Public Comment

Commentary: HOMES Policy Betrays Low-Income Alameda Families

By David Howard
Friday May 11, 2007

Here in Alameda we recently marked that 10th anniversary of the closure of Naval Air Station Alameda, on the West end of the Alameda. The former base is heavily contaminated and is a federal Superfund site, and clean-up has been in progress for years. The land that comprised the base is now known as Alameda Point and is slated for housing development, and the City of Alameda has recently selected two developers - Catellus and Lennar - as co-developers for Alameda Point. Enacted in 1973, Alameda City Charter Amendment XXVI (known colloquially as “Measure A") restricts housing density for new construction within Alameda. 

One small, but vocal, organization in Alameda, Homes Makes Economic Sense (HOMES), argues that Measure A needs to be relaxed to build “affordable housing” at Alameda Point. However, when you read their material, you realize that they aren’t talking about traditional “affordable housing” for low-income families. Instead, they are talking about housing for a much higher income level. Yet, in their IRS filings claiming charitable organization status, they describe themselves as public educators and advocates for “affordable housing.”  

You can learn for yourself how they misrepresent the term “affordable housing” from their FAQ on their web page and from their newsletters: 


From the FAQ on the HOMES website: 

3) But isn’t there subsidized housing? 

Twenty-five percent of the new homes must be “affordable” defined by income levels for “very low,” “low,” and “moderate” incomes. People who earn mid-level incomes, such as young professionals, nurses, teachers, and safety officers, don’t qualify for “affordable” housing, yet can’t afford the only types of homes permitted by Measure A.  


From HOMES’ September 2006 Newsletter: 

Currently, market-rate homes at Bayport are selling for close to $1 million, and subsidized low-income housing is provided for one-quarter of the homes to be built. However, there will be no middle-income housing for those who can’t afford large single family homes nor those who don’t qualify for subsidized housing...Studies show that with transit-oriented higher density, each household tends to own fewer cars and drive less. 


From HOMES’ October 2006 Newsletter: 

And herein lies the rub. What you end up with are two extremes: those who qualify for the below market rate housing and those who can pay the price tag for expensive single family homes. The ones left out of this picture are those who neither qualify for below market rate housing nor can afford the market rate prices. 


So it seems that when HOMES is arguing for “affordable housing,” they aren’t talking about housing for very low, low and moderate income households. They are talking about housing for, as an example, a family of two making $150K per year in Alameda. This is a shameful mis-use of the term “affordable housing” and a betrayal to the genuine low-income residents of Alameda, such as the residents of Operation Dignity and Alameda Point Collaborative out at Alameda Point. 

Further, HOMES advocates high-density housing so that residents need not own or use a car. But there is growing research across the nation suggesting that owning a car improves the lives of low-income families. Consider this report from “Port Jobs” of Seattle, WA on their “Working Wheels” program, at a 2005 Brookings Institute conference on Low-Income Car Ownership (LICO): 


Working Wheels opened in 2002 and has sold more than 225 cars to low income individuals and families. 


• Improved employment opportunities for low-income families:  

— Increase hours worked – an average 32 percent increase in weekly hours  

— Increase flexibility in jobs and shifts  

— Increased education and training opportunities  


• Increased earnings:* 

— 81 percent of car owners experienced wage gains over the 15 month period.  

— Median hourly wage increased from $11.25 one quarter before car purchase to $12.34 three quarters after, an increase of 10 percent.  

— Median wage gain was 10 percent higher than the comparison group. Decreased dependence on public assistance.  

— 60 percent decrease in car owners who receive TANF cash assistance. –Majority of those who left TANF cite an increase in income as the reason.  


(Source: Washington State Employment Security Department employment records.) 


Improved family life:  

— It’s easier to get kids where they need to be: Nine out of 10 parent respondents report transporting their children to daycare, school, extracurricular activities, and doctor’s appointments is easier now that they have cars. 

— Children can participate in new activities: 83 percent of parent respondents report that their children can participate in new activities, such as joining the school debate team, taking Tae Kwan Do classes, and going to the park.  

— Families are spending more time together: 76 percent of parent respondents report having a car has increased the time or improved the quality of time they spend with their children.  


(Source: Interviews with 51 Working Wheels car owners.) 


Sally, a Working Wheels car owner said: “The car has helped so much with my kids. We are on medical coupons, so the kids are restricted to the one dentist who takes coupons in our area. It takes 3 buses to get there, and this is impossible to manage during my working day. And of course that dentist doesn’t offer night appointments. The kids hadn’t been able to go to the dentist in about two years. Now that I have a Working Wheels car, I can take them.”  


Additional studies reported at the Brookings Institute conference showed that doubling the number of people who take mass transit to work would reduce drivers by less than 5 percent, while if every car-deprived household in the bottom half of the income scale were to buy an automobile, it would increase the number of vehicles on the road by only about 3.5 percent 

(Learn more about Low-Income Car Ownership here: or email to request a CD-ROM.) 

Public transit is always heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Instead of insisting on high-density housing to justify public transit, which only collects 20 to 25 percent of expenses from the fare box, and typically has only 30 percent usage, why can’t we taxpayers subsidize low-income families to buy a low-emission hybrid vehicle? A low-emission vehicle would afford low-income families the benefits of owning an automobile without grossly increasing greenhouse gas emissions. 

As for HOMES, many of us in Alameda are asking: Why is HOMES waging warfare on the lowest-income earning families in our city? 


David Howard is an Alameda resident.