Oakland’s outgoing head of housing reflects on her three years at the department

By Natalie Orenstein, The Oaklandside, September 19, 2022

Shola Olatoye was appointed director of Oakland’s Housing & Community Development Department in January 2020. She previously served a tumultuous term leading the New York City Housing Authority.

“In Oakland, her job was quickly dominated by the pandemic. Olatoye oversaw the city’s rental assistance program and its efforts to secure state COVID-19 funds for new housing sites. She prioritized preserving and creating affordable housing in existing buildings, in addition to new development, and expanding the city’s collection of housing data.

[Responding to the pandemic]

“I did not think I would be running a $48 million emergency rental assistance program—but we did it and it’s served close to 3,000 households.

“[W]e learned so much about how to move quickly and work across the city, because we did in eight months what usually takes 12-36 months. […] I do think it speaks to the fact that if you have a vision and you create a regulatory path—meaning get rid of some of the stuff that takes up time—and you put real money in the project, we can actually address the homelessness crisis.

[Oakland “fallen far short” of low-income housing goals]

“The city had $100 million [for housing from the Measure KK bond] versus estimates of a couple billion dollars that have happened in terms of real estate investment in the area. You need the money, and it doesn’t come from just impact fees. You need another source of capital to do it.

 [Top accomplishments]

“I wanted to do five things when I got here, though clearly, those things changed with the pandemic. I knew the department needed a plan to both spend down the resources it had—the Measure KK bond—and to lay out a capital plan going forward.

In order to do that we needed good data, and the department didn’t have that. So we created partnerships with the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford’s Changing Cities Lab.

[…]

“The last thing was I really wanted to center racial equity in the work in a way it hadn’t been. People think that if you invest in low- and moderate-income communities, that’s doing racial equity work. Yes, and we can be more intentional to make sure our resources are targeting the people most affected.”

[Lessons learned]

“I think about the emergency rental assistance program. One of the challenges for any city, but certainly in the city of Oakland, is our contracting process. It’s very laborious, very complicated. […] We should have tried to be a little bit more creative.”

Read the full interview here. (~5 min.)

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