OAKLAND (KPIX) — The high cost of real estate isn’t a problem to those who can afford to stay put. But it’s causing some African Americans to sell their homes and move. Now, a new program from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is giving low-income Black homeowners a chance to profit from their houses without having to leave.

In the 1980’s Oakland was 46% African American, the largest Black-dominant city in California. But since then, the city has lost nearly 40,000 of its Black residents, some of them because of the skyrocketing cost of housing. Gentrification is taking its toll on low-income communities and it’s changing the character of Oakland.

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“We have gone from a city really abundant in arts and culture and high social life to something a little more sterile,” said third-generation Oaklander Bobby Arte. “The neighborhoods are starting to all look the same. There’s not that eclectic feel and vibe of the city. And we definitely don’t see as much diversity.”

Arte is Chief Operating Officer of Well Nest Company, a development firm that has become part of a project to save Black homeownership in Oakland. They’re doing it with backyard in-law houses or ADU’s, short for Accessory Dwelling Units. His company offers a number of different designs of ADU’s, and the expertise to shepherd homeowners through the process of creating them.

“So we can really help streamline that process for the homeowner, who doesn’t want to have to deal with the city, the planning, the design,” said Arte.

It’s a pilot project called “Keys to Equity” which offers low-income black homeowners the opportunity to become landlords, generating income without having to sell their houses, while offering a place to live to someone else. The program is organized by the non-profit Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services.

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“So we really want to test the assumption, can an ADU stabilize the community that we care about?” said RNHS Executive Director, Nikki Beasley.

Meanwhile, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has put up two million dollars to guarantee construction loans, so lenders won’t have any risk in loaning to homeowners who might not otherwise qualify, according to Ruby Bolaria-Shifrin, CZI’s Director of Housing Affordability.

“And so you don’t have to be wealthy or you don’t have to have a ton of equity in your home in order to get an ADU,” she said.

All it takes is a backyard, or even a garage that can be converted. The program is only possible because of changes in State law making it easier to build ADU’s. Organizers estimate there are now 20,000 owner-occupied homes in Oakland alone that could qualify for a backyard housing unit.

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In most cases, the units can pay for themselves and, in time, allow low-income African Americans a chance to benefit from the hot housing market instead of being the victims of it.