The right kind of change: Oakland’s fight for an affordable housing impact fee

Joël Ramos Headshot

 Joel Aguiar*Update: In April 2016, the City of Oakland passed its first housing impact fee. We are immensely proud of the collective work that led to this new policy, which will leverage millions of dollars to build permanently affordable homes alongside new market-rate homes in Oakland. While there are certain conditions of the housing impact fee that we want to the City to improve in the future, TransForm believes that this was the first of many steps necessary to help expand affordable housing opportunities in Oakland.   

Oakland is no stranger to change. In fact, Oakland has been home to some of the most important cultural, social, and economic revolutions of our time.

But not every new change is a good one. Every day in my work, I hear far too many stories of people being priced out of Oakland, and pushed farther and farther away from their childhood homes, their jobs, and the communities they call home.

Why has this happened? It’s a combination of rapid development taking place throughout the city, coupled with the loss of funding streams that we lost when Redevelopment was dissolved. The result has driven up the cost of housing so much that long-term, low-income residents, and communities of color are forced out of their homes, and even out of Oakland altogether.  

But this too can change.

The Oakland Community Investment Alliance (co-founded and co-led by TransForm) has been working tirelessly to move the City of Oakland to pass a housing impact fee. A housing impact fee would require developers to pay a one-time fee to the City’s Housing Trust Fund, which would raise money for building and preserving permanently affordable homes. A strong housing impact would be an important tool in keeping families of all incomes in their homes.

TransForm has been spending a lot of time working to bring a strong housing impact fee to Oakland. After the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan (that we were involved with in 2014), Oakland officials made promises to the neighborhood’s residents that they would work on passing a housing impact fee as a way to make sure new development wouldn’t displace the very people who helped create a new prosperous vision for the neighborhood.

To so many Oakland residents, a housing impact fee is a promise that they will be able to stick around, and benefit from, a changing Oakland.  

That’s why, at countless meetings over the past two years, we’ve stood with many impassioned people to speak up as City Councilmembers studied, debated, and listened to why Oakland needs a strong housing impact fee. On January 26, over a hundred people showed up to the Community and Economic Development Committee meeting at City Hall to support this housing impact fee.

It is LONG past time for Development Impact Fees in Oakland.

Oakland has been debating developer contributions to affordable housing for at least 15 years without implementing anything. TransForm, along with advocates including APEN, EBHO and Greenbelt Alliance, have urged the City to include requirements for affordable housing in Oakland’s Specific Area plans, modeling what has been adopted in many other cities.

Opponents of a high housing impact fee argue that it would “kill all development” in Oakland. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Impact fees have been adopted in at least 30 cities around the Bay Area, and developers are well accustomed to paying such fees. It is no secret that Oakland has been moving to adopt an impact fee. The City of Oakland has been studying the impact and benefits of a housing impact fee since July 2013. By the time a fee is implemented in mid-2016, they will have spent at least two years letting the public and developers know that a housing impact fee is coming.

Additionally, Oakland has some 14,000 units of housing in the pipeline – projects that have either received planning approvals or have submitted complete applications for approval.  As these new units are built, it will only strengthen investor confidence and make it easier, and more lucrative, to build new housing, even with a housing impact fee.

Based on what we see working in other cities, and on projected growth with rocketing rents in Oakland, the City should put itself in the best position possible to capture some of the value of this new development and protect its longtime residents. This will only happen if Oakland City Councilmembers pass a strong housing impact fee.

Too many residents in Oakland cannot wait any longer for new affordable housing to be built. Oakland has some of the fastest rising rents in the entire nation. The displacement of low income residents and communities of color, many of whom have lived in Oakland for many years and have strong roots here, is already well underway. While a strong housing impact fee won’t be the “silver bullet” to the problem, it will be one very strong solution we should be employing to keep people close to the communities we live and work in. Without new local funding for affordable housing, this situation will only worsen. 

Please join us at the Oakland City Council meeting on Tuesday March 22, from 1:30 – 4 pm  when the Community  and Economic Development Committee of Oakland’s City Council hears the issue again. #OaklandIsWorthIt!

For more information, please contact me at jramos@TransFormCA.org or call at 510-740-3150 ext. 318.

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.