Oakland needs a bold, new vision for housing. The loss of life in the Ghost Ship fire should be a wake-up call to everyone, residents, developers and city officials alike. The tragedy highlights the danger of allowing property owners to rent sub-standard, un-sanctioned housing, or allowing people to illegally occupy commercial buildings in the pursuit of affordability.
This is precisely why we have zoning and building codes that distinguish between residential and commercial buildings and mandate safety and habitability standards. Property owners must ensure that their properties are legal and up to code. If a building has been allowed to deteriorate, or is being used illegally, the building may need to be vacated to complete the required work and/or ensure that residential occupancy is legal.
In our housing crisis, residents in need of affordable housing resist displacement. It is understandable that some people side with such residents out of compassion. But, Ghost Ship showed us in clear and unmistakable terms, there is nothing compassionate about letting people live in dangerous, life-threatening conditions.
Unfortunately, developers who turn around dangerous or illegally occupied properties are treated, by some, like bad-guys coming in to gentrify neighborhoods. The truth is, more often than not, the developer who turns properties around most often did not cause those properties to fall into disrepair.
We hope investors and developers will continue to renovate dangerous properties. At some point, we must face the reality that the cost of living in the Bay Area exceeds the ability of portions of our population to afford to live here. Either we come up with creative solutions and massive funding strategies, which has not been done so far, or a lot of people will not be able to live here.
If you do the math, it becomes clear that even with the adoption of impact fees for affordable housing, Measure KK funds and the county-wide affordable housing measure, the revenues from the measures are not nearly enough to meet the demand for affordable housing. Clearly, the problem is inadequate supply, and that should be our focus.
We need a new and bold vision that allows developers of market rate housing to create housing options that are affordable by design. Some of that may include micro- units, modular units, and repurposing formerly industrial properties. Buildings that are occupied illegally may require extensive renovations, often including environmental clean-up.
New projects often offer a better use of space, creating a greater number of units per building, often including such amenities as commercial spaces and green spaces in areas that currently lack such amenities, bike racks and LEED certified designs. These features benefit the entire community.
Oakland is an attractive place to live and people want to live here. The good news is that Oakland has the land to accommodate new residents without displacing those that are already here, if we have the will to build a bigger city.