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Oakland Pledges 132 New Affordable Housing Units in 16 Months

Mayor Libby Schaaf promised to house 1,500 homeless residents and build permanent affordable housing as well. The city will receive $11.3 million in federal funds for the development.

(TNS) — Oakland, Calif., Mayor Libby Schaaf pledged Monday to house 1,500 homeless residents and build 132 new units of permanent affordable housing in 16 months.

Schaaf's announcement comes as part of the federal initiative called House America, which aims to house at least 100,000 households and to add at least 20,000 new units of affordable housing by Sept. 30, 2022. Oakland will receive about $11.3 million in federal funds as part of the House America program. This is in addition to the nearly $2.6 million the city gets from the federal government every year.

Oakland is one of the first cities to participate in the launch of the initiative. San Francisco, Sacramento and Gov. Gavin Newsom have also pledged to participate in the program.

Unlike Oakland, San Francisco is not setting any new goals beyond Mayor London Breed's homelessness recovery plan announced last year, which aims to create 6,000 housing and shelter placements, including acquiring 1,500 units of permanent supportive housing, by the end of 2022. The city is not expecting any funding or housing placements from the federal government to reach that goal at this time, said homeless department spokesperson Emily Cohen, but believes the benefit of signing on is getting state and federal support to address issues that arise and advocate for more solutions.

The initiative, run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, uses funds from the American Rescue Plan federal stimulus and works with mayors, city and county leaders, tribal nation leaders and governors.

Oakland's homeless population increased by 47 percent from 2017 to 2019, one of the biggest two-year increases of any California city, to 4,071 people. Of those, about 3,210 were unsheltered, a number that's much higher now due to the pandemic.

The city is also grappling with a housing crisis that has plagued the state. In 2020, Oakland created 624 affordable units — the most the city has ever built in one year, but tens of thousands of units short of what's needed. Creating 132 new units could involve building new housing or purchasing existing buildings to convert for the homeless, city officials said.

Schaaf spoke Monday in a live-stream with HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, and mayors and governors nationwide.

"Housing is health," Schaaf said. "We do not have health without that foundation under our feet or that roof over our head."

Newsom said in a statement that California will account for one-third of the housing created as part of the federal initiative. The state is putting $22 billion toward housing and homelessness as part of the California Comeback Plan, which includes federal money, to build more than 84,000 new affordable homes, Newsom added.

"In California, we're not settling for the old way of addressing housing and homelessness — we are demanding greater accountability and more urgency to create housing and get people off the streets," he said.

Through the American Rescue Plan, the federal government will offer communities 70,000 emergency housing vouchers, $5 billion in grants and $350 billion in state and local funds to help address the negative impacts of the pandemic.

There was no immediate information available on how Oakland will identify who qualifies for a housing voucher or an affordable unit.

The Oakland Housing Authority said it's working with the mayor's office to identify at least 515 families who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless to provide housing vouchers through the initiative. The mayor's office will prioritize COVID-vulnerable people and those identified by the county to house through the initiative.

(c)2021 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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