Why Oakland needs a stronger housing impact fee

I won’t mince words – Oakland is in a housing affordability crisis of epic proportions. And with some of the highest rents in the country and Uber’s impending arrival, tensions around Oakland’s housing and displacement crisis are at a fever pitch.  

To make matters worse, as low income and communities of color face threats of displacement, dwindling government funds for affordable homes means affordable housing developers are struggling to build enough units to serve the growing need.

The result? More Oaklanders are pushed onto the streets or into their cars for shelter. Those who work in Oakland are forced to live miles away in places like Stockton just to make ends meet. Families must make unthinkable decisions between paying rent or putting food on the table.

But Oakland will soon have the opportunity to invest in affordable homes.

The City is set to consider an affordable housing impact fee, which would require developers to pay a one-time fee to the City’s Housing Trust Fund, which would raise much-needed money for building and preserving permanently affordable homes.

The housing impact fee is based on the premise that new development draws affluent residents who need services, which creates new low-wage and service sector jobs. These new cashiers, retail workers, and others will not be able to afford the market-rate housing, which means that new development simultaneously creates more need for affordable housing. An impact fee recognizes this relationship, and requires developers to contribute fees to help the City pay for some of the costs of building affordable housing.

Seems fair, right?

Well, not everyone thinks so. Some developers argue that new market-rate housing alone will relieve the region’s housing shortage and promote affordability. But the reality is that unless we intervene, the Bay Area's broken housing market will never be able to serve working families, seniors, and people with disabilities.* Without public money earmarked for affordable homes, Oaklanders will continue to be left out and pushed out by new growth.

The Oakland Community Investment Alliance (OCIA) - which includes Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), Greenbelt Alliance, Public Advocates, and TransForm - has been building community power for a strong housing impact fee in Oakland for nearly two years. And while the City has completed the nexus study necessary for the fee to be legal, the work to get a strong fee that will produce meaningful funds is far from over.   

Knowing that we need to make our voices heard, EBHO and OCIA resident leaders led over 120 affordable housing advocates in a Housing Fee Now! Rally outside City Hall in November to demand a robust housing impact fee (read OCIA’s community policy priorities for an impact fee here).

Though there were no shortage of inspirational moments, one resident’s powerful message rings loud in my mind today: “We need a housing impact fee because housing is a human right, and because our lives depend on it!”

Even though it sounds wonky, a housing impact fee is truly an essential tool for winning racial and economic justice in housing. And while a housing impact fee is not a silver bullet to Oakland’s affordability crisis - we’ll also need policies like a strong public lands ordinance and tenant protections - it’s a meaningful and necessary start. Our lives depend on it.

Want to get involved? 

Come to the Rally for Affordable Housing in front of Oakland City Hall on December 15th at 1:15 pm. Find more information here

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Charlotte Rosen is Membership & Communications Associate at East Bay Housings Organizations (EBHO), a membership non-profit dedicated to working with communities in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties to preserve, protect, and expand affordable housing opportunities through education, advocacy, organizing, and coalition building. 

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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.