Hundreds of Oakland senior citizens wait in line for subsidized housing

Friday, June 9, 2017
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There was an unmistakable sign on Thursday of just how severe the affordable housing crisis is in Oakland.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- There was an unmistakable sign on Thursday of just how severe the affordable housing crisis is in Oakland.

Hundreds of senior citizens stood in line, many of them overnight, for a shot at a waiting list for subsidized housing.

The average rent in Oakland now is $2,400 a month and to meet its own goals, the city should have 870 new units of affordable housing every year. Last year, they permitted 40.

Even the elements couldn't dampen the spirits of the seniors lined up around the block outside the Hotel Oakland, a former inn that now bills itself as a senior citizen's village.

Tim Zhang was there helping his parents fill out paperwork for a spot on a waiting list for an apartment here.

"It's cold and it's raining this morning and everybody is waiting," Zhang said.

His parents camped out at about 3 p.m. Wednesday. Others had been here since at least noon Wednesday.

Jennifer Orthwein has a law practice across the street. She and her colleagues became concerned about the health of all those seniors.

"There's supposed to be access for a wait list that is safe for people and obviously sitting out all night in the street is not," Orthwein said.

But the sad fact of life is that people are already in harm's way. Just look at the homeless encampments that have popped up on the periphery of Downtown Oakland.

City officials admit that the lack of housing reached crisis proportions several years ago.

"In the last five to six years, there's been over half a million jobs that have been created in the Bay Area and the region and only about 50,000 units of new housing," Oakland Housing and Community Development Department's Michele Byrd said.

The people in line Thursday morning were trying to get on a waiting list for Section 8 vouchers. That's a government program that only requires tenants to pay up to 30 percent of their incomes for rent, with government subsidies picking up the rest.

The Zhangs were lucky. They got an application in the hour before they ran out. But they have no idea when or if they'll get a spot.

"I'm not sure. Maybe they send a letter or phone call," Zhang said.

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