommended directly to Mayor (not thru the Mayor’s Housing Cabinet) for immediate submission to CC to declare a “state of emergency in rental housing and a moratorium on rent increases and no-cause evictions” (as Alameda has done) to permit time to work out the problems in the rent program. T Moss, mayor’s chief of staff, reported at next meeting of the Work Group that instead of addressing the rental crisis (even though Mayor Schaaf has stated that ending displacement of long term residents is among the highest priorities of her administration), that the mayor decided to submit to CC an “emergency resolution” only for homeless programs. No action would be taken on declaring a rental housing emergency (despite the fact that the adopted Housing Equity Roadmap found that btw 2011 & 2014, Oakland had lost over 25% of its African American population and over 14% of families with school age children)

Through all these and other recurring housing and renter problems, the common identifying characteristic has been that hearing after hearing, and proposal upon proposal, the City Council of the time has almost never taken action.

This time, something different needs to happen. All council members, on several occasions, have acknowledged that Oakland is in a severe housing crisis, particularly for the majority of Oakland’s residents — the renters of Oakland’s flatlands, here the median income for a family of four is only $34,000, not nearly enough to pay current fast rising rents in Oakland. Many of these households presently pay 60 to 80% or more of their income for rent. By 2014, the city’s housing crisis had led to a loss of 25% of Oakland’s African American population and 17% of families with school aged children as documented by the city’s adopted Housing Equity Roadmap .

Declaring a “Housing Emergency” and enacting a “Moratorium” on rent increases and no-cause evictions will go a long way toward assuring tenants that city fathers (and mothers!) are serious about the crisis and, this time, will do more than just talk. Declaring a “Housing Emergency” is also a powerful signal to the suffering community that City Hall finally hears their pleas, and establishing a moratorium timeframe expresses to the community that the city is finally committed to assure that this time, action, not just talk, will happen.

James Vann

To add to this long list of inaction, Oakland is one of the only surrounding cities without developer impact fees and the city is poised to ….perhaps….maybe….enact a weakened fee, not comparable to those of other cities and which excludes 4,000 units presently in the pipeline and offers significantly lower fees in areas where the threat of gentrification is imminent.

Or it may postpone the whole thing until the building boom is over. The discussion will finally get started on January 26th at 1:30pm (is that a problem for you?)

Please, please, please, if you are a renter, know a renter, or might have a family member who would like to be a renter (rather than, you know, living with mom) let your council member know how seriously you take these issues. It truly is a State of Emergency in Oakland!