A tiny-house homeless shelter across the street from Lake Merritt is set to close in June, eventually making way for two affordable housing projects.
Spearheaded by City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who represents the lake area, the shelter was always meant to be temporary while long-term plans for the land were worked out. But some people associated with the site were surprised to learn it would be closing this summer, and the exact future of the program is still a bit fuzzy.
At the time the shelter opened, the site was slated to be sold to private developer UrbanCore, who planned to build a market-rate housing tower alongside affordable housing built by nonprofit developer EBALDC. The City Council ultimately nixed the UrbanCore project, which had missed deadlines and received numerous extensions from Oakland.
Last summer, the council instead approved a different 100% affordable housing project by EBALDC and initiated another 100% affordable project by SAHA. The EBALDC project, which will be built first, will have 91 apartments, all reserved for residents who make below 60% of the area median income, including five units for transitional-aged youth. The city will retain ownership of the land.
Earlier this month, LakePoint residents received a notice announcing a June 9 closure date for the tiny-house program, saying construction preparation work is scheduled to begin in the fall.
Housing Consortium of the East Bay, the nonprofit that manages the shelter, is helping residents secure housing vouchers or spots in supportive and transitional housing facilities, according to the notice.
“Should participants not qualify for [those] resources and/or not identify permanent housing during the closure period HCEB staff will work with the City of Oakland to transition participants to another emergency shelter site,” the notice said. On June 9, “all remaining participants must remove their belongings and exit the site.”
“We’re going to work with them in the next couple of weeks and figure out a transition plan,” site manager Rachel Yarbrough told The Oaklandside on a recent afternoon at the shelter. “We’re definitely not going to put them back out on the street.”
At a meeting earlier that day, residents had questions for city officials and HCEB staff.
“The concern here was, ‘Why the short notice?’” said Yarbrough, who said staff only just learned about the June date from the city too, which was a “shock.”
The city administration made the decision to close the program June 9, said Bas.
“I had talked with the prior administration about working with me to relocate the site—that would have been my preference,” Bas said. But she explained that the program is currently only funded through June 30, with restrictions on state funding sources and a general “challenging funding environment” making it difficult to maintain LakePoint Village beyond that.
However, Bas said she’s still “seeking some bridge funding” to potentially continue the program, depending on EBALDC’s construction timeline. Despite the notice that residents received, the construction schedule is still in flux, according to Bas, and next February is the earliest it’s expected to break ground.
The city administration has not responded to multiple questions from The Oaklandside about the closure and the selection of the June date.
Yarbrough, the site manager, said there are currently only 45-50 residents living at LakePoint, because others have already been placed in permanent or transitional housing. Earlier this year, a resident reached out to The Oaklandside with concerns that the vacated Pallet sheds were being left empty with thousands of people living on the streets during a relentlessly wet winter.
Residents at the site during a recent afternoon declined to speak on the record about their feelings on the closure and experience at the program, for fear that it could threaten their chances of receiving adequate housing offers.
When LakePoint opened a little over a year ago, it was considered a step up from similar shelters around Oakland. The Pallet sheds had heating and electricity, and doors that locked. Everyone would get their own tiny home, unless they wanted to share it with a partner, while residents at the “Community Cabin” sites throughout the city are sometimes required to double up.
At first, there were two programs operating simultaneously on the E. 12th site. The larger program was called LakeView Village, while a smaller program, Union Point on the Rise, was designed to be “co-governed,” where residents—a group displaced from a Union Point Park encampment—would have a greater say than usual in determining the rules and structure at the site. The city struggled to secure an operator for the co-governed program, and the dual sites raised concerns about inequities between the groups.
Other issues sprung up. A fire last spring obliterated three of the plastic-and-aluminum sheds, destroying residents’ belongings. Neighboring Dewey Academy, an alternative high school, and former school board Director Aimee Eng wrote the city with safety concerns about activities on the E. 12th site, which they said were mainly associated with an unsanctioned encampment that was located next to the shelter program.
But from the perspective of Bas and many community members, the program was an achievement for a long-languishing lot that had been tied up in a political saga for years.
“I believe this was the first parcel of public land that we used for an interim use, which is something I was pushing for going back to 2019,” said Bas. “I think it’s important that this program has kind of pointed the way to having these types of emergency shelter programs where people can have more of a dignified quality of life. We’ve had multiple storms and cold weather where we’ve been able to keep people out of really harsh elements.”
She said there are multiple other parcels of land owned by the city that could support such temporary homelessness programs while the long-term development plans are being shaped.