OAKLAND (CBS SF/BCN) — Aimed at reducing gentrification and homelessness and improving equity, Oakland has embarked on a pilot program that pays a portion of a resident’s rent for 18 months, city officials announced Tuesday.

The program started this summer and subsidizes 200 households.

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More than 70% of Oakland’s homeless people are Black; nationwide, Black women are the most-evicted group of people.

Estimates are that Oakland’s homeless population has grown substantially since the pandemic began. The next time Alameda County will estimate its homeless population through a point-in-time count is Jan. 25.

“Housing is a human right,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said, echoing other leaders in the city like Councilmember Carroll Fife, who ran for City Council on that mantra. “It is a basic human need.”

Participating households will receive an average of $726 per month, which is expected to help them pay rent and keep up with other bills.

Schaaf says it’s a tool to help end homelessness that has been missing from Oakland’s toolkit; one that is “most likely to close the racial disparity.”

The idea was inspired by a report published earlier in 2021 by Alameda County’s EveryOne Home. “Centering Racial Equity in Homeless System Design” identified 920 households in Oakland who could gain from an ongoing subsidy.

To prevent those 920 households from becoming homeless, it’s estimated it would cost $10 million a year, or about $11,000 per family. Subsidizing a family is expected to cost about $8,700 a year on average, a difference of $2,300.

Some households may not need a subsidy each month, city officials said.

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The subsidy in the pilot is called a “shallow subsidy,” which is a smaller part of a household’s monthly rent, compared to larger subsidies such as Section 8 vouchers, which often cover most of a household’s rent.

Subsidies are being aimed at neighborhoods where the cost of rental housing has jumped as much as 90 percent in 10 years.

“By reducing the rent burden for these families, we can stop homelessness and displacement before they start,” said Jaime Almanza, CEO of Bay Area Community Services, which is facilitating the program.

Having safe, stable housing is key to be sure people have good health, said Madelyn Adams, senior director of community health at Kaiser Permanente, which has helped support the program financially

The first disbursements went out to households this summer after the Oakland Fund for Public Innovation, which helped launch the program, raised $3.4 million from area philanthropies.

The program will be studied by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative. Outcomes of the study may influence future policy in Oakland, California and the nation.

“What we hope to learn from this novel program is whether providing a shallow rent subsidy is enough to prevent homelessness and help low-income families thrive,” initiative director Dr. Margot Kushel said in a statement.

 

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