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The Howard Terminal Redevelopment In Oakland Is A Reflection Of California’s Housing Crisis

After publishing a final Environmental Impact Report on Dec. 17, the City of Oakland, California, is pushing forward with plans for redevelopment of the Howard Terminal, including a new stadium for the Oakland Athletics, but not without opposition from residents and community groups.

Last year, the Oakland City Council approved a preliminary, non-binding agreement for a 35,000-seat Major League Baseball park with the African American Sports Entertainment Group (AASEG), a Bay Area business group that advocates for economic equity for the Black community through sports and entertainment. The A’s current home is the 100-acre RingCentral Coliseum site, which is owned by John J. Fisher.

The new Howard Terminal project site is roughly 55 acres, independent from the RingCenter Coliseum, and includes the Charles P. Howard Terminal and neighboring parcels, located at the Port of Oakland along the Oakland-Alameda Estuary’s Inner Harbor. The stadium, 3,000 dwelling units, up to 1.77 million square feet of commercial development, a 400-room hotel, and a new performance space with a capacity of 3,500 people are all part of the concept.

The A’s must give $50 million to fund a combination of new, off-site units, preservation and/or renovation of existing units in the neighboring neighborhoods, and down payment assistance as part of the Howard Terminal deal. The developers would also provide money to the city to help tenants avoid being evicted.

The final environmental impact report for Oakland does not specify the number of persons who may be displaced or the affordability level of the 3,000 homes. According to the study, the development will have an affordable housing policy in place to meet city criteria, which might include on-site or off-site affordable housing units, as well as the payment of impact fees.

“Gentrification frequently results in displacement.” “We’d like to give precedence to folks who have left Oakland in the last 20 years and have been priced out,” says Ray Bobbitt, founder and president of AASEG, without elaborating. According to the United States Census Bureau, 28% of Oakland inhabitants identify as white alone, 24% as Black, 27% as Hispanic, and 16% as Asian, with 16.7% of the city’s population living in poverty.

The Oakland Tenants Union, Oakland Rising, Restaurant Opportunities Center of the Bay, Oakland Asian Cultural Center (OACC), and others raised worry over a lack of clarity on affordable housing, toxic site cleanup, and increasing air pollution.

“The Howard Terminal site is currently so contaminated with toxic materials that it is illegal to develop houses there,” OTU wrote in a public statement to the EIR, adding the plan lacks specifics for a clean-up. According to OTU, the project will have a substantial influence on air quality in a city that has historically been one of the most polluted in California, with disproportionately high rates of asthma, cancer, heart disease, and stroke due to air pollution.

Meanwhile, the Oakland Asian Neighborhood Council (OACC) has stated that the project will gentrify Oakland’s Chinatown, which is an authentic Chinese and Eastern Asian community. “The project jeopardizes Chinatown’s very existence by causing traffic congestion that will prevent people from visiting local businesses and restaurants.”

Across the state, there is a shortage of affordable housing.
The challenge in Oakland is emblematic of California’s overall battle to address affordable housing needs. California’s famed housing scarcity is deep in crisis, according to the California Association of Realtors, with development expanding deeper into historically low-income regions, displacing and outpricing long-term inhabitants. The necessity for not only inexpensive but also sustainable housing to combat the effects of climate change and pollution adds to the urgency.

Heather Rosenberg, an associate principal and Arup’s Los Angeles resilience leader, says, “Keeping people housed and addressing their basic needs is vital to any community’s resilience.” Rosenberg is unfamiliar with the Howard Terminal project and has no connection to it. “Without affordable housing, we risk being displaced, particularly as we consider the effects of housing shortages, stagnant wages, and catastrophes like COVID-19 and climatic events.”

Despite the fact that the housing crisis in California is particularly acute in the inexpensive and middle-income categories, Rosenberg points out that much new building focuses on the luxury market since it provides a higher return on investment for developers.

According to the California Housing Partnership, an affordable housing advocacy group, median rent has climbed 35 percent since 2000, but median renter family income has only increased by 6%. Renters must earn nearly three times California’s $14 per hour minimum wage to afford average rents.

California, according to the collaboration, will require 1.2 million more affordable houses by 2030, or 120,000 each year, to meet demand. Only 16,698 affordable housing units will be completed by 2020.

“However, the return on public investment in affordable housing at a societal level is significantly higher,” argues Rosenberg. “Because displacement has such a high social cost, creating additional affordable housing, conserving existing units, and keeping them inexpensive and suitable for purpose has a high social return.” Arup is currently developing approaches for calculating the social return on investment (ROI) in order to better guide policy and program design.

Existing communities frequently oppose cheap home initiatives due to traffic and density concerns. “However, denser housing, primarily affordable housing centered around transit and connected to jobs and schools, is essential and would solve a whole range of interconnected issues,” says Rosenberg, citing new ownership structures, co-ops, and land trusts as growing opportunities for increasing value and wealth for tenants. “A common problem for renters is that they do not accumulate equity. They pay rent for years that they can’t put towards a down payment or deposit. So, how can tenants generate equity in order to break the cycle of poverty and begin to build wealth?”

Improved outreach, tighter criteria, and more accessible funding, as well as better ways to explain the importance of affordable housing to communities, could help address the twin concerns of displacement and disinvestment. Rosenberg adds, “Of course, housing is pricey.” “More government investment is critical.”