OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Although Wednesday's Oakland City Council special meeting on the city's housing crisis repeatedly acknowledged the issue's urgency, Oakland citizens passionately and often angrily called on council members to take concrete action.
The meeting was held to present information, data and analysis on the city's rising rents and increased displacement of residents, and it presented a framework for future policy changes called the "Housing Equity Roadmap."
But the council had no new policies ready to implement at Wednesday's meeting, and residents' dissatisfaction - whether heard from the microphone or not - was loud and clear.
The meeting began with presentations by four panelists who provided testimony and data to place the crisis into context.
Alma Blackwell, Oakland housing rights organizer for the grassroots organization Causa Justa Just Cause, said, "We need to better implement the laws that are already in place, and we need funding for housing."
"When we have stable and healthy housing, we have long-term stability and prosperity for our people," she said to cheers.
Ed Del Beccaro, managing director of the real estate firm Transwestern, provided economic data for Alameda County and surrounding Bay Area communities. He said that in the past decade, an Oakland resident needs 129 percent more income to afford the average house and 39 percent more to rent the average apartment.
Kalima Rose, senior director of the research institute PolicyLink, provided more statistics on affordability and habitability and Dr. Muntu Davis, director of the Alameda County Public Health Department, presented on the public health implications of the housing situation - including a life-expectancy discrepancy of up to a decade.
But the stats were not enough for the citizens present at the meeting, a fact that became evident when council president Lynette Gibson McElhaney began calling on council members to question the panelists around 8:30 p.m.
"When are we going to hear the public speak?" Councilwoman Desley Brooks said, to riotous support. "We didn't come here to hear ourselves speak."
Brooks gestured at the chambers, which were not as full as they had been when the meeting started at 6 p.m.
"People are leaving," she said. "This process was not approved by the entire council."
After allowing a few questions from council members, McElhaney gave in and turned the meeting over to public forum instead of to another panel as originally planned.
A woman approached the microphone with two young daughters and said that her family was being displaced from their home in East Oakland, and she didn't know where they were going to go yet.
McElhaney asked her what size home she was looking for, since "there are a lot of people here tonight, and a lot of people watching."
"I need a two-bedroom," the woman said.
McElhaney then asked the crowd to let her know if any of them knew of an available two-bedroom. The room took the request loudly, but not wholly positively.
"If she [McElhaney] wanted to help out, she could have helped out a year ago!" a man yelled from the back.
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