The Questions About So-Called Affordable Housing

Many people already question whether so-called affordable housing projects in Oakland and the Bay Area are really affordable to most disabled persons receiving their income through SSI, or for retired persons receiving Social Security. It is evident that all too many are not truly affordable to low-income people.

by Lynda Carson

On July 16, Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm that works on the issues of poverty and racial discrimination, announced that the City of Oakland was “bowing to community pressure” and inviting new proposals for affordable housing at a parcel of land on Lake Merritt’s East 12th Street after local groups had protested against it as an illegal land deal.

Oakland activists strongly condemned the original deal to sell the city-owned parcel of land to UrbanCore, a developer that planned to construct a 20-story tower with 300 units of luxurious, upscale housing. Public Advocates and Eastlake United for Justice charged that the deal was in violation of the Surplus Land Act governing the sale of publicly owned land.

“We are very excited about the city’s decision to comply with the law and address community concerns by re-opening the process,” said Monica Garcia, who lives just two blocks from the site, and is a member of Eastlake United for Justice, a neighborhood group advocating for affordable housing in Oakland.

“As we move forward we urge the city to work with the community to ensure that affordable housing is built on the E. 12th parcel, and remain true to the idea that public land should be used for the public good,” Garcia said.

Now that the land deal that would have illegally benefited UrbanCore has been scuttled by city officials and the parcel is now up for bid as a possible site for so-called affordable housing, the question arises as to what kind of affordable housing site it will eventually become.

Not Affordable to Low Income People

Many already question whether the so-called affordable housing projects in Oakland and the Bay Area are really affordable to most disabled persons receiving their income through SSI, or are affordable for retired persons receiving Social Security. It is evident that many are not affordable to low-income people.

As one example, in 2014, at the Avalon Senior Housing project located at 3850 San Pablo in Oakland, the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) required that people seeking housing at this subsidized housing project must have a minimum income of at least twice the rent. Studio apartments were going for $600.00 a month at this project, one-bedroom apartments were going for as high as $712.00 per month, and two-bedroom apartments were going for $845.00. Many low-income, disabled persons receiving SSI disability payments and retired persons on Social Security could not afford to reside there due to the minimum income requirements.

In 2014, the average monthly Social Security check for a single retired worker was $1,294.00. Many retired and disabled workers earn much less than $1,294.00 per month as Social Security income or SSI, and as a result, retired and disabled persons face exclusion at many so-called affordable housing projects in Oakland, and throughout the Bay Area.

The average SSI (disability) benefit payment in California was $877.40 per month. The average TANF (CalWorks) family in California is an adult with two children that receives $510 a month in benefits. General Assistance in California during 2014 paid $336 per month to a single person. Food Stamps were $189 per month, and persons receiving SSI/SSP are not allowed in the program.

When taking a closer look at many so-called affordable housing projects in Oakland and the Bay Area, it appears that unless the disabled persons receiving SSI or Social Security benefits also have Section 8 housing vouchers (Housing Choice Vouchers), most disabled persons on SSI and retired persons on Social Security do not have an income high enough to reside in many affordable housing projects.

Ironhorse Housing in Oakland

As another example of a project with “minimum income requirements” that discriminate against the poor and disabled, we can look at the Ironhorse affordable housing project at Central Station, a 99-unit housing project developed by Bridge Housing.

Now! Housing for All! Art by Josh MacPhee

“Now! Housing for All!”   Art by Josh MacPhee


The project is funded in part by a federally regulated government program called the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC), as well as other sources of funding to subsidize the housing project, according to Bridge Housing.

In 2010, Bridge Housing announced that the Ironhorse so-called affordable housing project delivers 99 apartments for families earning up to 50 percent of the local area medium income (AMI).

Out of 99 apartments, there are 20 housing units at Ironhorse set aside for those with the lowest incomes residing in units receiving rent subsidies from the federal government through the Oakland Housing Authority.

The Ironhorse project owned by Bridge Housing demands that a person seeking to rent a one-bedroom apartment for $460 per month, must earn between $15,771 to $19,650 per year to reside in what is called Tier 1. The minimum income requirement is way more than the average retired person on Social Security, or a disabled person on SSI earns, and leaves them out in the cold unless they have a Section 8 voucher.

In Tier 2 at Ironhorse, a person renting a one-bedroom apartment that rents for $541 per month, must have an income between $18,549 to $22,925 per year. In Tier 3, Bridge Housing demands that a person renting a one-bedroom apartment for $622 per month, must have an income between $21,326 to $26,200. There are no minimum income requirements for Section 8 applicants (Housing Choice Voucher Applicants), according to their application documents.

The harsh reality at this so-called affordable housing project subsidized by taxpayers is that most disabled persons on SSI, or retired persons with Social Security as an income, face discrimination at this site due to the “minimum income requirements” imposed by Bridge Housing, a $2 billion so-called nonprofit housing developer.

Many other affordable housing projects in the Bay Area are imposing minimum income requirements that end up excluding countless poor, disabled, senior and homeless tenants from ever being considered for housing. Many of these housing complexes are praised as supposed places where the nation is demonstrating its commitment to helping disabled and poor people to find housing. But once we do the math and add up the rental costs, we find that too many deserving people are excluded.

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