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Oakland Considers Steps to Protect Low-Income Residential Hotels

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Oakland is considering passing regulations to protect residential hotels for low- and very-low income residents.

 

“Increasingly, speculative real estate investors have begun to target Oakland’s residential hotels as potential lucrative conversion projects,” according to a city staff report approved unanimously at Tuesday’s Community and Economic Development (CED) meeting.

 

 

The investors are converting these buildings into “boutique hotels” that cater to the affluent, and some have become Airbnb rentals, according to affording housing advocates.

 

Residential hotels, often called Single Room Occupancies or SROs, are an “essential option” for low-income Oaklanders who would otherwise face displacement or end up homeless and on the street, the city report said.

 

“(SROs) don’t require credit checks, proof of income or a long-term lease that may disqualify some from accessing other forms of long term housing,” making them an important source of housing for low-income people, the report said.

 

About 25 percent of residential hotel tenants have lived in their units for more than five years and many of those who live in the SROs are elderly African American and Chinese residents.

 

According to the city report, there are 18 residential hotels in downtown Oakland, with a total of about 1,200 units.

 

Council members and community affordable housing advocates are concerned that the staff report gives the city only six months to come up with options for preserving residential hotels.

 

During that period, they said, investors have the opportunity buy up residential buildings and convert them. Housing advocates are asking the city to pass a moratorium on such conversions until protections are enacted by the council.

 

Proposals include requesting that the City Planning Commission amend the Planning Code to preserve residential housing for low-income residents.

 

Staff is also asking that the amount of relocation assistance be increased for residents.

 

The staff report also requests that the City Administrator look into whether Oakland could purchase or lease residential hotels.

 

Speaking at the meeting, Elissa Dennis, senior affordable housing finance consultant of Community Economics, said many of the city’s SROs are privately owned and not in very good condition.

 

“But they are providing housing of last resort,” she said. They are “being rehabbed…and it’s happening very rapidly.”

 

“Put a moratorium on conversions,” Dennis said. “You don’t want your efforts to exacerbate the conversions.”

City Government

Council Unanimously Approves Local Business Empowerment Ordinance

The Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce (OAACC) and Post News Group joined with District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor to host a town hall to discuss ways to mitigate local contracting disparities.

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District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor

The Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce (OAACC) and Post News Group joined with District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor to host a town hall to discuss ways to mitigate local contracting disparities.

Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, and the staff of District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife also joined the town hall meeting to add their support for full implementation of the plan to bring a more equitable distribution of the city’s contracting dollars.

A direct response to the city’s 2017 Disparities Study, conducted by Mason Tillman Associates, showed more than $56M in lost contract dollars for the Black community during the five-year study period. The purpose of the town hall was to receive community input on potential solutions, including Taylor’s Local Business Empowerment Through Contracting (LBETC) Resolution & Ordinance.

While the resolution was passed unanimously during the Council’s meeting on January 12, questions of financial and operational impact delayed the ordinance’s second reading to this week’s council meeting. Co-sponsored by District 7 Councilmember Treva Reid, the ordinance was also unanimously approved by the councilmembers present in a 7-0 vote, following immense public support mobilized by OAACC President Cathy Adams prior to and during the council meeting.

Taylor thanked the OAACC and the many groups and individuals who urged transparent and regular public reporting of all contracts, even those that are awarded at staff’s discretion for amounts less than $50,000 without council approval.

Taylor said quick action is required because, “Our local diverse business owners are currently missing out on millions of dollars in city contracting opportunities. There is still much work to do moving forward.”

Paul Cobb, publisher of the Post, said “We will regularly publish the names and amounts of  all contracts awarded to companies and individuals. With diligent monitoring we can reverse the drain of Oakland’s tax dollars and reverse the cashflow characteristics to help create jobs for Oakland residents.”

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City Government

Community Support Needed to Ensure Progress Addressing City of Oakland Contracting Disparities

In conjunction with the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce and the Oakland Post News Group, Taylor is hosting a virtual town hall on Saturday, February 13 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.During this meeting diverse business owners will hear directly from the councilmember on his proposed solutions to address the city’s current contracting disparities. This will also be an opportunity for companies to learn more about local resources available and share insight on what is still needed.

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Councilmember Loren Taylor with Black community and business Leaders demanding the city aggressively address race and gender disparities.

Over the past six weeks, The Oakland Post has run several articles on the significant disparities facing Black and women-owned businesses who pursue city contracts. We are focusing on this topic so much because the millions of dollars that should have come to the Black community are sorely needed to help improve the educational, economic, and health outcomes of our community. Legislation proposed by District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor is intended to bring those millions of dollars back to the Black community.

As reported in 2017 Race & Gender Disparity Study, African-American companies were awarded 3.21% of the prime construction contracts and only 0.32% of total construction contract dollars. As it relates to professional services, African-American companies received 2.92% of prime contracts and 0.91% of total dollars. According to Taylor, “These numbers are particularly concerning seeing that African Americans comprise 25% of Oakland’s population.”

In conjunction with the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce and the Oakland Post News Group, Taylor is hosting a virtual town hall on Saturday, February 13 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.During this meeting diverse business owners will hear directly from the councilmember on his proposed solutions to address the city’s current contracting disparities. This will also be an opportunity for companies to learn more about local resources available and share insight on what is still needed.

To ensure these new policies move forward, community members are invited to attend the upcoming City Council Meeting on Tuesday, February 16 at 1:30 p.m. and e-mail the City Council at council@oaklandca.gov.

Loren Taylor is the District 6 councilmember for the City of Oakland.

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City Government

As Unhoused Community’s Eviction Approaches, City Council Discusses ‘Alternative Shelter’ Options 

Residents claim over 35 people live in the park and that City representatives told them they would be cleared in the first week of February and offered shared space in the City’s Community Cabins, also known as the tuff sheds. For Edward Hansen, 65, who’s lived in the park for over seven years, was born in Oakland, and just got out of the hospital after having a stroke, accepting the space would mean sharing a room with a new person he does not live with. Hansen plans to reject the offer.

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Edward Hansen, who was born in Oakland and has lived in or near Union Point Park for 7 years, holds a painted anchor at the park. Union Point Park's homeless community is set to be evicted before February 12. Photo by Zack Haber on January 17.

At a January 12 meeting, Oakland’s City Council discussed, but did not vote upon, amendments proposed by Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Nikki Fortunato Bas requesting the City offer unhoused residents extended shelter stays and individual shelter units following evictions of unhoused people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Out of concern for possibly spreading the COVID-19 virus, Kaplan said that “people should not be made to share a room with those who they do not already live with.” A resolution, passed unanimously by Council on March 27 of last year, requested the City to only clear unhoused communities if it offered residents “individual housing units or alternative shelter,” but the Council still has not decided what “alternative shelter” means.

The delay will likely soon affect unhoused residents at Union Point Park, as the City plans to clear the park but does not yet have codified guidance from the Council as to what alternative shelter options they should offer unhoused people when they execute the clearance.

Due to a cease-and-desist order that the S.F. Bay Conservation and Development Commission has delivered to the City of Oakland, which the City has not challenged, residents living in Union Point Park must be cleared from the park by February 12.

Residents claim over 35 people live in the park and that City representatives told them they would be cleared in the first week of February and offered shared space in the City’s Community Cabins, also known as the tuff sheds. For Edward Hansen, 65, who’s lived in the park for over seven years, was born in Oakland, and just got out of the hospital after having a stroke, accepting the space would mean sharing a room with a new person he does not live with. Hansen plans to reject the offer.

“If they’re not going to physically push us with police, I’m going to stand my ground,” said Hansen. “From what I understand they have to offer us something a wee bit better than what we have now.”

After Council unanimously passed the Encampment Management Policy during an October 21 meeting, which set strict guidelines for where the City plans to focus unhoused community closures, Oakland’s City Administration proposed a resolution that defines what “alternative shelter” they plan to offer people like Hansen. The resolution allows “congregate” or grouped shelter, like homeless shelters and shared space in the Community Cabins, to be offered. It further stipulated that the shelter must be offered “no less than 72 hours prior to an encampment clearing” and for a stay “of at least two weeks.”

Advocates for homeless people found the resolution unacceptable and encouraged the public to call City Council members to encourage them to accept amendments by Kaplan and Bas’ that request “alternative shelter” be defined instead as offers of individual shelter units for a minimum of 90 day stays with 30 days prior notice.

“Do not let the current proposal of two weeks, potentially in congregate shelter, pass!,” the homeless advocacy group Housing and Dignity Village tweeted on January 11. “While permanent housing is always the goal…we need folks to receive AT LEAST 90 days in COVID safe housing options.”

Councilmember Loren Taylor and Dan Kalb both spoke in support of the extension of stays to at least 90 days with at least 30 days prior notification. But a point of contention arose over whether or not homeless shelters, where individuals would share space with strangers, should be considered “alternative shelter.” Taylor reiterated a claim that Homelessness Administrator Daryel Dunston made that there have thus far been no outbreaks in Oakland homeless shelters and that the shelters were operating at a reduced capacity. Kalb agreed and stated that shelters that do not require residents to leave during the day “maybe should be” used for the purpose of alternative shelter.

Kaplan expressed concerns that a new strain of COVID-19 that is more contagious could more easily spread in grouped shelters. The CDC’s website refers to it as B.1.1.7 and states that it has already been detected in the United States. She also reiterated concerns over how social distancing and mask regulations would be impossible in shelters.

“It’s not six feet or a mask; it’s six feet and a mask,” said Kaplan. “When you’re in an indoor room with other people where you would be needing to sleep and eat and take your mask off. That is not what the 6-foot standard refers to.”

Council did not discuss the Community Cabin Program but Kaplan and Bas’ amendments would still allow them to be used as long as people, excluding those who were already sharing a tent or a dwelling, were no longer forced to share single cabin units.

During the discussion at the meeting over the amendments, which lasted about an hour, Councilmember Noel Gallo suggested that the matter be brought to the newly formed homelessness commission to get their input before Council votes.

Taylor suggested Council address the issue on March 22, when they will consider amendments to the Encampment Management Policy. Council ended their discussion by unanimously agreeing to delay voting on the amendments, meaning that the City currently has no agreed-upon definition with Council as to what “alternative shelter” means for residents who are facing clearance.

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