In California, growing numbers of school districts are putting their vacant land and buildings to work to house vulnerable students and families. In November, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) agreed to join the movement. Oakland activist Dirk Tillotson explains why this is needed. Could these California efforts spark a national—and much-needed—movement?
Stop the presses! The OUSD board has finally committed itself to addressing what most underserved families in Oakland would say is their biggest long-term concern—housing. At the Board’s regular November meeting, they voted unanimously to approve Director Hinton’s “Housing for All” policy, Board Policy 7351, which directs the district to look at its property inventory, consider using it for housing and to prioritize unsheltered youth.
Thankfully this passed unanimously, breaking the stubborn inertia that has kept OUSD both broke and broken for so many years.
OUSD is one of the city’s largest landowners—it sits on a half dozen empty buildings that sit basically unused, as well as 49 acres of totally undeveloped land. Not to mention the many underutilized school sites and the fact that half of OUSD’s land is “programmed outdoor space,” i.e. parking lots and playgrounds.
They have unused land and buildings, meanwhile streets, cars, shelters and couches fill with families. This land is the public’s land and it should be used for the public rather than sitting vacant or awaiting some politician’s pet project.
When we convened community as the State of Black Education in Oakland (SoBEO), we didn’t intend to talk about housing. But it was the mastodon in the room, hanging over and influencing so much about education and wellness for our most vulnerable families. The numbers are distressing and the stories are heartbreaking.
Our most historically underserved families are feeling the greatest brunt of the housing crisis and our most vulnerable children have a 50% chance of being on the street only six months after foster care. We can and must do better.
Many other localities already have. Districts have used their resources for housing, including Berkeley and Santa Clara—in So Cal a boarding school for foster students was built on district land, other districts have created housing for vulnerable populations from homeless, to low-income, to seniors, to lower paid school staff who couldn’t afford to live in the district. Further San Francisco is looking at partnering with homeless support agencies to do shelters in school buildings themselves, which has had some challenges, but could be promising.
[pullquote]Perhaps now we will actually put our vast resources into play for our most vulnerable students.[/pullquote] And maybe we will move beyond the bickering, grandstanding and shit talking–which is how OUSD typically works, with very few actual results—to solutions and action.
Thank you Director Hinton for pushing this, and the OUSD Board as a whole for passing it. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, where the board takes action on the priorities of the community and better manages its assets for the community’s benefit—putting our most underserved families first in line. If so, there may actually be some hope for what has otherwise been a somewhat hopeless and hapless district.
You can see the policy summary below.
Increasing Housing Opportunities for Unsheltered Students and Families and OUSD
Employees and Adopting Board Policy 7351 – Housing
The housing market in Oakland—more specifically, the lack of financially accessible housing in Oakland—presents a significant obstacle for many individuals and families. This obstacle contributes to rates of homelessness, transiency, and housing insecurity among the students, families, and staff of the Oakland Unified School District (“District” or “OUSD”). Other districts have and OUSD is able to build temporary housing for unsheltered youth and their families, as well as housing that is financially accessible for non-management OUSD staff …
The Resolution would direct the Superintendent or designee to start the process to determine where such housing could be built and how it might be financed. The Resolution would also direct the Superintendent or designee to immediately develop Modular/Portable housing options for unsheltered youth, unaccompanied minors and newcomers for the 2020-21 school year. Lastly, the Resolution would enact Board Policy 7351–Housing, which effectuates the intent of the Resolution.
Dirk Tillotson is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Great Schools Choices, which supports community-based charter school development and increasing access for underserved families. He has worked for over 20 years supporting mostly charter community schools in Oakland, New Orleans and New York City, and he’s even consulted on education issues in the Middle East. As a child, his parents moved their family to a high-performing school district where they were the first Black family on the block. The challenges of that experience embedded in him a desire to create academically high-quality schools where students don’t have to check their identities at the door. Dirk currently resides in Oakland, California, and blogs at Great School Voices.
Your donation will support the work we do at brightbeam to shine a light on the voices who challenge decision makers to provide the learning opportunities all children need to thrive.