In urban areas, “revitalization” all too often means “gentrification.” But Elaine Brown, CEO of Oakland & the World Enterprises (OWE) and former Black Panther Party member, has a very different vision for the 7th & Campbell project in Oakland. And this time, the State of California is on board.
For decades, beginning in the early 1900s, through the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, West Oakland’s Seventh Street competed with San Francisco’s Fillmore District for the title of “Harlem of the West.” The area bustled with business during the day, and jumped with jazz clubs at night. It was bisected by a streetcar line leading to the Oakland Mole freight and ferry terminal.
But the construction of the overhead BART trackway, the Cypress Freeway and the development of the Port of Oakland all created significant disruption, leading to urban decay.
So, “when we acquired this property from the City of Oakland back in 2014, it had been vacant and neglected for more than 30 years,” Brown stated in a California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) release.
“This used to be a vibrant place that represented a better life for Black people migrating to California,” she said, “where Black-owned businesses thrived and people had hope. When this project is fully up and running, it’s going to completely resurrect the spirit of what 7th Street used to be—a lively, important corridor of commerce, teeming with vitality and opportunity.”
Yet despite receiving grant funding totaling $18.7 million from two other HCD-administered programs, the Supportive Housing Multifamily Housing Program and the Transit-Oriented Development Housing Program, the 7th & Campbell project was unable to obtain the necessary tax credits and bonds to complete construction.
Brown and Oakland & the World Enterprises, along with partner McCormack Baron Salazar, became aware of the state’s California Housing Accelerator program, funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This program, as described by state materials, “is a $1.75 billion effort to get housing developments that were stuck in the funding pipeline due to an insufficient supply of tax credits and bonds moving again.” Clearly, Brown and her partners recognized, the 7th & Campbell project fit squarely within those guidelines.
The submitted application was approved, and when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced $923 million in Accelerator awards to 27 projects in February, 7th & Campbell was awarded nearly $43 million.
Said HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez in an email interview, “The initial round of Accelerator funding was targeted to those projects that had received funding from one or more HCD financing programs, but were unable to break ground due to the backlog of projects seeking limited tax exempt bonds and tax credits. 7th & Campbell was one of these projects, having previously received $18.75 million in funding through HCD’s Supportive Multifamily Housing and Transit Oriented Development programs, but was unable to proceed as the project had applied for, but not received, bonds and tax credits. The funding provided through the California Housing Accelerator program filled that gap and allowed the project to move forward.”
At an April 15 ceremony, the project became the first one in the state to break ground with the help of the Housing Accelerator grants. When completed, said Brown, it will provide 79 affordable units for those who qualify as very low and extremely low income tenants. So, instead of gentrifying residents out, it will provide opportunities for them to stay.
Noted Velasquez, “The 7th & Campbell site, also known as The Black Panther, met all of the selection criteria set forth in the CA Housing Accelerator Project Solicitation. Being one of only 35 projects to qualify for Tier 1 of the program due in part to its readiness to proceed, this project was one of the first to submit an application in the over-the-counter process.”
OWE’s vision for the project extends beyond housing. It will be a mixed-use, transit-oriented development, in which supportive services will be provided for chronically homeless and special needs residents by the BOSS organization. With 20,000-square-feet of rooftop solar panels, the building will generate enough energy to be “net zero.”
The ground floor of the complex will house four OWE-sponsored businesses. These have been selected in accordance with OWE’s mission of “launching and sustaining for-profit businesses for ownership by formerly incarcerated and other socioeconomically marginalized people.” Brown stated that they will include a fitness center, a neighborhood market, a light manufacturing and retail clothing business and a restaurant. Presently, OWE maintains West Oakland Farms on the site, operated by a cooperative of formerly incarcerated people. The farm will move to the second level of the complex, according to Brown, and sell its produce to the ground floor grocery store and restaurant businesses.
“We believe the project will jumpstart a revitalization of the 7th Street Corridor,” said Brown. Construction is slated to begin at the end of June, with completion projected in 21-24 months. This accords with a sentence in the OWE mission statement: “We believe we are creating a model for Oakland and, indeed, the world toward alleviating poverty, reducing crime and creating the conditions for prosperity for everyone.”
The 7th & Campbell project wasn’t the only one approved in the first round of Accelerator grants, Velasquez added. Eight other East Bay projects received funding under the initial funding round. In Oakland, these included West Grand & Bush, Phase One, submitted by the East Asian Development Corp. ($25,675, 517), and Foon Lok East, submitted by the MidPen Housing Corp, ($57,434,904).
Two Berkeley projects submitted by Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, also received funding in the first round: Ancara Place ($38,628,867), and Blake Apartments ($23,541,710).
In the HCD statement, Velasquez explained, “California needs 2.5 million new homes by 2030. It’s an ambitious goal, but Accelerator projects are an important part of how we plan to achieve that goal. We hope to see many more Accelerator-funded projects breaking ground this summer, in a matter of months instead of what would have taken years.”
Another $735 million in grants will be awarded in Tier 2. Applications are currently being reviewed, and Velasquez could not comment further on applicants. However, a check of current applications on https://accelerator.hcd.ca.gov/content/pre-app revealed multiple other East Bay applicants, including Friendship Senior Housing (Oakland), The Phoenix (Oakland), Nellie Hammon Gateway (Emeryville), Albany Family Housing (Albany) and 811 San Pablo (Pinole).
Said Gov. Newsom of the 7th & Campbell groundbreaking, “We’re moving with the urgency that’s required to create affordable housing to help alleviate the housing crisis and prevent folks from ending up on the streets.”