The Mythical Oakland Pipeline

At last week’s Oakland Planning Commission, a small 6 story building with 262 homes at 226 13th St was delayed because Councilmember Abel Guillien is negotiating an community benefits package involving increased parking and the inclusion of subsidized units. Oakland currently does not have an inclusionary zoning policy, though that might change later this year when affordable housing impact fees are in effect, meaning that local anti-housing activists have reason to extort developers now.

This introduces an unexpected delay into the project. Unexpected delays introduce uncertainty into the financial model that funds the construction of large residential projects. The banks that invest money into projects don’t like risk, so they will end up charging the housing developer a higher interest rate. This is in turn passed on to the tenant through higher rents.

Or sometimes it kills a project.

And then we’ve built zero new homes for anyone. Making high rent housing even more scarce is certainly one way to eat the rich.

According to Oakland’s Annual Housing Element Progress report, Oakland started on the construction of 130 units, all except two were subsidized to be affordable to renters within 0–60% of the Area Median Income.

I get it. We’re all a bit anticapitalist here in the brighter side of the bay. Fuck the banks, etc.

But as much as Oakland wants to think it doesn’t need to play by capitalism’s rules, everyone else is playing the game. Oakland needs to stop giving banks reason to disinvest in the city. We need to foster an environment where it isn’t an outrageous idea to stand up and support the construction of housing at all income levels. The bubble is popping and finance is drying up. Oakland would rather stage a protest against the idea that the bubble would ever pop in the first place.

We have chronically underbuilt housing in Oakland for decades. We need to build housing at all income levels, and we need to build it now. There are three things we can all do right now to make this happen: