HUD secretary meets with Oakland mayor to discuss affordable housing

The outgoing head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development today joined Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf at a meeting to discuss the city’s ongoing affordable housing needs and to express his hope that the city fares well under the incoming Donald Trump administration.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro said the Oakland “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire that killed 36 people on Dec. 2 was a powerful reminder of the need to create more affordable housing opportunities in many of the nation’s urban centers.

“My heart goes out to and I want to extend my condolences to the families of the individuals who passed away in the 31st Avenue Ghost Ship fire,” Castro said. “That incident in a very intense way has highlighted the need to create more housing opportunities here in Oakland and really in many places in the United States.”

Castro said one of the biggest challenges for many cities is to find a way to welcome business investment and new residents while also making sure that existing residents can continue to live and work in places like Oakland that are experiencing rapid growth.

“Striking that balance is not an easy thing to do but it starts with creating more affordable housing opportunities,” Castro said. Schaaf and Castro attended a roundtable discussion of housing and growth issues at the Uptown offices of the Kapor Center for Social Impact, a nonprofit whose mission is, in part, to increase diversity in the technology sector.

Schaaf said she came away from the meeting with “a renewed sense of urgency that government cannot do it alone,” and that cities like Oakland need to develop partnerships with other government entities as well as the private and nonprofit sectors in order to find ways to build more affordable housing.

The Bay Area has added half a million jobs over the past several years but has only built a little more than 50,000 housing units, Schaaf said.

“That jobs/housing balance and the transportation infrastructure to support it is really a regional problem,” Schaaf said.

Schaaf and Castro both lauded the tech sector’s potential for helping find solutions to the problem of building enough affordable housing to keep up with demand.

Castro mentioned Facebook’s offer to kick in $20 million for job training and affordable housing in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto as part of the company’s plan to expand its campus.

He also said he holds out hope that Oakland and other big American cities will continue to enjoy a positive working relationship with HUD under a Trump presidency.

“The vast majority of our employees are career employees and are committed to their mission regardless of the political environment,” Castro said. “I’m hopeful that Oakland will fare well in the years to come and that other communities that need investment and need that strong partnership with HUD will fare well.”

The President-elect has put forward Ben Carson, a former Trump opponent in the Republican presidential primary, to replace Castro when the Obama Administration departs.

“I look forward to the federal government being a partner to this community for the next few weeks of the Obama Administration and beyond,” Castro said.

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