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Meeting addresses Bay housing needs

By Matthew Lorenz Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday June 16, 2001

The Economic Development Alliance for Business held a special meeting of its executive committee Thursday afternoon to assess the need for low and moderate income housing in the Bay Area. 

EDAB is one of the largest public/private economic development business organizations in the Bay Area. It has assembled a Jobs/Housing Task Force to look into the “jobs-housing mismatch” that the housing shortage has created. The executive committee met to discuss the Task Force’s findings.  

These findings are partly based on an Association of Bay Area Government housing need analysis, which says that about 47,000 units of new housing will have to be built in Alameda County by 2006. 

The ABAG projections are based on the 1990 Bay Area census data. They do not yet include the 2000 data, much of which has not yet become available. 

John Dalrymple of Contra Costa’s Central Labor Council suggested that there may be need for a more accurate assessment of the Bay Area’s housing need. 

“I think one of the challenges we have is the assessment of need, because the economy is different from the economy of 11 or 12 years ago,” Dalrymple said.  

Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, who also chairs EDAB, said this is a legitimate concern.  

“While the (2000) Census data was not available until April of this year,” Carson said, “I’m sure we’re going to go back and look at those types of indicators.”  

Mayor Shirley Dean addressed the group and emphasized the need for low-income and affordable housing placement to be uniform.  

“We ought to make sure that it’s inclusionary within the community,” Dean said, “and that we’re not creating little pockets – or big pockets – of low-income housing or affordable housing here and there.” 

Dean also urged that EDAB “recognize the disparities in density that already exist.”  

“Berkeley, for example, is, I believe, the densest community in Alameda County. It is harder for us to add more density when we see communities that have building lots,” Dean said.  

“We really want to get the point across that communities have got to share density. It does us no good to build 10-story buildings in the City of Berkeley, while (people) have to commute to Walnut Creek to their jobs.” 

Norma Rees of California State University, Hayward, was concerned not only with a need for balanced density across communities, but also with a need for a balanced distribution of low-income and affordable housing across communities.  

“Some communities have a lot more (affordable housing) than others, and I don’t know how that’s reflected in the (EDAB) recommendation.” 

Amy Hodgett, Alameda County housing and community development manager, confirmed Rees’s suspicion: The recommendation doesn’t reflect the disparity. 

“The report is based on the goal of all of the communities in two counties meeting the ABAG numbers. We use that as a place to start. But it does not address the fact that one community has more affordable housing today than others,” Hodgett said. “That’s the goal.”  

Pleasanton Mayor Thomas Pico spoke out against the penalties that may be enforced by the state if cities do not meet ABAG’s housing goals. 

“As a representative of the Mayor’s Conference, I would like to strongly urge you to eliminate the recommendation on support for disincentives,” Pico said. “I would say that there is a strong, strong negative reaction to this Task Force report if it includes disincentives.” 

Dean said she understood this objection, but suggested that these disincentives may be necessary if undesirable. 

“The ABAG goals are not easy, but unless we have goals and unless we have some penalties, I don’t think we’re ever going to do this,” Dean said.  

Another major theme of the afternoon was a discussion of the different kinds of people who need low-income and affordable housing, and misconceptions others have about them. 

“I would also like to remind people that teachers qualify for affordable housing.,” Dean said. “There’s a lot of respectable occupations and hard-working people, the backbone of each of our communities, who need this housing.”  

Dean suggested that people who do not learn this fact might be surprised by what happens in the Bay Area. 

“We’re talking about good citizens, and they will not be able to (stay here). Our kids won’t be able to (stay here) unless we really step up to the plate on this.”  

Sean Heron, a task force member representing the East Bay Housing Organization, outlined the income categories that the task force’s finance work group uses to classify families. The “very low” income category, Heron said, is a family of four that earns $36,000 per year. The “low” income category is a family of four that earns $54,000 per year. 

“As you can see,” Heron said, “many of the people that we know and work with fall into those categories.” 

Lynette Lee, an affordable housing developer who spoke on behalf of the task force’s education and communications work group, emphasized the need to educate the public about what “low-income” and “affordable” mean.  

“Today affordable housing in the Bay Area means that someone like a teacher or a policeman or a social worker being able to buy a house for $200,000,” Lee said. “In the mid-west you could buy a mansion (for that amount of money), but here that’s an ‘affordable’ house.”  

Oakland City Councilmember Richard Spees argued that these kinds of stigmas could be very destructive if they persist. 

“The language itself is unfortunate because the last thing we want to do in this region is to ghettoize (the idea of) low- and moderate-income housing. These projects are very, very doable,” Spees said.  

“We’re doing it in Oakland, and I know many of the rest of you are. And that’s the goal,” Spees said. “I really think we have to think about how we phrase it, how we think about it, and we’ve got to turn this around.”  

EDAB will incorporate the comments made at Thursday’s meeting into the recommendation report, which will then be disseminated among EDAB members some time next month. 

“Our challenge now is to go back to not only our membership but all of the organizations that were involved in the task force,” Carson said, “so that we’ll have a document that we can hopefully agree upon and support, which increases low-cost and affordable housing in the East Bay.” 

Dean was hopeful: 

“I think the report that the task force has come up with is pretty much on target, maybe it will just have to be tweaked a little bit here and there, but I really applaud what the task force has done here. And I think this is doable in all of the cities. We’ll get together on this eventually; not just a few of us, but all of us.”