A construction worker in a vest and hardhat stands in the middle of an intersection, holding a stop sign and directing a bulldozer. They're next to a building that's under construction.
Oakland's Housing Element lays out where 26,000 new housing units could be developed in the coming eight years. Credit: Amir Aziz

State housing authorities have approved Oakland’s Housing Element, a mandatory plan outlining how the city will address housing affordability, development, and access in the next eight years.

Now that Oakland’s element is considered to be in “full compliance” with state law, the city no longer has to worry about losing important streams of state funding, or triggering rules that could have limited its ability to regulate development. Cities without qualified elements are placed in the “builder’s remedy” category, which allows developers to pursue housing projects larger than what’s typically allowed by the zoning code. 

Oakland, like most in the Bay Area, failed to bring its plan into compliance by the Jan. 31 deadline, putting Oakland in shaky territory for the past two weeks.

On Feb. 2, the state asked for revisions, including more specificity around where and how Oakland will build the 26,000 new housing units it’s required to plan for in the coming eight years. State planners also asked for more information from Oakland on how the city will increase housing access among groups that have historically faced barriers to securing and affording safe places to live, as well as more plans around improving neighborhood features like parks and transportation. 

The letter of compliance issued Friday indicates that city staffers were able to make satisfactory edits this month. 

An Oakland spokesperson confirmed the certification Friday and said the city will release a statement about it.

A state dashboard shows that 258 jurisdictions are still out of compliance in California, though Oakland’s updated status is not yet reflected on the website. 

Oakland has been developing its 2023-2031 Housing Element for the past year, bringing on planning firm Dyett & Bhatia, as well as a coalition of community groups called the Deeply Rooted Collaborative, to guide the process, and holding numerous public meetings and workshops.

Some of the organizations that provided input during those sessions were startled in early February to learn the plan had been rejected, saying the city had assured them the document would be certified. 

In its letter, the state said Oakland planning staff’s “commitment to housing and community development is commendable.” The state also said Oakland “must continue timely and effective implementation” of the programs and policies it pledges to pursue in the Housing Element. 

Some of those plans include guaranteeing lawyers for tenants and rent hearings, air quality improvement measures, reducing parking requirements at developments, revising the real estate transfer tax, first-time homeownership support, and pursuing more Section 8 vouchers.

The City Council will still be able to make updates to the Housing Element in the coming weeks.

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.