Oakland officially opened a new affordable housing development in the Redwood Heights neighborhood last week, dubbed Redwood Hill Townhomes.
The development offered 28 units to Oakland renters at prices drastically below market rates. And according to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the city processed 4,000 applicants for those units.
While pleased to see the completion of the decades-in-the-making project, Schaaf, who called the new housing “inspiring,” commented on Twitter about the impossible 142-plus-to-one ratio of home seekers to available units.
“It is shocking, disheartening, and absolutely troubling to know that so many residents applied for so few spots,” Schaaf told Curbed SF.
“Twenty-eight units is a drop in the bucket compared to the need right now,” she added.
Redwood Hill broke ground in May 2017, according to developer Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA), and was originally slated to finished construction in the fall of 2018, with an estimated budget of $26 million.
The development was intended as “a mix of permanent affordable housing for families and formerly homeless,” with an emphasis on “survivors of domestic violence or family violence.”
SAHA describes the finished project thusly:
A 28-unit affordable family housing community. Located on a 0.71 acre lot, the development features 12 two-bedroom and 16 three-bedroom units, providing a total of 72 bedrooms of permanent affordable rental housing suitable for large families. [...] Redwood Hill Townhomes features a four-story, U-shaped building oriented around a large interior courtyard complete with a landscaped seating areas and playground. Twenty-eight parking spaces are located in a ground-floor podium parking garage.
Apartments rent to residents earning 30 to 50 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). According to Oakland’s affordable housing income limits furnished by the city for 2018, AMI for a single Oakland earner was $73,100. For a family of four, the number is $104,400.
Affordable housing is really about people. Today we opened Redwood Hill, 28 new units above I-580 reserved for families, the formerly homeless, and survivors of domestic violence. That’s the inspiring part... pic.twitter.com/DVrsgySAvZ— Libby Schaaf (@LibbySchaaf) May 15, 2019
In addition to the troubling ratio, Redwood Hill took years to complete.
An Oakland Housing Element report published in 2004 noted that the development was “ready to submit for permits” but added, “construction [was] delayed by increasing costs, without increase of funds available. This has necessitated a reconfiguration of the affordability breakdown among units, now underway.”
Notes from an Oakland City Council meeting four months prior indicate that the city began soliciting funds for the development as early as 2003. Schaaf says that the project’s roots stretch back even further, calling it a 20-year development.
According a directory of “publicly assisted rental units” (not including public housing), published by Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency in November 2018, the city indexed 9,166 subsidized homes, ranging from transitional housing to senior living, 1,180 built in the last ten years.
In 2015, UC Berkeley researchers estimated that 40 percent of Oakland households were rent burdened—i.e., paying more than 30 percent of monthly income toward rent.
According to estimates by the U.S. Census, the median actual rent in Oakland in 2017 was $1,255 per month. But the median market rent faced by most renters relocating is much higher; $2,200 per month for a single-bedroom apartment on sites like Zumper—the sixth highest in the nation.
Commenting on Redwood Hill, Schaaf told Curbed SF, “We can’t just rely on building new affordable units.“ The mayor promoted “[finding] affordable housing units within the stock we already have” and putting legal protections on existing subsidized homes “if we want to ever catch up to the immense need.”