A hand holds a copy of the pocket-sized Affordable Housing Guide. A bunch of copies are scattered across the table behind it.
The Affordable Housing Guide is available online and in print. Credit: Ximena Natera

As housing reporters focusing on the East Bay, we frequently cover new affordable housing developments when they’re proposed, when they break ground and when they finally start moving people in.

Find the Affordable Housing Guide online or scroll down for details on requesting a printed guide.

Whenever we publish these stories, we get emails and calls from people hoping to secure an apartment in the new building. Many tell us they’re in tough positions—sleeping in a car, dealing with steep rent hikes at their current home, or anxious to return to the East Bay after getting priced out. 

It’s not always easy to know how to respond. We’re not housing providers, and often the development projects we cover are years away from opening. Residents also face numerous roadblocks to applying and many don’t know where to start.

Reflecting on these questions, we saw a way our publications could assist people who are on the arduous hunt for affordable housing in Oakland and Berkeley. Today, we’re publishing a guide, available online and in print, to help you take your first steps in the affordable housing process. 

How we made the Affordable Housing Guide

Anyone who’s lived in the East Bay in recent years can attest to how quickly rents and home prices have increased. It’s hard to live comfortably here, and it doesn’t help that both Berkeley and Oakland have fallen behind on state targets for building affordable housing.

When subsidized housing does get built, the path to securing a spot can be confusing. There is no single place to go to find all of the available options, resources, and guidance on how to apply.

Here we’ve tried to compile practical information you need to get started on your search for an affordable home.

To put together this guide, we first asked people who’ve searched for affordable housing about the common questions that come up for them. We then spoke with Alameda County housing staff and people who work for nonprofits that operate subsidized housing to better understand the system and available resources.

We also interviewed people who’ve successfully navigated this process. Their stories of finding housing through many different methods are highlighted in the guide. 

They told us that even if you do everything “right,” it can take months or years to get off a waitlist and get selected for a spot. It’s a challenging system, and we aimed to be as realistic as possible about what to expect. 

Who should use this guide

Affordable Housing Guide
The guide includes tips for the application process and sites where you can find open units. Credit: Ximena Natera

We hope that many people can find something useful in the Affordable Housing Guide. 

Perhaps you’ve been whittling away your paycheck on rent but don’t realize you could be eligible for an affordable apartment. Maybe you’ve tried applying in the past but have given up after feeling overwhelmed by how complicated it can seem. Or you may live out of state and want to help a relative or friend who’s struggling. 

This guide won’t address everyone’s needs or situation. It’s geared toward people who already have a stable place to live while applying for affordable housing. If you’re homeless or otherwise in need of emergency shelter or transitional housing, there is some applicable information in the guide, but a social worker can provide better assistance. You can also read our ongoing coverage of the East Bay housing and homelessness crisis at The Oaklandside and Berkeleyside.

Get in touch with us if you have suggestions or want to help distribute the guide

We hope our housing guide can evolve as readers give us feedback. We’ll update the guide when there are significant changes affecting local housing policy, like the release of new area median income limits.

This resource is slightly different from most of the work published by Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. We typically run our content online only but we decided to print hard copies of this guide too. It’s a shorter version of what you’ll find online, but the most critical resources are included. We made this decision partly because we know people of all different backgrounds need affordable housing in Alameda County, and we wanted our guide to be accessible to those who may not be comfortable navigating an online guide or don’t have reliable internet access. 

We know many local organizations, programs and businesses serve people who may not read our news sites but could use the information in this guide. We will be distributing copies to sites throughout Berkeley and Oakland. Please email housingguide@citysidejournalism.org if you would like a copy or a batch to distribute.

Whether you come across this guide online or out and about, we want to hear your feedback. 

In the meantime, we hope you find something here that helps.

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.