The town hall meeting on safe and affordable housing that was held on Wednesday brought together roughly 300 community members, artists and homeless residents who had a chance to tell city leaders what solutions they want to see to Oakland’s housing and eviction crisis.
For many, the forum was an emotional event where community members were able to express their grief and frustrations at the city administration for its “aggressive and violent” response, according to one artist, in the aftermath of the Ghost Ship fire.
Many called on Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth to direct staff to stop random and at times redundant building inspections that put tenants at risk of eviction, saying they are being targeted by the city in a time of need instead of being helped.
The City Administrator’s office is led by Schaaf and Landreth but run by staff who are unelected and appointed by the mayor.
“There needs to be leadership change at the top of the building department,” said David Keenan, a member of DIY Safety Group and OMNI Commons, which was red tagged by the city after the fire.
“There are so many well-documented stories of how inspectors are being deployed in exactly the wrong place for exactly the wrong reasons,” Keenan said.
During an interview with Post staff Thursday morning, Schaaf defended the city administration’s actions, saying she believes that city staff is “clarifying the processes and protocols of city regulations,” which will both “protect people from being displaced and keep them in safe conditions.”
“We cannot allow people to live in dangerous conditions or to host dangerous events,” Schaaf told the Post. “At the same time, we also have to protect people from being displaced.”
Yet, many speakers at Wednesday’s town hall talked about how the city is inspecting and red tagging buildings without offering solutions to the tenants and businesses occupying those spaces.
Passing an immediate moratorium on evictions, they said, would give tenants time to make improvements and bring buildings up to code or to find alternative housing if the necessary changes are unrealistic.
“We need an immediate six-month extension of the housing moratorium” that was passed last year, said Towanda Sherry, a planning leader for Causa Justa::Just Cause.
“We need to make sure that people are not going to be threatened by landlords” because the city has issued a cease and desist order, she said.
One community member suggested redirecting funds from the Oakland Police Department to subsidize building improvements, which would help keep residents from being displaced while ensuring that they are living in safe conditions.
“If you think about the police budget that takes up 50 percent of the budget in the city and then you see the police with underage girls and shooting Black people who are unarmed—why don’t we use that money for sprinkler systems to save people’s lives instead of having people die,” asked Francois Hughes.
Tulio Ospina is the assistant editor of the Oakland Post and editor-in-chief of El Mundo.