The Oakland Unified School District will lease two of its long-vacant East Oakland properties to a development and construction company, with the hopes of earning rent on the sites while allowing the company to build housing that would eventually house teachers and other OUSD employees, as well as provide commercial space with community resources.
After much debate, the school board voted 5-2 Wednesday night to grant two long-term (65-year) leases on the properties —the former Tilden Child Development Center and the former Edward Shands Adult School — to Eagle Environmental Construction Inc. The developer would demolish the existing buildings and create mixed-use developments at each site that include market rate units, subsidized housing for teachers, a site offering job training for residents, and a hub for the Black Cultural Zone, a coalition of residents and community organizations aimed at helping Black residents thrive in East Oakland.
While the initial leases did not have specific language guaranteeing how much housing would go to teachers and other OUSD employees, vocal community members pressured the board to make it clear that at least 50% of the units will be guaranteed for educator workforce housing.
It’s been a growing trend across California and the Bay Area as the cost of living rises in the region. In February, the Berkeley Unified School District board voted on a location to construct up to 110 educator workforce housing units. A project to build 134 units of housing for teachers in San Francisco Unified is expected to break ground next year. Last year, the city of Oakland launched a residency program that subsidizes housing for student teachers working towards their teaching credential in OUSD schools.
Prior to Wednesday night’s vote, the proposals prompted a lengthy debate. Proponents of the agreements argued that the properties offered a chance to build more housing while also generating revenue for a cash-strapped district. Critics of the plans disagreed with OUSD offering up district property to developers instead of rehabilitating the buildings to serve students. They also pointed to the relatively cheap rent the district would be collecting compared to what the developer would reap and vague language about how affordable the housing would be.
“I don’t think enough specific data has been put before you to really be persuasive that these are the best deals for OUSD, for the teachers, for the use of this property,” said Carol Delton, a parent whose daughter graduated from OUSD. “Take it back to the table, take it back for better language, and take it back in order to guarantee that the community benefit actually occurs.”
Both leases will last for 65 years, with an option to renew for 10 additional years. The Edward Shands Adult School at 2455 Church St. operated for years until budget cuts forced the school to close in 2010. It then housed Arise High School, a charter school, during the 2012-2013 school year, but has been vacant for several years since. On this site, developers will build 68 units of housing and other commercial space. Eagle Environmental Construction will pay the district $4,000 a month to rent the property to start, and the rent will increase by 3% each year to total $9.3 million over the length of the 65-year-lease. The company will also cover all of the demolition and renovation costs. The group plans to provide a space to Cypress Mandela, an East Oakland job training center, and Black Cultural Zone’s first hub.
Carolyn Johnson, the CEO of Black Cultural Zone, told The Oaklandside she envisions the hub operating as a coworking space, as well as a place for partners to sell their products, hold classes to educate residents on the culture of the African diaspora, and provide support and mentorship.
“We look towards activating spaces that are held for the people. Those spaces that are not being actively used are ripe for something to be done,” Johnson said.
At the second site, the former Tilden Child Development Center, located at 4551 Steele St., developers will build 20 townhomes, including 15 two-bedroom units and five three-bedroom units. Oakland Unified will receive $3,000 per month in rent in the first year, which will increase by 3% each consecutive year for a total of about $6.9 million over the length of the lease. Cypress Mandela will work with Eagle Environmental Construction on the Tilden project to give its trainees real-world experience at a construction site.
The two “no” votes came from Board President Shanthi Gonzales and director Mike Hutchinson—two unlikely allies who are rarely on the same side in non-unanimous votes. Gonzales recommended that the board start the process over, including making another request for proposals for development of the sites, and have more board discussions about what their priorities are.
“We never really got on the same page about how we are balancing the competing goals of community benefit, revenue generation, and affordable housing,” Gonzales said.
Hutchinson, who represents District 5, was adamant about keeping the property for education purposes.
“Why isn’t this going to be an adult education training center? Why is this going to be turned into workforce housing when we heard our workforce can’t afford it and don’t want to live there?” Hutchinson said. “This is a shocking way to do business when you all are deciding to dispose of public property for 75 years.”
Oakland Unified owns 108 sites in Oakland, according to the district’s facilities master plan from 2020. Nine of those sites are vacant, but about half of them, including Tilden CDC, Shands, Kaiser Elementary, and Piedmont CDC, will be occupied in the future. The district also currently leases out more than two dozen sites to charter schools, child care centers, and the city of Oakland.
Representatives from the Oakland Education Association teachers’ union and SEIU 1021, which represents school security officers, instructional assistants, and administrative workers, objected to the leases because of the original uncertain language around how much housing would be guaranteed to OUSD employees and lack of clear income restrictions.
“This board should also consider the necessity of rebuilding an adult education program in the area, in order to meet the real need that likely still exists for our adult education programming,” said Vilma Serrano, a teacher and OEA leader. “As a representative of OEA I ask that the board vote no on leasing Tilden CDC and Shands and instead take the time next year to be able to respond to the concerns and questions raised this evening by OEA members as well as Oakland community members.”
Language in the original leases for Tilden and Shands only promised Eagle Environmental Construction would use its “best efforts” to reserve 50% of the housing for teachers and other employees in OUSD, as opposed to an absolute guarantee. The board amended the leases during the meeting to remove that language, so that the leases state, “Tenant shall ensure that not less than fifty percent (50%) of the residential units … are reserved for the Oakland Unified School District workforce, including educators.”
Community members also voiced concerns that while the district and developers presented the projects as affordable housing, the leases don’t list any income limits for potential residents. Harold Freiman, an attorney who represents school districts on facilities issues, said that projects that define what percentage of the area median income (AMI) qualifies residents for affordable housing are usually projects that are seeking tax credits, and Eagle Environmental Construction is not seeking tax credits for these developments.
Ronald Batiste, an Oakland native and the president and CEO of Eagle Environmental Construction, believes that the buildings will house educators making up to 60% to 80% of the area median income, which ranges from $54,840 to $73,100 for one person in Oakland. Those making more than that would pay for a market-rate unit.
“We are literally doing this as a market rate project, and it will subsidize the teachers, depending on their salary, and depending on the size of their family,” Batiste said.
Oakland Unified salaries for credentialed employees start at $28,000 for a preschool teacher, $51,000 for a K-12 teacher, $56,000 for a nurse, $73,000 for a school psychologist or speech pathologist, $81,000 for an assistant principal, and $93,000 for a principal.
District 4 Director Gary Yee and others who voted in favor of the move argued that putting this space to use for the community is their ultimate goal.
“We have an opportunity to clean up the blight, to hire local contractors, to hire young people from our schools through the Cypress Mandela program,” said District 4 Director Gary Yee. “Sure, we have an opportunity to earn a little bit of money [from rent], but the money is the last of this. The main thing for me is to be a good partner to our neighbors.”