Use Public Land for Affordable Housing

Use Public Land for Affordable Housing

Rasheed Shabazz

Richard Bangert’s recent article (“New Law Hampers Point Development,” Mar. 25) claims that AB 1486 (Ting, 2019) is hampering commercial development at Alameda Point because former military bases are included. I hope to address my understanding of the law’s intention, and touch on two statements Bangert makes, in particular. In an ongoing housing crisis, surplus public land is being prioritized for affordable housing. Notably, existing law required surplus lands to go toward affordable housing, particularly for lower-income elders and people with disabilities, but that’s not what always happened.

The 2019 law expanded the definition of “local agency” and requires local agencies to send public notice about available, surplus public land to the state, other local public entities (like the Alameda Housing Authority, for example), and affordable housing developers.

Another bill, AB 1255 (Rivas, 2019) required cities and counties to report its inventory of surplus and excess land to the state’s Housing and Community Development as part of the annual progress report of the Housing Element by April 1, 2021. As of March 5, only 11 entities have listed 33 parcels on the state website.

What really caught my attention were two sentences that suggested Alameda has been a welcoming place for precariously housed and unhoused people. My observations and reading of the archives leads me to a different analysis. Bangert writes that, “Alameda Point is one of the few closed military bases that welcomed a homeless services provider that is now successfully operating.”

The 1987 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act emerged during the 1980s rise in homelessness and provided federal funding to help people experiencing homelessness. Title V enables underutilized and surplus properties to be available to states, local governments, and nonprofit groups to assist unhoused people.

When military bases began closing in 1989, the law was amended to include base closures. During the base closure process, some communities sought exemptions while others did not property list surplus or unutilized properties with HUD (Housing and Urban Development).

Since the closure of Alameda Naval Air Station, Alameda Point Collaborative and Operation Dignity (Dignity Commons) have provided homes for formerly unhoused veterans and families.
Bessie Coleman began serving women and families in 2002. More recently, the Friends of Crab Cove (not to be confused with the Friends of Crown Beach, necessarily) sought to rezone formerly surplus federal property as open space to prevent a wellness/respite center for chronically unhoused people.

I share this brief portion of these histories to acknowledge the role of city staff in seeking to make spaces available for marginalized residents, drop a reference to those who want to banish all unhoused people to Alameda Point (for now) or off the island, and acknowledge that we have come some ways and have a ways to go toward belonging.

Bangert also claims, “It (Alameda Point) is also one of the few redevelopment areas in California with a requirement of 25 percent affordable housing in new construction.” Notably, that 25 percent “inclusionary zoning” is the result of a lawsuit filed by Renewed Hope Housing Advocates and Arc Ecology for violating the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Renewed Hope hoped that Catellus’ Bayport Project would set aside more units for lower-income families while Arc Ecology expressed concerns about the toxic sites due to prior use by the Navy, according to a 2001 report on the lawsuit. The settlement led to the 25 percent “inclusionary zoning” requirement on new construction. The city did not do this on its own accord.

Alameda Point has been and will continue to be a contested site for development. (What type of development for whose benefit) Alameda has longer legacies of racialized zoning, segregated wartime housing, planned post-war shrinkage, exclusionary zoning (Article 26) and opposition to affordable housing development, and the over policing and expulsion of unhoused people. The narratives about “the Base” fit into these lesser acknowledged historical realities.

The “Planners Triangle,” the diagram of the three priorities of economy, environment, and equity, and the conflicts between each, is helpful for recognizing the interests in the debate on development. The implication that AB 1486 hampers development at Alameda Point after two decades of debate, difficult (relationships with) developers, including a failed ballot measure, misses some historical context in an attempt to forward one narrative.

Nearly a decade ago when the city got the land at Alameda Point, then-Mayor Marie Gilmore said, “Alameda Point will now be the economic engine that drives the city of Alameda.”
Bangert quotes Nanette Mocanu, assistant director of Base Reuse & Community Development as similarly saying, “Alameda Point will restore jobs lost over two decades ago and provide a new economic engine to Alameda.”

While the intent of utilizing commercial development for infrastructure needs is understandable, the framing of this article pits these forms of development (commercial vs. residential) against each other.

This framing may further contribute towards the anti-(housing)development ideology that has driven the status quo and stalled multiple developments at the Point.

The aspiration for Alameda Point to be an engine is admirable, and we should also remain mindful that some of us don’t even have a car to sleep in. I look forward to seeing which properties the city does list as surplus in hopes that “public” land will be used for affordable housing for, if it is not rematriated to indigenous people.

Rasheed Shabazz is an Alameda resident.