After years of stagnation, one of Oakland’s largest landowners is finally taking on one of Oakland’s biggest challenges, housing. Two incredibly important events recently took place that hopefully signal a new era, where we move beyond the gridlock of fussing and fighting and get together to do something for the families, students, and staff that really need our support.
OUSD Promises to Do Something with Its Blighted Properties
It’s weird, but I gotta applaud OUSD. First, the so called 7-11 committee, which is charged with determining what OUSD properties can be leased, developed or sold—actually did something. They decided that 2 of the 5 properties they looked at should be put to other uses. One of these was the shuttered Edward Shands site, a blighted property that had sat empty for a decade, attracting crime and staining the neighborhood.
Given the nattering neabobs of inertia and negativism, this was not a foregone conclusion. Some threatened to shut down the commission, just like they had several years back—they failed.
The public will win, as there will be immense pressure to use these sites for the community, rather than having them be a drain.
Cross Sector Collaboration on Solutions
Another encouraging sign was the meeting of a range of stakeholders to push for creative answers. Director Hinton Hodge and Supervisor Nate Miley hosted an inspiring meeting of non profits, government agencies like the housing authority, the County, the City, OUSD (the superintendent and Director Harris were there), developers, and advocacy organizations—all focusing on the housing crisis here and how we can get creative in solving it.
You can see video here.
The stories are tragic, we have over 1000 unsheltered youth in Oakland, that we know of. And for many shelters if you are a male over 11 years old, you can’t stay at a family shelter. They are separated and put in an adult male shelter. Or the family stays on the street. These are the choices we are faced with.
I know we should have been rethinking the use of public properties along time ago. The City, County and the School District are among the largest landowners and also have a lot of excess space. I know OUSD best, they have 525 acres of land, 10% is totally undeveloped, and more than half is programmed outdoor space (playgrounds and parking lots). They also have roughly a dozen buildings that don’t house students and some that are totally vacant.
Further, at one time OUSD had 60,000 students enrolled it is now in the mid 30,000s. By its own count it has 12,000 empty seats, others have put that number at 15,000 empty seats. Meanwhile our families are on the streets and our staff are too in some cases, and in others they are making unsustainable commutes because they can’t afford to live in the City they serve.
And half our foster youth—the literal wards of the state—are on the street 6 months after aging out. We are a rich city and we owe our most underserved more.
Districts have used their resources for housing, including folks we heard from at the meeting in Berkeley and Santa Clara—in So Cal a boarding school for foster students was built on district land, other districts have created housing for vulnerable populations from homeless, to low income, to seniors, to lower paid school staff who couldn’t afford to live in the district. Further San Francisco is looking at partnering with homeless support agencies to do shelters in school building themselves, which has had some challenges, but could be promising.
So we have land, we have resources, we have will, and the players around the table and we have immense needs. This cross-sector convergence of folks, alongside the seriousness that OUSD is giving it gives me hope.
Others have done this, we need to do it now.