October 4, 2013–A lawsuit was filed yesterday by residents of Albany and the Bay Area against the City of Albany challenging the City’s failure to adopt a housing element as required by state law. Petitioners maintain that the City’s failure – for decades — to make affordable housing a priority harms local residents.
California Housing Element Law requires Albany and all local jurisdictions to periodically assess existing and projected housing needs, including the needs of special populations, and to set forth specific goals, policies, and programs to encourage the preservation and development of housing. Despite these requirements, Albany has failed to update its Housing Element since 1992, leaving Albany’s poorest and most vulnerable residents homeless, or only able to access overcrowded or substandard living spaces.
Petitioners Amber Whitson and Betty Stephenson are homeless and desperately need affordable housing. Whitson, who currently resides at the Albany Bulb, says, “I look forward to the day when I, and others of the same income level, have more options for somewhere to live in Albany, other than the Landfill.” Another Petitioner, Albany Housing Advocates (AHA), is a nonprofit corporation of Albany residents dedicated to the production of affordable housing. AHA’s mission is to support the need of all persons to have safe and secure housing, promote fair housing opportunities, and ensure the City’s compliance with fair housing and housing element requirements. “I’m looking forward to the time when the City of Albany has a Housing Element that is not only in compliance with state requirements, but that also demonstrates a welcoming and all-inclusive attitude toward people at all income levels.” Julie Winkelstein, AHA President.
Petitioners also claim that Albany violates important fair housing laws, because its failure to comply with state land use and planning laws has an unlawful discriminatory effect on protected groups, including persons with disabilities and racial and ethnic minorities. Albany is the only community of 109 jurisdictions in the Bay Area that has not formally submitted a housing element update to the California Department of Housing and Community Development for the current planning period which began in 2009. It also failed to keep its commitment to update its Housing Element as a member of the Alameda County Consortium that receives federal funding for housing and community development.
Petitioners are represented by Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal), the largest provider of free legal services to low-income Bay Area residents and The Public Interest Law Project (PILP). PILP is a state-wide, non-profit support center for legal services programs with expertise in land use and planning and fair housing laws. “Albany has violated the law with impunity since at least 1999 when its last housing element was due,” said Lauren Hansen, an attorney with the Public Interest Law Project. “Given the City’s lack of attention to its neediest residents, it is no surprise that the City has such a large population of people who are chronically homeless.” David Levin, an attorney with BayLegal agrees: “Unfortunately we need to seek a court order requiring the City of Albany to comply with the same legal obligations that other Bay Area jurisdictions have been working to meet.”