Step 4: Recommendations for Protecting Oakland’s Diverse Housing Tenures

The analysis conducted thus far has produced a clearer picture of the diversity of Oakland’s housing tenures, a rough quantification of how many people are living in each tenure, and a portrait of protections and vulnerabilities for each tenure based on the current legal and political landscape in Oakland. A summary of findings can be found here, and the full analysis is here.

These three steps are the heart of HVA, and can be done by a relatively small team. As we noted in the beginning, a complete HVA would incorporate three more areas of protection/vulnerability: financial issues such as income, debt, insurance and taxation; environmental and geographic concerns such as disaster or redevelopment; and community and demographic issues such as discrimination. You can read more about our plans to develop these forms of analysis here, both for Oakland and beyond.

Step 4 is to turn findings into recommendations, and this requires a larger set of participants, especially in a complex housing situation like Oakland. Perhaps in a smaller jurisdiction with less diversity of both people and housing tenures, a single organization or agency could generate both the analysis and recommendations. But given the complexity of Oakland, and the fact that the advocacy landscape in integrated into the analysis, the best practice in our opinion for developing Step 4 is to convene a diverse group of housing advocates and experts to turn findings into recommendations.

For this project, we convened two meetings of housing advocates from Oakland and the larger region, one in April 2018 and another in September 2018. The first went over initial findings, the second worked to turn findings into recommendations.

NOTE THAT PARTICIPATION DOES NOT CONSTITUTE ENDORSEMENT OF THE FINDINGS OR RECOMMENDATIONS

Representatives from the following organizations participated in one or both convenings:

  • Tenants Together
  • Urban Habitat
  • Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA)
  • Oakland Community Land Trust
  • PolicyLink
  • Community Development Department of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank
  • Enterprise Community Partners
  • Oakland Tenants Union
  • Causa Justa / Just Cause

Findings and Recommendations

We first present highlights of key findings from Step 3, followed by a more detailed tenure-by-tenure set of possible actions.

Note that the housing landscape is constantly shifting, and changes in the protective fabric have occurred multiple times during the course of the development of this analysis.

  • Oakland rent regulation rules were amended to eliminate the loophole which allowed ‘substantial repairs’ to be a pathway out of rent control for landlords.
  • Proposition 10 failed at the statewide level, which would have enabled broader rent regulation, including for single-family homes.
  • Keep Oakland Housed, a network of foundations and community organizations, ,  from the region as a whole emerged in a bold attempt to provide direct financial assistance to Oakland residents at risk of losing their home.
  • The CASA compact was drafted by regional leaders, which proposed regional rent regulation (a key form of protection) as part of a larger set of housing measures designed to spur production, but has little mention of specific preservation measures.

We address some of these shifts and big picture issues at the end. One of the reasons for choosing a web-based means of reporting this analysis is that HVA needs to be done in a way that it can become a living analysis.

Many of the recommendations emerge from other important reports and studies that have been done by organizations around the country. We link to these reports in the table below, and you can also find more information in our References and Resources page.


Legal Protections

Single-family rentals (SFR) are the largest tenure (77,000+ residents ) without signification protections, including but not limited to rent stabilization measures. Not only is single-family rental housing exempt from Costa-Hawkins, ‘new’ construction cutoffs for existing rental properties mean that Oakland faces a constantly diminishing supply of commensurable homes. Without statewide Costa-Hawkins reform, Oakland’s rent stabilization program could be reformed to cover owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes, to better insulate this tenure from displacement pressures.

Doubling up represents a persistent and growing — yet largely unprotected — tenure in Oakland. Although there is evidence that doubling up in Oakland has increased at least 70% between 2009 and 2018, existing data does not reveal the extent to which this growth is driven by formal subleasing versus unapproved arrangements. While the former is already less secure than other rental tenures, the latter is a significant displacement risk for low-income residents.

Condo conversion also represents a significant risk to affordable rental housing in the city, with up to 29,000 units at risk. Although Oakland has restricted condo conversions in some areas, roughly nine in ten 2-4 unit buildings are located outside of these areas.

Low-income homeowners remain vulnerable to displacement in Oakland. Predatory financial lending, rising insurance premiums (particularly for those in fire-prone areas or flood zones), potentially costly code compliance fees, and exclusions and limits within existing homeowner assistance programs represent drivers of vulnerable for this tenure.

Market-rate rental units. The protective fabric is incomplete as the date of construction creates an uneven pattern. Newly constructed units lack most rental protections, including both rent regulation and Just Cause Eviction.


Advocacy and Governance

Many tenure groups lack clear advocates, including lodgers and those doubling up, despite the pressing growth and general absence of protections afforded to these living arrangements. Advocates can bring focus — including better data — and support to these tenures. Strong advocates exist for low-income homeowners, but they are under-resourced and not as widespread as advocates for other vulnerable tenures.

Formal governance institutions which protect renters, including the Rent Board and Rental Adjustment Program, could be strengthened. The Rent Board is appointed rather than elected, and does not see tenant assistance and security as their primary mandate. They do not provide Know-Your-Rights education in a significant way, and in general most tenures in Oakland suffer from inadequate knowledge about their rights and protections under the law. The Rental Adjustment Program is understaffed and does not seek proactive intervention in Oakland’s fast-shifting housing landscape, leading to real — and often negative — consequences for residents facing displacement.

Tenure at RiskLegal and Political Actions
Single-Family Rental– Extend Just Cause eviction protections
– Extend unlawful detainer response time
– Continue push for Costa-Hawkins reform to enable rent regulation for SFR
Market Rental with Housing Choice Vouchers (section 8)– Adopt version of Santa Monica Ordinance which prevents discrimination against voucher holders
– Use City Median Income not Area Median Income to determine rent levels and eligibility
– Expand landlord incentives, and include more housing tenures like Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s)
Non-conforming uses – Enact broader amnesty for ADU units
– Improve relocation funding for worst cases
– Adopt a rehabilitative not punitive approach to code enforcement
– Further develop proactive rental inspection approach
Multi-family rental– Implement TOPA (Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act) to reduce risk of displacement from Condo Conversion, no fault owner move-in evictions, and other tactics that can lead to displacement as a result of real estate transation-related activity, while empowering tenants to become owners
– Develop Small Sites program similar to San Francisco to finance preservation of small for-profit rent-regulated buildings bynon-profit or third way organizations
Homeownership tenures– Re-Fund assistance program for repairs for low-income homeowners
– Make property tax deferral program more broadly available and less burdensome
– Improve access to resources for low-income homeowners, especially seniors and the disabled
– Conduct a specific report/investigation as to the challenges of low-income homeowners
All Rental tenures – Implement Rent Registry, and develop better and more publicly accessible data on evictions and rent levels
– Change to an elected Rent Board (similar to Berkeley) which views tenant assistant as part of their mission
– Fully staff the Rental Adjustment Program
– Pursue regional strategies such as regional right to counsel, or regional rent regulations (see initial CASA compact)
– Consider ‘Ban the Box’-type initiatives to reduce vulnerability amongst the formerly incarcerated, who often end up in precarious tenures due to the inability to obtain more protected forms of housing
– Expand Just Cause Eviction protections to all rental tenures by eliminating new construction cutoff, similar to other California cities like San José and San Diego
All tenure serving low-income residents– Demand greater transparency on Measure KK (2016 Bond initiative) expenditures
– Examine possibilities for vacancy tax, corporate tax, landlord fees to fund programs
Homeless tenures– Develop measures to legalize living in vehicles
– Make more lots available for homeless parking
– Develop regulations around a right to camp on public land
– Recognize homelessness as a tenure
Doubled-up tenures– Extend Just Cause evictions protections to doubled up tenants, as Richmond has done

From Protection and Preservation to Production

As we note in the general introduction to HVA, a core ethos of HVA is that the focus of housing policy and advocacy needs to be on protecting all tenures. Even the most precarious of tenures – homeless and informal tenures – should be approached from the perspective of making them safe and secure first, rather than assuming we can just move residents into more secure tenures.

Converting tenures can be difficult and expensive, and in many cases the focus must be to protect people in place. This explains the focus above on protective measures, rather than producing more units or tenure conversion.

Other times the best answer is to convert homes to more protective tenures through preservation techniques. Preservation is a protection strategy, and the question of which strategy is the best depends on the specific case. HVA was developed in part to help housing advocates and policy makers make decisions based on the case at hand, not on one-size fits all approaches. For more ideas on how to grow protective tenures like Community Land Trusts, see the Rooted in Home Report, or visit our References and Resources page.

Ultimately, any intervention will require a greater commitment by Oakland leaders to housing its citizens, particularly the most vulnerable. While producing more housing is certainly necessary, taking concrete steps to protect and preserve the full range of the 52+ housing tenures identified here is a critical first step. Whether you are formally housing or informally sheltered in Oakland, you should have a right to feel safe in your current housing before voting to build anymore.