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Congresswoman doesn’t forget local housing woes

By Chris Nichols, Daily Planet Staff
Monday June 24, 2002

Affordable housing is topic of Saturday’s town hall meeting in Oakland 


Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D–Oakland, and a panel of housing specialists provided more than 200 attendees of an Oakland town hall meeting Saturday with tips, reassurance and resources on how to begin the process of buying a home in the high-priced Bay Area market. 

"Affordable housing is an issue that touches our community in many, many ways," said Lee, who introduced an Affordable Housing Trust Fund initiative in Congress last week. The initiative is a part of Lee's efforts to bring the issue of housing back to the forefront of both local and national policy agendas. 

Alongside Lee, many of the panelists at Saturday's forum focused on programs designed to increase home ownership among minorities. While 68 percent of all Americans own their own home, the percentage is less for minorities, according to Philip Williams, director of the Fannie Mae Bay Area Partnership Office. 

Williams said only about 45 percent of African Americans, 49 percent of Hispanic Americans and 55 percent of Asian Americans own their homes. 

Janice Crump, the national director of With Ownership Wealth, explained that efforts have been made to change the disparity. According to Crump, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation hopes to see 1 million new African American homeowners by 2005 with support from the With Ownership Wealth initiative launched last year. 

"We're going to see if we can change some of the housing demographics here in Oakland," Crump said. 

Housing specialists from local nonprofits East Oakland Community Development Corporation and the Oakland Housing Authority provided attendees of the town hall meeting with an update on affordable housing projects in the area. 

According to John Westly, executive director of the OHA, the nonprofit is currently working to restore Lockwood Gardens, a group of low income housing units on International Boulevard in need of restoration. Westley says that through the Hope Six housing program authorized by Congress in 1993, OHA has been able to restore and rehabilitate a number of affordable housing units. 


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Westley added that planning has begun for a new housing project to be built near the Oakland Coliseum. The new project would include a series of affordable housing units, a new school and a recreation area. 

Many attendees of Saturday's conference were pleased that efforts are being made to build additional affordable housing units. Others, however, were skeptical, citing past projects which have lacked sufficient planning and are considered by many to be failures. 

In addition to the nonprofits, specialists from a number of mortgage lending corporations and credit unions provided advice and resources for those beginning the long and arduous task of buying a home. 

The panelists encouraged prospective home buyers to establish a pattern of solid credit history, thoroughly research competing loan agencies and read all forms before signing any paperwork.  

Roy Schweyer, with the city of Oakland's Community Development Corporation, encouraged prospective home buyers to be diligent in their quest for homeownership. "Everyone can own a house. There are ways to do it but you have to get down to work," he said. 

According to Schweyer, the city of Oakland is working to help residents buy homes, but the system is the greatest challenge. "We need to break through a system that works well for people who can afford it. It works really well for them. We need it to work for everyone," he said. 

A second group of panelists discussed how home buyers can avoid predatory lending companies, many of which charge exorbitant interest rates on home loans. 

Oscar Wright, a long-time Oakland resident applauded the efforts of the panelists at Saturday's forum but said that more needs to be done to prevent predatory lending companies from taking advantage of uninformed home buyers. 

"This is what's happening today to black communities. They are taking advantage of black people all over the place. We need to constantly inform and repeat these warnings. It's only after the fact that home buyers realize they've been victimized," Wright said. 

Other attendees of the forum emphasized the importance of faith-based organizations in educating the public about the home-buying process.  

Congresswoman Lee reassured residents that members of the clergy will be an important part of her affordable housing push. "We will be following up with our clergy to make sure they are part of disseminating this information," she said.