Oakland Achieves Success with Strategy to Address Housing Affordability and Displacement
In 2015, Oakland, California was riding the crest of a great economic wave. Years of growth in both higher wage and lower-wage jobs had helped to make Oakland a haven for tech entrepreneurs and others seeking to share in the City’s growing prosperity and Bay-area lifestyle. With analysts’ forecasts predicting significant increases in job growth over the coming five years to 2020, times were good.
But the droves of businesses and people pouring into the City put pressure on the local housing market. A lack of housing supply and rising prices contributed to the growing number of Oaklanders that found themselves unable to purchase or rent a home at an affordable price. In fact, a majority of Oaklanders could not afford to rent or purchase a home in their own neighborhoods.
Not only that, local housing dynamics were quickly giving rise to the displacement and insecurity of vulnerable inter-generational residents, including many in Oakland’s communities of color and low-income families, who provided for much of the diversity, vibrancy and culture that Oakland had become known for. Mayor Libby Schaaf, early in her first term, recognized this a key challenge facing the City. How would Mayor Schaaf protect the affordability of Oakland’s housing markets while ensuring that the City’s economic success didn’t price out or push out its long-term residents?
In September of 2015, Mayor Schaaf convened the Oakland Housing Cabinet, an assembly of City Council members, housing experts, and community stakeholders. The Housing Cabinet was tasked with crafting a practical strategy to address the City’s burgeoning affordability and housing insecurity problems.
Using the City’s Roadmap Toward Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland policy framework as a springboard, the Housing Cabinet quickly established a set of shared values and criteria for evaluating the feasibility of the City’s strategic options on housing affordability (see Box 1). The Housing Cabinet, along with other volunteers, then broke out into a series of nine working groups to delve into the affordability issues and start evaluating, vetting, and surfacing recommended actions. Finally, the Housing Cabinet obtained City departmental and stakeholder commitments for a strong implementation of the strategy.
Four Criteria for Determining Feasibility of Solutions:
- Impact: How many units would be affected? In addition to volume, it was important to be mindful of how many homes could be preserved, the levels of affordability that could be protected and who would be impacted.
- Financial: What are the estimated costs and sources for each recommendation? Which strategies and activities will optimize the use of limited resources?
- Operational: What capacity would be required –and by whom exactly– to implement each recommendation? Would additional resource be needed to meet capacity requirements?
- Political: Is there enough support and if not, how can it be expanded?
In 2016, the Housing Cabinet released its Oakland at Home report which, as its central component, established a goal of protecting 17,000 households from displacement and building 17,000 new and affordable homes within the eight years to 2024. The Oakland at Home report, also known as the 17k/17k plan contained ten distinct strategies and approximately 40 recommended actions to achieve the City’s shared housing goals.
The displacement protection strategies in the plan emphasized a series of actions to improve, strengthen, and enforce renter protections, such as revising the City’s Just Cause for Eviction and Tenant Protection ordinances. For example, in November of 2016, Measure JJ, an update to the Just Cause ordinance was placed on the ballot which included language to expand and extend protections to residents of buildings constructed before 1995.
Other strategies to build more affordable homes included the pursuit of a municipal bond issuance to finance affordable housing and making reforms to the City’s permitting process. In November 2016, a $600 million infrastructure bond was also placed on the ballot, Measure KK, which included $100 million to finance the production of affordable housing units.
Some openly wondered if the Mayor’s 17k/17k Plan was pie in the sky. But in March 2019, after three years if implementation work on the 17k/17k Plan, Mayor Schaff announced that nearly 13,000 Oaklanders were now benefiting from new tenant protections with the number of evictions declining by more than 30 percent. Additionally, 10,000 new homes have been built which include a 34 percent increase in the number of affordable homes over the previous three years. Not only that, the Mayor reported that over 90% of the original recommended actions were either completed or presently underway.
 Beacon Economics, “East Bay Economic Outlook 2014–2015” http://eastbayeda.org/ebeda-assets/reports/2014/EDA-Outlook-2014-2015.pdf, (2014).
 Policy Link & City of Oakland, “A Roadmap Towards Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland, California” https://www.policylink.org/sites/default/files/pl-report-oak-housing-070715.pdf, (2015).