Getting the affordable housing discussion back on track

At the September 18th meeting when the Council received the Blue Ribbon Commission report, Jane Brunner lamented our failure to adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance, saying “We have been discussing this issue for 8 years, and we’ve never gotten the five votes….we’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting.” She acknowledged that the Council is split 4-4 on the issue, but then somewhat bizarrely concluded that since half of them want it, they should “just do it.” If only getting things done were so simple. IZ represents a serious ideological divide, and there is no compromise on the table that that negates concerns that IZ would actively hurt our ability to affordable housing production.

Inclusionary zoning advocates are quick to point out that IZ is not a panacea, but only part of a comprehensive affordable housing strategy. However, they fail to offer other suggestions. IZ opponents are equally culpable. They correctly point out that IZ will not help create more affordable housing, but they are so consumed with arguing against IZ that they fail to present alternatives. In November, Oakland’s City Council will once again discuss our affordable housing policies, in conjunction with a promised plan from the Mayor’s office. If this conversation is to be productive, they will have to move beyond the endless bickering about IZ that has dominated our discussion for the past several years. In the spirit of getting the ball rolling, dto510 and I are using our blogs this week to present some other options that the Council should consider as a way to move the discussion beyond IZ.

Our affordable housing funding comes from a combination of state and federal grants, plus what we generate on our own through the Redevelopment Area tax increment. For a detailed description of how we used our federal funding last year, you can take a glance at the 2006-2007 CAPER (pdf!). We get roughly $5 million annually in Community Development Block Grants and another $5 million in HOME grants, and assisted a grand total of 384 households with our federal funds. We got another $12 million in state housing bond money. State law mandates that 20% of the tax increment in a redevelopment area be set aside for affordable housing. Additionally, we reserve a voluntary 5% of the tax increment to supplement this figure. For 2006-2007, the total affordable housing set-aside from redevelopment funding was $20,483,520 (PDF!).

When Mayor Dellums talks about his vision for Oakland as a model city, his rhetoric is dependent on getting more state and federal funding. I find this attitude defeatist and depressing. Obviously we should do our best to get as much money from other sources as possible, but any attempts to do so should be coordinated with efforts to maximize our own resources. We cannot sit and wait forever for Air Force One to swoop in and deliver us from all our problems. The best way for us to increase our own funding for affordable housing is to build more market-rate housing in redevelopment areas. We need to look at ways to ease barriers to construction that will allow us to increase the tax increment, and by extension, affordable housing funding from the set-aside.