How Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is fighting the housing crisis and partnering with tech

How Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is fighting the housing crisis and partnering with tech

Since Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf took office in January 2015, the city has become one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. Tech companies such as Uber are expanding in Oakland, diversifying the city’s economy. Here’s how Mayor Schaaf is addressing both challenges and opportunities.

How is Oakland working to make housing more affordable? Oakland is addressing its housing crisis by bringing together stakeholders and experts to develop a plan that we believe over the next eight years can protect 17,000 Oaklanders from displacement and build 17,000 new units of housing. (We are working to) create some significant new funding sources for affordable housing development as well as one of our big strategies for preventing displacement, which is to acquire existing housing where low-income families are already living and make those permanently affordable.

We also were able to liberalize (building new) secondary units and we’ve seen more than 1,000 new applications since we did that. We’ve been pretty successful at getting things like cap and trade dollars, with $50 million awarded to Oakland for affordable housing near good transit. With the passage of both Measure A1 and KK, Oaklanders really demonstrated that they are ready to invest in their city as well. It’s not just developers. We estimate that between those two measures we will have $184 million more to avoid displacement, protect and acquire and rehab existing housing, as well as to build more affordable housing.

There’s a particular focus on housing the homeless, which is increasingly becoming a problem in Oakland. Those are some of the many different steps we’re taking to not just build housing at every income level but to make sure roughly 28 percent of that new housing is affordable to low-income residents and more. As far as achieving that 17,000 number, we have more than 2,000 units under construction right now. We expect another 8,000 units to start construction next year. We have another 18,000 units in the pipeline (approved or proposed).

One of my next challenges is to reengineer our approval process. We want to make sure that pipeline gets built. We know that not all of it will. But we can do a better job to make that process smoother, to reduce that red tape, and to take advantage of this moment to get these projects built. The biggest culprit to our housing crisis has been our failure to produce sufficient housing.

Are you satisfied with tech companies’ efforts to give back to Oakland? I have been really encouraged by what tech companies have been doing in Oakland, and I want them to do more. The opening of the tech center at the Fruitvale transit center by Google was a really exciting night. I’m particularly excited because it is very specifically about training African-American and Latino computer scientists to address what they acknowledge is a diversity gap in our tech workforce. So I appreciate that they’ve called that out and they’re doing something about it.

Salesforce also this year made its first major investment in the Oakland public schools: $2.5 million, not only to support the Oakland Promise (scholarships), which is my personal passion, but also it will quadruple the amount of computer science education for our middle-school students. So this is really encouraging news about tech companies showing up in Oakland.

But there’s a movement we’ve certainly started, we call it “techquity.” It’s really very much led by the Kapors, Mitch and Freada. It certainly has a lot of room for more participation from tech companies to help build that pipeline of diverse and talented workers that hopefully are from Oakland. Also, (for tech companies) to address right now inclusive work environments, as well as recognizing that they have a role to play in the housing crisis, in preserving our cultural organizations, preserving that secret sauce of Oakland that attracted them here to begin with.

Another role that both tech and other businesses can play is thinking about a sustainable, resilient economy. That means buying your products and services locally, and thinking about socially conscious businesses and minority-owned businesses. Our partnership with Kiva has really focused on providing capital at zero interest for primarily small businesses that are owned by people of color. It also means that companies like Uber are making more socially conscious purchasing decisions. They recently entered into a contract with Red Bay Coffee: African-American owned, workers’ cooperative and primarily hires formerly incarcerated workers, a really socially beneficially company that also makes damn good coffee.

Are you making any changes at City Hall? Companies have R&D departments. Government has never really had that. I’m really trying to shift culture within city government and create a department of new product development or R&D. We are in the process of opening up a Civic Design Lab. It’s a physical place, but more importantly a programmatic place that is dedicated to bringing different departments together as well as the residents that use our governmental systems. It’s saying, let us redesign this process in a way that makes more sense, takes more advantage of modern technology and is more user focused.

Its first major project is redesigning the system where we handle our rent stabilization and just cause eviction laws. Landlords have to petition if they want to raise rents above the consumer price index under our rent stabilization program. People from the tenant activist community and the landlords got into the same room and actually found they have a lot of common complaints about the old system.

The next task is reengineering how we get the development pipeline through. They have a deadline of February. It’s our chief resiliency officer Kiran Jain, and she has one person working on it. A lot of what they’re doing is bringing in existing city workers and users to redesign.

What’s the status and timeline for the potential Raiders and A’s projects? My first job is to get a stadium deal that keeps the Raiders and also facilitates more robust development in the Coliseum area. I hope that will create even more of an incentive for the A’s to build their new ballpark at the Howard Terminal site next to the ferry landing next to Jack London Square. There’s a window for relocation in the NFL that opens between late January and March. We’ll know if we’re still in the game for keeping the Raiders in Oakland in the first couple months of the new year. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is also the timeline for when the A’s will indicate what their future sites are. They have said the only sites they are considering are in Oakland.

Do you think the current pace of development will continue? There is ample evidence to say the boom is real. I have control over certainty in the city’s process and the amount of time that it takes. Those are things that I recognize I have to work on to keep the boom real. I have to continue to work on things that can compromise value in this market. The biggest is safety. Last year, 2015, was the safest year that Oakland has seen in a decade. We had a lower per capita property crime rate than San Francisco did. We have a lot more work to do. I’m in no way satisfied. We are making terrific progress. Safety is not just the crime data. It’s the feeling you have when you’re out on the streets. The fact that we’ve added hundreds of new restaurants and bars and we’re finally seeing some retail come, that is creating this vitality and energy on our streets, both night and day. That creates the sense of not just safety, but excitement. That is the thing that I will continue to work on.

Source: San Francisco Business Times 



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