Oct 17, 2021 · 8 min read

Keys to Equity Launches in Oakland to Support Construction of Accessory Dwelling Units

New Program Reduces Barriers to ADU Development While Increasing the Supply of Affordable Housing


OAKLAND, CA — Today, Keys to Equity launched in the City of Oakland — a program to streamline and simplify the process for building Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). This initiative, which was developed in collaboration with Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services (RNHS), the Center for Community Self-Help (Self-Help)The WellNest Company, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), the City of Oakland, and the San Francisco Foundation (SFF), will help reduce barriers to ADU development by offering local homeowners one-on-one project management support, a more efficient permitting process, affordable construction services, pre-approved ADU designs created by blink!LAB architecture, a customized financial product developed in consideration of potential challenges facing local residents, educational resources, and more.  

California’s housing affordability crisis has dramatically increased the cost of living in major cities like Oakland and disproportionately affected Black residents and communities of color — which have faced decades of discriminatory lending practices, racist housing policies, and structural inequities. Today, Black homeowners and renters in Oakland are more likely to be cost-burdened than any other racial or ethnic group. Black loan applicants are also more than twice as likely to have their applications denied by financial institutions when compared to white applicants. As a result of these disparities, Oakland has experienced a steady decline of Black residents since the early 2000s, as well as the displacement of low to moderate income households across the City.

“Since the founding of Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services, we have been dedicated to combating redlining and housing discrimination by addressing the housing needs of low-income families, as well as African American residents and other communities impacted by systemic inequities. As housing prices increase along with the widening of the racial wealth gap, we believe that the construction of Accessory Dwelling Units can provide homeowners with greater financial stability, as well as address Oakland’s housing shortage by creating additional units,” said Nikki Beasley, Executive Director of RNHS.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who was involved in the design of the program, said: “ADUs are an opportunity to increase economic stability and housing security in our community. I’m especially proud of the fact that this program was intentionally designed with an explicit racial equity goal. I look forward to working with the program partners to achieve that goal and bring more opportunity to more families across Oakland.”

Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs, which are secondary residential units that share a lot with a larger, primary house, can give homeowners greater financial stability by adding value to their properties and generating additional income through rental revenue. The construction of ADUs may also increase the supply of housing that is typically more affordable to local residents without disrupting the landscape or appearance of a neighborhood. Keys to Equity is the first program of its kind in Oakland to center ADUs as a means of creating more housing in areas that are at risk of greater displacement and expanding access to wealth-building for homeowners, with a particular focus on Black homeowners and those who have been disproportionately impacted by systemic racial and economic inequities within the housing system. The program is intended to support both the creation of new ADUs, as well as the renovation and legalization of existing unpermitted ADUs.

“Keys to Equity has the potential to help more residents have access to a safe, reliable place to call home — which is a core part of our mission at CZI,” said Priscilla Chan, Co-Founder of CZI. “The tools, resources, and support provided by this initiative are a step in the right direction for many homeowners in the Oakland community. We’re grateful to work alongside like-minded partners who are committed to innovative solutions that increase the supply of affordable housing and address the systemic racial and economic inequities within the housing system.

As the primary administrator for Keys to Equity, RNHS, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting investment in and revitalization of under-resourced communities in the East Bay, will manage the application process for this initiative, community engagement efforts, and one-on-one coaching for program participants. The City of Oakland, a supporting partner and co-designer of Keys to Equity, is streamlining the ADU permitting process for homeowners. Self-Help, a credit union and CDFI committed to creating and protecting economic opportunity for all, is the lending partner for Keys to Equity, and their team has developed a customized financial product for the program that was evaluated by a cohort of homeowners of color in Oakland. The WellNest Company, an East Bay-based construction firm, will serve as the program’s general contractor and work closely with RNHS to keep homeowners updated about ADU project timelines and costs. The program was co-designed by CZI, a philanthropic organization that provided funding support for this effort. The SFF is also a philanthropic partner for Keys to Equity.

“ADUs have the potential to help homeowners build and preserve wealth and add naturally affordable housing, but we’ve seen in our work that some homeowners and communities are not well-served by current financing sources,” said Steve Zuckerman, President of Self-Help Federal Credit Union. “It is an honor to work with the Keys to Equity Program partners to design and offer an innovative ADU mortgage product that facilitates more equitable access to ADUs and all the benefits they offer.”

Homeowners interested in applying for Keys to Equity should complete an interest form provided by RNHS. For more information about this program and eligibility requirements, please visit keystoequity.org.

“We’re incredibly excited to be the official design and construction partner for the Keys to Equity Program. Our mission at The WellNest Company is to help save lives by creating spaces where seniors maintain their dignity and independence through tech-driven innovative housing and smart care services,” said Bobby Arte, COO of The WellNest Company. “We can now further our mission with the wider Oakland community by building ADUs that provide housing, income and flexibility to all who qualify. As third generation Oakland natives with 25 years of nonprofit work for the community under our belts, we understand the positive effects of social impact and know how important this program is.”

“Keys to Equity is exactly the type of innovative and targeted approach that we need to start giving more people affordable homes. Homes where people feel safe. Homes where people can build wealth and thrive,” said Fred Blackwell, CEO of The San Francisco Foundation. “We are all in on housing because it is the foundation of a racially just and economically inclusive Bay Area. We are proud to support this effort to create more homes while explicitly supporting homeowners of color.”


About Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services

Since our founding in 1981 by a dedicated group of low-income residents, Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services (RNHS) has worked to reverse the adverse effects of systemic segregation, redlining, disinvestment and blight. Our mission is to promote investment in and revitalization of under-resourced communities of the East Bay. 

About the Center for Community Self-Help

The nonprofit Center for Community Self-Help is the umbrella organization for the Self-Help family of nonprofit organizations, which includes Self-Help Credit Union, Self-Help Federal Credit Union, Self-Help Ventures Fund and the Center for Responsible Lending. Learn more at www.self-help.org, www.self-helpfcu.org and www.responsiblelending.org.

About The WellNest Company

Established in Oakland in 2020, The WellNest Company is an innovative Senior Long-term Care solution created as an alternative to long-term care facilities and in-home medical care. The company was founded by the five siblings after they struggled to find affordable, consistent, and trustworthy care for their dad. The third-generation Bay Area natives’ decision to create The WellNest Company – which is grounded by their unprecedented WellNest Pod and supported by WellNest Care – mirrors their involvement in the Oakland community as it exemplifies their mission to help save lives and restore dignity and independence to Seniors.

 The WellNest Company builds The WellNest Pod, a specialized medical suite built on your existing property that is designed to keep your aging loved ones in close proximity to their family and community. The WellNest Pod is paired with WellNest Care, their white glove, in-home senior care service. For more information on The WellNest Company please visit www.wearewellnest.com.

About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was founded in 2015 to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease and improving education, to addressing the needs of our local communities. Our mission is to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit chanzuckerberg.com.

About the San Francisco Foundation
The San Francisco Foundation is committed to a Bay Area where everyone can get a good job, live in a safe and affordable home, and exercise their political voice. The foundation advances its work through grantmaking, partnerships with donors, policy advocacy, and impact investing. For more information, please visit www.sff.org.

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