Families, friends, volunteers and government leaders gathered on Saturday at Kinsell Commons in Tassafaronga Village to dedicate 14 new Habitat for Humanity homes.
There were a number of speakers, including Habitat East Bay CEO Janice Jensen, board chair David Barron, Oakland Housing Authority Executive Director Eric Johnson, Oakland mayor Jean Quan, Oakland council member Larry Reid and state Senator Loni Hancock. All of them spoke about the improvements in the area, not just the new Habitat homes, but the surrounding affordable apartments, nearby schools and the brand-new East Oakland library. The public housing project that used to be where the Tassaforanga development now stands was in terrible shape, and a magnet for crime. Now there are clean, comfortable apartments and homes.
Regardless of how you feel about redevelopment, this area of East Oakland is getting better. Tammerlin Drummond wrote about Deep East Oakland rising in January. Habitat for Humanity East Bay has been working to help make Oakland (and the entire East Bay) better for over 20 years, and I've been volunteering with them for 15 of those, mostly in East Oakland. Besides Kinsell Commons (14+8 homes), there are Habitat developments on Edes Avenue (54 homes) and 105th Avenue (40 homes) as well as several smaller developments and rehabs. I've watched some of the ups and downs of the area over the years, and it is slowly improving.
Habitat builds affordable home ownership opportunities and communities, both here in Oakland and around the world. Habitat sells homes at cost to qualifying families. In lieu of a down payment, the family is required to put in 500 hours of "sweat equity" helping build their home and those of their neighbors. To keep things affordable, they get interest-free loans based on their income. (To make sure the houses stay affordable, Habitat gets first right to buy back a home if a family needs to sell.) And to help make this all work, Habitat uses a lot of volunteers, both on the worksite and in the office to make it all come together. The resulting homes are green, with green design features to keep the environmental impact and energy usage low. (Thanks to PG&E and Grid Alternatives for the solar PV systems.) And to help families make it as first-time homeowners, Habitat builds communities, involving homeowners and making sure they get to know their neighbors before their homes are even built.