One of the councilmembers most associated with the drive to increase affordable housing in Oakland believes that after more than a year, the council may be deadlocked on the issue and unable to make any changes.
District One Councilmember Jane Brunner (North Oakland) made the remarks in an interview on the eve of a special Tuesday afternoon Council hearing dedicated exclusively to trying to come up with a compromise affordable-housing proposal. The meeting will be held at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, in council chambers at Oakland City Hall.
While indicating that she had not completely given up hope, and would continue to work for a resolution, a somewhat dejected-sounding Brunner said last Wednesday night that “I don’t believe that we are going to be able to get anything passed even in the areas where we are in agreement. I think that both sides will want a complete package passed, or nothing. That’s the way it looks right now.”
The eight-member council has been deadlocked for more than a year on proposals by Brunner and Councilmember Jean Quan (Glenview-Montclair) for an Oakland inclusionary zoning ordinance, and on a proposal by Councilmember Desley Brooks (East Oakland) for changes in the existing condominium conversion law.
Failure of the Council to come to agreement on any of the issues would mean that the existing condominium conversion ordinance remains in place, untouched, while Oakland would not have an inclusionary zoning ordinance.
Under inclusionary zoning, which is already in place in most East Bay cities, a city mandates that publicly funded residential development of certain sizes set aside a portion of their units to be “affordable” for low to moderate income renters. There are wide differences from proposal to proposal, and from city to city, on what is considered “affordable,” and how many units should be set aside for that purpose.
Condominium conversion ordinances allow property owners to convert rental apartments to occupant-owner units. Brooks proposed changes to Oakland’s ordinance to make it easier for such conversions, which Brooks believes would lead to more home ownership by current low- to moderate-income Oakland residents.
Critics of the Brunner-Quan inclusionary zoning ordinance said that the proposal would dry up new residential construction in Oakland. Critics of the Brooks condominium conversion proposal say that her suggested changes would so lower the number of existing rental units in Oakland that many low to moderate income renters would be driven out of the city.
When Council deadlocked 4-4 on both issues in the waning days of the administration of Mayor Jerry Brown,councilmembers decided to let a special citizens’ Blue Ribbon Commission on Affordable Housing vet the proposals. After a year of public meetings around Oakland, the Blue Ribbon Commission could only agree on a watered-down version of inclusionary zoning, and could not agree on a condominium conversion proposal at all. That put the issue back in the hands of Council.
Under Oakland’s strong mayor form of government, the mayor is authorized to vote to break a Council tie. But a tie on either the inclusionary zoning ordinance or condominium conversion changes is unlikely, since councilmembers long ago learned how to kill deadlocked proposals without the mayor’s intervention by strategic abstentions, avoiding tie votes.
The Community and Economic Development Committee, which Brunner chairs, and through which the housing proposals go, had been reluctant to move forward with a discussion of the two issues before Mayor Ron Dellums delivered a promised comprehensive housing proposal.
Last week, the mayor forwarded his proposals to the council, including specific recommendations on inclusionary zoning, condominium conversion, Oakland’s rent- adjustment program, foreclosed properties’ rehabilitation, homebuyer and homeowner rehab program changes, and expansion of affordable housing and homeless-relief funding sources.
In a cover letter to the council, Dellums said he was calling for “adopting an inclusionary zoning ordinance to ensure that private development yields community benefits in the form of affordable housing,” “modifying the condo conversion ordinance to create opportunities for tenant purchase and affordable homeownership for moderate income households, with strong tenant assistance measures, while protecting the rental housing stock from conversion to condominiums that Oaklanders can’t afford,” “expanding funding for preservation and development of affordable housing for very low and low income households,” and “restricting the city’s housing development funding to assist households with incomes less than 60 percent of area median income and expand homeownership programs for purchase and rehabilitation to reach households up to 100 percent of median income.”
But sorting out the differences between the various proposals now on the table can be a dizzying prospect for all but those who are housing policy experts or have followed the Oakland issue from the beginning.
In a spreadsheet developed by Brunner and now expanded by Dellums’ office to include the mayor’s proposals, there are now four separate proposals on inclusionary zoning listed: one each by the Blue Ribbon Commission, the Oakland People’s Housing Coalition, Brunner, and Dellums. The condominium conversion proposals include two more: Oakland’s existing ordinance and the two minority reports submitted by the divided Blue Ribbon Commission. The differences between those various proposals—some major, some relatively minor—are expected to be the foundation of the debate and discussion at next Tuesday’s special City Council hearing.