Incoming Mayor Ron Dellums played a key role Tuesday night in delaying and effectively killing a condo conversion measure that would have spelled disaster for Oakland tenants. With Oakland on the cusp of a new era, landlords and their backers tried a last-ditch power play to open up the city to dramatically increased condo conversions. But Dellums and a few city council members understood the unfairness of ramming through a condo conversion ordinance in the last days of the old regime, and prevented a continuation of the nearly by-gone era of an ad hoc and fragmented affordable housing policy.
Early Wednesday morning Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks made a proposal to rescind the controversial condo conversion ordinance she co-authored with City Council President Ignacio de la Fuente. The ordinance—conspicuously titled the Affordable Homeownership Initiative—drew nearly 100 activists, organizers, and community members to City Hall to protest what housing activist James Vann of the Oakland Tenants Union described as “a recipe for mass eviction.” Mayor-elect Ron Dellums opposed the proposal, and lobbied many councilmembers against it.
Through consensus the council decided to refer the ordinance to a special “blue-ribbon” committee they had established on October 17 to develop recommendations for an inclusionary zoning ordinance. Vann said of the council’s decision, “It’s the best action we could have hoped for tonight. There will now be time for much needed rational discussion.”
Affordable housing advocates hope this rational discussion will lead to a more coordinated and strategic approach to affordable housing, homeownership, and infill along main corridors. Yet, they still hold reservations for the future of affordable housing in Oakland. They question the political-economic alignment of the blue-ribbon committee established to investigate both condo conversion and inclusionary zoning. The volunteer committee will consist of an appointee from each councilmember, three appointees from outgoing mayor Jerry Brown, and four from incoming mayor Ron Dellums.
Aimee Fishman of East Bay Housing Organizations told Beyond Chron, “The council and Mayor Brown are skewed toward real estate developers. We need to make sure there are people with expertise in affordable housing who are on the committee. But so far nothing is convincing that the committee will be balanced.”
The late condo conversion ordinance would have scrapped the existing ordinance—circa 1981—that required landlords and developers to provide one rental unit for every unit taken off the market through conversion. The new proposal would have also nearly doubled the existing cap on conversions to 800 per year. Community members feared an increase in conversions without a guaranteed increase in rental supply would cause a shortage in rental units thereby causing increases in rental prices.
Proponents of the condo conversion ordinance claimed it would provide much needed opportunities for homeownership to middle income renters in Oakland where homeownership is low by both regional and statewide standards. They claimed households with an income of $50,000 would have been to afford condos from $350,000-450,000 with city assistance programs built into the ordinance. But numbers show that only 10 percent of Oakland renters would have been able to afford condos at that price.
The city council’s decision to send the proposal to the blue-ribbon committee complements a procedural argument posed by community members and activists who felt the council was creating a double standard. Community members contested that the council’s hasty push for the condo conversion ordinance did not fit the procedural precedent they had established by postponing and delaying the passage of an inclusionary zoning ordinance for over two years, citing there was a lack of research and data on the specific affects of such an ordinance.
To many the decision early Wednesday morning lends hope to the next era of Oakland politics, where policies to promote investment, affordable housing, and development are not isolated from each other, but are worked into a comprehensive and coordinated model. The blue-ribbon committee has 90 days to submit its recommendations on both condo conversion and inclusionary zoning. By that time Dellums will have taken the reigns from Mayor Brown, giving housing advocates reason for optimism.