Oakland is a Sanctuary City and we need to show it. Here’s how.

I don’t need to remind people about the horror unfolding across national politics in our country. Millions of immigrants, undocumented americans, people outside the confines of the “cis straight white dude” descriptor are under direct threat of a fascist government.

These people need somewhere safe to go, which is the intent behind a city declaring itself to be a Sanctuary City. Unfortunately, Oakland does not have the room to fit these people that are being internally displaced by an oppressive government. This is your friendly reminder that in all of 2015, Oakland issued 20 occupancy permits to new construction.

The anti-capitalism movement that lurks below mainstream Oakland politics is surging even stronger, and with good reason. Wealth inequality in the United States is at its highest its ever been. Thousands of people are deported every year through no fault of their own. The rent is Too Damn High. Evictions are up. Wages are down. We’re all totally and completely fucked by The System.

Don’t let anti-capitalism get in the way of providing more housing in Oakland. Internal displacement is going to surge, if it hasn’t started already. Highly capitalized developers-the kind responsible for massive luxury towers getting proposed around the city-are not gamblers. Expect them to be pulling out of the city soon and with them the promise of thousands of units of housing.

What needs done is empowering and enabling local small housing providers in Oakland to step up and meet our needs. I won’t even try to claim I know how much more housing we’ll need but it surely exceeds our state-mandated regional housing allocation of 15,000 new homes.

The Missing Middle

The Missing Middle (via missingmiddlehousing.com)

The “Missing Middle” refers to the range of housing that exists between detached single family homes and heavily capitalized luxury towers. Triplexes. Duplexes. 3–4 story townhomes. Live/work lofts. A vast quantity of Oakland’s housing is detached single family homes; these units are exempt from rent control laws thanks to a state law known as Costa Hawkins that specifically excludes them.

The missing middle of housing isn’t missingby accident. New construction in Oakland is prohibitively expensive by design. When there are volumes of legal texts to consult, you need expensive lawyers to interpret them and architects to work around them. In many cases you’ll need to prepare an application for a Major Variance, Minor Variance, or a Conditional Use Permit through the Oakland planning commission. More time and money spent on legal aid when you just want to convert your garage into a home for your friend moving west. Here’s a sample of a quick search for ‘garage’:

17.19.050 — Property development standards, Oakland Planning Code

Or perhaps this example, which indicates your mandated garage does not count towards minimum lot size requirements:

17.09.040 — Definitions, Oakland Planning Code

How is this related to Sanctuary Cities?

We need to build👏more👏fucking👏housing👏 for the people moving here. Local opposition to heavily capitalized towers is going to drown out any benefit we might get from those extra 200, 300, 500 units added to supply. Simplifying the zoning and planning regulations will let us build👏more👏fucking👏housing👏 while at the same time making it easier for local Oaklanders-not distant imperalist Wall Street investors-to participate in the building of new housing.

We can do this. We can Legalize Housing, and we can make sure Oakland benefits in the process.

Sounds good. How can I help?

Start out by writing to your councilmember. East Bay Forward has all their email addresses. Make it clear:

  • Demand the legalization of mid-density housing
  • Demand equal access to the housing market for small developers who don’t have millions in cash sitting around
  • Support using Oakland’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to finance affordable units in missing middle construction
  • Demand faster approvals of housing projects that include affordable housing near transit

East Bay Forward is organizing for housing in Oakland, Berkeley, and throughout the entire East Bay. Housing is a regional problem and we can’t do it alone. Join our mailing list to know about upcoming days of direct action and ways to get involved. If you have time to spare, email info@eastbayforward.org and become a volunteer.