Community members packed Oakland City Hall chambers Wednesday evening for a forum led by a panel of community leaders to discuss can be done to stop the tidal wave of displacement that is pushing long term residents out of the city and has escalated in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire.
“We are here to make recommendations and propose solutions. It’s not enough to just point fingers and blame,” said Post publisher Paul Cobb, who helped organize the community meeting, which brought together low-income tenants, artists and residents of warehouse spaces, housing rights activists and homeless people.
Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan hosted and moderated the meeting for the community. Other council members who attended were Noel Gallo and Dan Kalb.
The keynote speaker was Bishop Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel C.O.G.I.C. who has put together funding to build housing in East Oakland for low-income residents.
“It really grieves my spirit that so many people who are low income cannot afford to live in the city,” Bishop Jackson said, calling on faith-based organizations to step up to build housing that is truly affordable for Oaklanders.
“There are 3,000 vacant properties in the city, and the City of Oakland owns the majority,” he said “We can take the vacant lots and build on them. We can renovate those (abandoned) houses.”
Pastor Ken Chambers of Westside Missionary Baptist Church spoke of the need for living wage jobs for the unemployed and homeless in the city, many of whom are Black.
“In West Oakland you see tent cities. We’re starting to get comfortable seeing tents in this city,” said Pastor Chambers.
The city continues to make deals with developers so they can make large profits, he said. “(But) everything we build in this city should (include) jobs and job training.”
“We need to have cultural diversity in the city and at construction sites and in the (building) trades.”
Several speakers explained that not only are Oakland residents being impacted. Landlords and developers are raising rents and pushing out nonprofit agencies that serve low-income Oaklanders.
Jonah Strauss of the Oakland Warehouse Coalition presented a five-page proposal for an emergency tenant protection ordinance, which will be presented to the City Council on Jan. 17.
The warehouse coalition, formed in the aftermath of the Ghost Ship fire, advocates for “low-income people who live and or work in converted commercial and industrial spaces,” according to the written proposal.
“Our goal is to prevent displacement, as well as to make these properties safer.”
Immediate demands of the warehouse coalition include:
Extend tenant protections to all residents, regardless of zoning;
“Cease all Notices to Vacate, “red tags,” for non life threatening code violations and evictions;”
“Cease flash inspections of properties, unless there is proof of a life-threatening condition;”
Prohibit the use of anonymous code violation complaints as harassment and as a means to remove tenants.
Councilmember Kaplan underscored the need to stop city inspectors from contributing to the displacement crisis.
“There is no reason why we can’t fight for fire safety and for affordable housing,” she said.
“We cannot accept that the only solution is that we are going to displace everyone. We have to have a strategy that focuses on needed safety improvement while protecting renters.”
Cherri Murphy presented some of the proposals backed by the Oakland Justice Coalition:
Fully enact and enforce the newly approved Measure JJ renter’s protection ordinance;
Increase the number of affordable homeownership pathways;
Increase funding for community land trusts. This includes increasing taxes on development and real estate sales, using all city-owned surplus property for affordable housing, and directing city investments to create new affordable housing units;
Develop relationships with community members most affected by housing inequity, including Black and Brown neighbors, teachers, the homeless, artists, and any others who are typically pushed to the side.
James Vann of the Oakland Post Community Assembly called on the city to pass tenant protection ordinances that the city staff pledged over six months ago to work to implement.
The proposal includes requiring a mandatory mediation process in cases where landlords want to evict tenants for issues other than failure to pay rent. About 12,000 tenants were evicted last year in Oakland.
Vann also said the city should modify the definition of affordable housing. At present, he said, the overwhelming majority of Oakland residents cannot afford spaces that are defined as affordable by the city.