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    Our State Can Lead the Way to Obtain Properties on County Auction Lists for Affordable Housing

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    We are facing a stark and rising crisis of housing affordability and homelessness. In our area, homelessness has skyrocketed in recent years, and thousands of our constituents are living in unsafe conditions on the streets. Meanwhile, housing has gotten increasingly expensive and out of reach for many in our community. This is devastating to the families who are being displaced, and is also undermining the fabric of our community, as our schools struggle to retain teachers, our hospitals face nurse shortages, and working people are pushed further and further out.

    The State of California has adopted some laws with the intent to prioritize available properties for affordable housing, but unfortunately, this has not yet worked out to help solve the affordable housing crisis. Fundamentally, we need a great investment in affordable housing and preservation of affordable housing stock. I want to share a specific example, of possible State legislation, which can help to alleviate this issue.

    There are thousands of properties being sold by government agencies that are not currently following a policy of affordable housing prioritization. As you know, many thousands of properties are sold each year by county governments, including numerous properties that have housing on them already, often vacant, and thus, are a great potential supply of affordable housing.

    These properties, which are sold at auction, usually to recover delinquent tax payments, have not so far been held to the State policies described in the surplus lands act, despite providing one of the strongest opportunities to devote publicly-sold properties to affordable housing.

    In fact, current auction methods generally prioritize selling these properties to investors and flippers, by requiring all-cash buyers, and therefore removing potential affordable housing stock from the community. Some of these properties were even previously subjected to predatory foreclosures and wrongful evictions, so to sell them to investment bankers is only compounding injustices.

    I am working to take action at the local level, for the City of Oakland to seek to obtain properties that are planned to be auctioned, and in partnership with community-based organizations, to protect and provide them as affordable housing. With the magnitude of the housing crisis facing our state, we need these strategies to be supported.

    I hope that some of our state legislators who have been championing affordable housing would consider bringing State legislation that give Cities and Counties the right of first refusal for parcels put on County Auctions that could then be preserved as affordable housing. This is one of many steps we can do not just to increase our affordable housing stock, but also to deter speculation.

    Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( ) and Facebook ( ).

    Published January 30, 2020