Making Oakland the Most Innovative and Proactive City in California On Tackling the Housing and Homelessness Crises
Sheng Thao knows that our housing and homelessness crises are inextricably linked and must be tackled in tandem. For some politicians who lack the lived experience shared by so many who struggle in our city, these issues are mere intellectual exercises. But for Sheng Thao, the housing and homeless crises are deeply personal, as they have been a central part of her life and what she has overcome.
Sheng is the daughter of refugees. She grew up poor, the 7th of 10 kids. Her family was always on social services, for a time they lived in public housing, and were often at risk of losing their home. In her 20s, to escape domestic violence, Sheng and her infant son slept on strangers’ couches and sometimes in her car. But Sheng was determined to create a better life for her son, so she put herself through school, graduated from Cal, and got into public service.
Today, she’s an Oakland City Councilmember, the Council President Pro Tem and one of the boldest, most effective leaders in the Bay Area on housing and homelessness.
In the campaign for Mayor, Sheng Thao offers a bold plan to tackle our housing and homeless crises, which includes:
- Aggressive housing goals: Expedited delivery of housing to build 30,000 new housing units by the end of Sheng’s second term as Mayor
- Addressing homelessness head-on with on-demand mental health and drug treatment, expanded safe RV parking sites, stronger city-county relations, and fully funded encampment clean ups and sanitation teams
- Innovative and flexible funding streams to build new affordable housing
- Creating cost efficient housing alternatives and making public land available for real housing solutions
Because of Sheng Thao’s deeply personal commitment to tackling these challenges and her effectiveness in creating real change, Sheng Thao will be the Mayor we need to make Oakland a statewide leader on housing and homelessness.
The Thao Housing and Homelessness Plan
Our city is facing housing and homelessness crises of humanitarian proportions. Over the last eight years, the City of Oakland has fallen drastically short of its State-mandated production goals for affordable housing, building only 1,823 out of 6,949 units, or 26% of its required goal. The failure of the City to build affordable housing has exacerbated both the housing crisis and the homelessness crisis. Since 2017, Oakland has seen a 56% increase in the number of unsheltered homeless individuals on our streets. The latest 2022 homeless count shows at least 3,337 unsheltered people on the streets of Oakland, with 32% in tents and 58% in cars/RVs.
Sheng Thao will focus her first term as Mayor on building more housing to create a healthier and more sustainable Oakland and on dramatically reducing street homelessness.
Upon taking office, Sheng Thao will take the following critical steps to begin tackling our housing and homeless crises:
- Convene a new housing and homelessness cabinet comprised of developers, affordable housing producers, small businesses, labor unions, impacted Oaklanders, and experts and stakeholders involved in affordable housing, supportive housing, substance abuse, and mental health, to focus on streamlining projects, exploring innovative and urgent construction methods and emergency homeless initiatives, and beginning the process of creating housing and shelter for all 3,330 unhoused residents in Oakland.
- Identify underutilized, surplus, City-owned parcels and appoint a community driven advisory committee to review potential housing uses. We have the land. We just need the political will.
- Designate 10 new sites for affordable housing, safe RV sites, and well-constructed tiny homes.
- Establish new partnerships with the faith community to support housing development on their land.
- Expand current efforts to purchase smaller motels and hotels to provide housing for homeless and low-income residents.
Expedite the Delivery of Housing, to Build the Thousands of New Units We Need
- Sheng Thao will champion and improve the delivery of housing solutions to ensure we build at least 30,000 new housing units in Oakland over the next eight years, above and beyond the current State mandate. This means increasing our financing options, streamlining projects, revising building standards, encouraging multiplex development, listening to stakeholders to improve permitting and planning services, and moving forward cost effective means of housing production.
- To meet our aggressive housing goals, Sheng will provide expedited streamlined ministerial approval to zoning compliant projects over 25 units, that are on non-toxic land, that employ union labor for construction and local hiring preferences, and that are either 100% affordable or mixed income projects with 15% affordable on-site units or the equivalent fee out.
- Sheng will partner with the Oakland Unified School District, Peralta Community College District, and BART to explore expanded workforce and family housing options.
- Sheng Thao believes focusing on the construction of new ADU units will also help address housing needs for the middle-class. As Mayor, Sheng will create a database of pre-approved plans and vendors for detached ADUs, which cities like San Jose have already done successfully, and which can immediately be permitted on a property.
- Sheng will work to make it easier for homeowners to legalize existing unpermitted units, and will provide incentives to homeowners to rent out ADUs to Section 8 tenants, as they do in Los Angeles.
- Sheng will work to ensure full compliance with new state laws around multiplex construction.
Addressing Homelessness Head-On as the Crisis it is
- By the end of her second term as Mayor, Sheng Thao’s goal will be to have offered adequate housing and shelter to all 3,300 unhoused residents in Oakland.
- While housing is a critical part of tackling the homeless crisis, we cannot treat the homelessness crisis as a mere lack of housing. It requires coordinated efforts to address mental health and substance abuse. The National Coalition for the Homeless reported that 64% of homeless people have some form of addiction and 39% struggle with mental health. As Mayor, Sheng will partner with the county and state to provide a treatment on demand program available to all Oakland residents and increase the number of facilities, respite centers, and substance abuse treatment hubs available for in-patient treatment.
- Sheng will partner with our faith community to expand safe parking sites on church properties for those living in RVs and cars and offer technical assistance and planning support to churches to help convert underutilized parking lots into affordable senior, youth, and family housing.
- Sheng will ensure that our homeless encampment sanitation and clean up teams are fully funded, so we can adequately remove trash and provide sanitation at encampments. There are encampments that pose health and safety risks, and City departments must work with neighbors, camp residents, and homelessness advocates to resolve these concerns immediately to provide healthy and clean public spaces until appropriate housing can be found. As one of her first acts as Mayor, Sheng will also create a taskforce to investigate the slew of dangerous fires at encampments that have posed a serious risk to human life.
- Our County shares the duty and responsibility for homelessness response and is also the body that oversees our public health system. Real coordination between the County and City has been stymied by years of finger pointing and miscommunication. It’s time to see the County as our full partner and ensure that our homeless strategies are paired with a coordinated response to mental health and substance abuse experienced by unhoused individuals.
- As Mayor, Sheng will work to eliminate towing fees for those who live in their vehicles.
- Sheng will be committed to ensuring the City responds in a timely manner to requests to remove abandoned vehicles that are not in use.
Identifying Innovative and Flexible Funding Streams for Affordable Housing
- Sheng Thao is the only candidate for Mayor whose candidacy is endorsed by statewide, state legislative, and congressional elected officials. Immediately upon taking office, a Mayor Sheng Thao can engage these state and national partners at our capitols in Sacramento and Washington DC to advocate for Oakland’s fair share of funding to address our housing and homelessness challenges.
- As Mayor, Sheng will implement a tax increment financing plan to build hundreds of new housing units without the need to levy new taxes, similar to the Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (“EIFD”) she recently proposed as a member of the City Council. This type of financing would allow the City to bond against tax increment growth, hence the lack of need for additional tax levies. This is a financing tool that cities like San Francisco and Counties like Los Angeles are beginning to utilize, and which has already created tens of thousands of housing units across the state at no additional cost to taxpayers. An EIFD will also give the City of Oakland a “pro-housing designation” which makes it easier for the City to apply for State grants for housing.
- Sheng will work with local stakeholders to create a new housing delivery system that maximizes inclusionary units and increases affordable housing impact and jobs/housing linkage fees via incentivization. This can take shape in the form of greater upzoning, expedited processing, or zoning variances in exchange for more units of affordable housing (inclusionary) within a project.
- As Mayor, Sheng will publicly support and push for the creation of an East Bay Public Bank, which can provide flexible financing for the pre-development and development of affordable housing.
Creating Cost Efficient Housing Alternatives and Making Public Land Available for Real Housing Solutions
- Right now, the cost of constructing a permanent affordable housing unit has increased to about $600,000 per door. As Mayor, Sheng Thao will bring together housing experts, our faith based community, affordable housing developers, the private sector, and labor partners to create new pathways and incentives for lowering the cost of construction and creating low-cost housing for Oakland.
- Sheng will implement a fair public lands policy which will save the City when it comes to land costs. A public lands policy was passed by the City Council in 2018, but to date the administration has not implemented it. Any surplus land that is healthy, habitable, and appropriate should be immediately repurposed for housing.
- As Mayor, Sheng will partner with churches and nonprofits that own currently underutilized public spaces and parking lots, providing them the technical support they need to convert these spaces into sites for new housing.
- Sheng will work to remove homes listed for auction and on the speculator market in order to open them up for affordable housing, with the option of having them be returned to their owners.
Approaching Housing Production and Homeownership Opportunities Through an Equity Lens
- Currently, Black Oaklanders make up 60% of our city’s unsheltered population. Sheng Thao is committed to addressing racial disparities in access to housing by ensuring an equity-driven approach to our housing crisis. We must break down the racial barriers that exist to fair housing. As Mayor, Sheng will empower the Department of Race and Equity to collect, review, and monitor data on housing in Oakland to both ensure community partners receiving City funds are truly serving residents of color and to expand access for communities of color to temporary and permanent housing solutions.
- Partner with local banks to reform local lending policies so women and minority-owned development groups have sufficient access to credit and bonding. And work with the Department of Race and Equity, to ensure that housing contracts are rightfully available to Black and minority owned businesses.
- Work to ensure the harm done by exclusionary zoning is further chipped away by advocating for zoning changes, especially in merchant corridors and along reliable transit lines.
- Oakland currently has some of the lowest rates of homeownership in the Bay Area. And these numbers are even lower among Black (32.2%) and Latino (30.6%) households. Sheng Thao believes in building up the wealth and assets of our Black and Latino communities, and that homeownership is a critical way to do so. As Mayor, she will fight to create new lending and site acquisition strategies with a focus on equity.
- Sheng will work to create programs and grants to help working families and low-income Oaklanders address often debilitating maintenance burdens and avoid foreclosure.
- Sheng will expand technical support on loan modifications for low-income homeowners to enable them to avoid predatory lending practices.
- As Mayor, Sheng Thao will expand property tax relief for low-income seniors to avoid foreclosure.
Fiercely Protect Oakland’s Renters
Sheng Thao is one of only two renters on the Oakland City Council. During her time at City Hall, she has been a leader in the fight for renters’ rights. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheng strongly supported Oakland’s eviction moratorium–the strongest moratorium in the Bay Area. Sheng is honored to be the only candidate for Mayor endorsed by the Oakland Tenants Union.
- As Mayor, Sheng will strengthen rent control across the City of Oakland, and expand it to such areas as 4-plexes and ADUs. She will also crack down on deadbeat landlords who take advantage of tenants.
- Sheng will work with the State and County to ensure a system of rapid rehousing vouchers and emergency rental assistance.
- Sheng will continue to champion and advocate for increases in the budget to the “Keep Oakland Housed” program to help prevent Oakland residents from becoming homeless by providing direct rental assistance, legal advice, and case management.
- Sheng will expand the city budget to increase the pot of money for renters to purchase their homes via a community land trust process.
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