Development without gentrification? Oakland’s Fruitvale is the model, report says
By Erin Baldassari
East Bay Times
15 April 2018
Photo courtesy of Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group
Oakland’s Fruitvale Village neighborhood is an urban planning rarity — it has managed to create a cluster of shops, community service organizations, and apartments without leading to gentrification. Researchers from UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative say the transit village “has held onto its existing residents, along with its signature Mexican-American culture.”
“It’s the holy grail of urban planning,” said Alexander Quinn, an economist with Hatch, who reviewed the study’s findings, “to say we improved the place and the people who live there are better off.”
The Unity Council, a Spanish-speaking community development organization based in Fruitvale, took over the Fruitvale Transit Village project from BART in the 1990s. The Transit Village is often considered to be the nation’s first transit-oriented development which has become “a catch phrase that’s become the gold standard for building in dense urban areas and is the subject of a new state bill to encourage these types of projects across the state.”
The village is currently home to a charter high school, senior center, public library, pediatric clinic, union office, restaurants, retailers, and a Clinica de la Raza (a healthcare provider). The village also features a weekly farmers market, daily vendors whoc push carts along the village, and an annual Dia de los Muertos festival.
Researchers wanted to determine whether the transit village was a success for residents in the surrounding communities, and found that Fruitvale experienced higher growth in household incomes compared to other neighborhoods in the Bay Area. They also found that residents of Fruitvale were increasingly graduating from high school and earning bachelor’s degrees. Further, the number of homebuyers also increased in Fruitvale.
At the same time, Fruitvale lost only 1 percent of its Latino population, 4 percent of its black residents, less than one percent of its white residents and gained 6 percent of new Asian residents.
That being said, experts, elected officials, and residents are questioning whether the region can withstand the Bay Area’s booming economy: rents in Fruitvale rose a whopping 83 percent compared to 71 percent in similar Bay Area neighborhoods and 66 percent in similar California neighborhoods outside the area.
Carolina Reid, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning and Faculty Research Adviser at UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, cautions that the optimistic research may be misleading. Reid states that the data, which only goes up to 2015, misses some of the recent years of growth, which resulted in the skyrocketing of rents and home values.
“Fruitvale is not immune to the larger forces impacting the Bay Area, and some of the results they are finding in this study might be partly a timing problem,” Reid said.
Reid argued that the most important course of action is creating affordable housing and tenant protection.
In line with that goal, the Unity Council recently began a project to construct a 94-unit affordable housing tower at the Fruitvale transit village. There are plans in the works to construct another 181 market rate units and retail businesses in the near future.