A history lesson: Tenants V. Alameda, Rasheed El Shabazz

If you are looking to gain a better understanding of the history of affordable housing in Alameda, this is for you. This historical report on the history of affordable housing in Alameda was put together by UC Berkeley graduate, Alamedan, and esteemed scholar Rasheed El Shabazz.

In 1987, African American tenants of the Buena Vista Apartments in Alameda, California, sued the City of Alameda for discriminatory housing policies. The lawsuit occurred after the owner of the largest subsidized housing complex in the East Bay decided to convert the property to market rate rents. The plans to double and even triple rents would displace hundreds of families.

After pleading with City government and the owner, Section 8 vouchers were acquired for many residents–all but 325. These ‘lost’ affordable housing units led to the lawsuit challenging Measure A, a 1973 citizen-enacted ordinance that banned construction of apartments. After a judge ruled Alameda’s land use policies discriminated against the poor, the City settled to protect its treasured exclusionary zoning policy. Part of the settlement called for replacement of the lost 325 affordable housing units.

I conducted primary research on the Guyton case in 2011 for a political science course on the American Legal System my first semester at Cal. This year, two years later, I presented my research at the UC Berkeley Legal Studies Conference.

Rasheed El Shabazz, “Tenants vs. Alameda: How Long Income Tenants Challenged Discriminatory Housing Policies in Alameda, California,” <http://tenantsvsalameda.blogspot.com/> May 2011.

More of his research on Alameda can be found here.


The City of Alameda finally passed a Housing Element in July 2012, an action that changed the city’s course after an almost 40-year ban on the building of multi-family housing. A splendid and hard-fought victory, it was the first certified housing element for Alameda since 1990. Renewed Hope Housing Advocates, with support from East Bay Housing Organizations and Buena Vista United Methodist Church, and legal counsel from Public Advocates and the Public Interest Law Project, worked with a very dedicated city planner, Andrew Thomas, to find sites throughout the City of Alameda, but excluding Alameda Point, that could be developed within the expiring 2007-2014 element period. To meet Alameda’s RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers for low-income housing, we developed a new Multi-Family Overlay Zone for a number of the sites where a developer could ask for a density of 30 units per acre with the state density bonus, or 48 units per acre, if willing to build at least 50 percent affordable housing. The latter provision is designed to facilitate housing for low-income people built by affordable housing developers.
The multi-family zone is a real breakthrough for Alameda where there has been a lot of hostility toward affordable housing over the years. Measure A was passed in 1973, ostensibly to preserve Alameda’s Victorian housing stock, and forbids anything more than duplexes from being built. It has been strongly defended by many people in town and viewed as racially tinged by activists. Renewed Hope began in 1999 with the battle to save old Navy housing near Alameda College for rehabbed affordable units, went on to sue the city successfully for 25 percent affordable housing at Alameda Point and then pushed for this next goal, a housing element.

Passage of the element is a good sign that Alameda’s climate will be much more receptive to affordable housing in the future. City Manager John Russo pledged to have the next housing element done on time! The next step is to work on the Alameda Point plan to ensure the 25 percent affordable housing mandate at the Point is an integral piece of the city’s plans to develop the former navy base. We are looking for a Concord NWS-type coalition and welcome regional input.