It took me longer than I planned to get around to this, but I said a while ago that I’d follow up on my post about 319 Chester Street. Better late than never, right?
So when they get to the consent calendar at the Council meeting, District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan is like “Okay. Let me see if I have this right. ”
- This lot is worth $100,00.
- We are giving the lot to the developer at no cost.
- We are also providing the developer as much as $375,000 to build the house.
- The total investment is therefore $475,000.
- Then the house will be sold to someone who qualifies for affordable housing assistance.
- Then the house will have affordability restrictions for 45 years.
Which is, well, a pretty good recap of the situation. Then she added that the idea of any house in that neighborhood selling for $475,000 seems unlikely, and that although the job training aspect of the proposal was appealing, the Council had not been given any quantifiable information about said training program, like how many people would be trained or how many hours they would work or anything like that.
So then District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel was like, “Well, I don’t know about the cost of the land, but I’ve been trying to make this happen for like five years. Sure, it’s possible that we won’t get all our money back, but if we’re going to take public property and put it in private hands, there has to be some public benefit, which is the reasoning behind the job training and affordable housing aspects to the plan.
So the first thing that popped into my mind when she was talking is that if it is taking you five years to figure out how to build one house on one City owned vacant lot, maybe that should be a sign that it isn’t meant to be. Right? Also, if we were to just sell the lot at a market price, it seems like there would be a public benefit to the transaction because we would get money from it that can be used to pay for services.
So then Pat Kernighan comes back and is like “Well, that’s all very admirable, but I’m concerned that we’re not going to be able to sell this house. Even if it wasn’t required to be affordable, $475,000 seems like a stretch. And why would anyone buy a house with affordability restrictions that limit their ability to benefit from appreciation when they can just get a normal house without all that for less money?”
Then she asked if staff was aware of any affordable housing anywhere in the city that had sold for $475,000, to which staff responded that there are non-affordable condos like half a mile away that have been listed for $400,000, and that since this house is going to be bigger than most of the other houses in the area, and because the neighborhood is so “centrally located” to downtown and various highways, that they expected to get a pretty good price for it.
And Pat Kernighan is all “Um…you do know that the way people normally figure out what property is worth is by looking at selling prices, not asking prices, right?” And staff was like “Oh, sorry. We don’t have any information about that.”
So then, at-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan was like “Look, maybe you can sell this house for $475,000. Or you can sell it as affordable housing. But obviously not both. What is the price affordable to someone at 60% AMI anyway?”
And nobody knew!
I was pretty pleased with the conversation up to that point. But then District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks is like “What am I missing? We own this property and we’re not doing anything with it right now. This seems like a great idea, why are we even discussing this?” And Rebecca Kaplan is all “Oh, I’m fine with us doing it for the job training if we remove the affordability requirement.” Which seemed odd to me, since nobody seemed to have any information about this training program.
Then District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente is like “Look, this doesn’t make any sense. If we want affordable housing, then give the lot to someone who’s going to build some affordable units that will actually be affordable and stop pretending we’re going to get the money back. If we want job training, why don’t we just invest more in our existing job training programs like the Cypress Mandela training center or whatever.” I completely agree with that. I have never understand why Oakland seems to feel the need to constantly reinvent the wheel.
So then Mayor-elect Jean Quan is all “Well, there’s a lot of gentrification going on in West Oakland, so it’s important that this stay affordable. I walked West Oakland during my campaign and I’m really concerned about keeping some affordable housing there. Plus, this isn’t General Fund money anyway.”
And then Nancy Nadel is like “Oh, actually, there’s plenty of affordable housing there, so really what I want is the job training. The Cypress Mandela program is too long and lots of people can’t afford to do their 13 (actually, it’s 16 – V) week all day training program, so this is better because they can just come at night after they get off work and get trained.”
And you know what? Maybe that is the case. I have no idea. Because nowhere, in any of these discussions or reports (PDF), has anyone provided any kind of information about what this job training entails, how many people will be trained, and what the end outcomes for the trainees is supposed to be. And without that information, approving the project for job training purposes just seems totally insane to me. How can you evaluate whether a program is worth spending all this money on when you don’t even know what the program is? At the very least, you’d think the City should be providing some kind of tangible, measurable criteria for the program before doling out money.
So then Council President Jane Brunner is like “Well, I liked it when it was affordable housing and job training, but if it’s only training, then it seems silly, since we have all these other training programs already.” And then Rebecca Kaplan said she would support it if we removed the affordable housing component, although that seemed even more problematic to me, since most of the money they were proposing to use for the project was from affordable housing funds.
And then they decided that they’d go back and try to figure things out a little more and have it come back at a future meeting. And that was that.
You can watch a video of the discussion below.