By Rev. Damita Davis-Howard* and John Jones III**
Most of us know that Oakland is the national epicenter of the urban displacement and racial injustice crisis, and things have gotten worse over the past two years.
Oakland has lost 36,559 African Americans since 2000, a 26 percent decline, while median rents have increased by over 50 percent in two years.
Oakland renters making the median household income of $36,000 would have to pay 100 percent of their incomes to afford the new market rate rents of $3,000.
Homelessness has also surged by 39 percent in 2 years. The new and growing homeless are people who cannot afford housing.
Research and direct experience show that the new faces of Oakland’s homeless crisis are working parents with children, elderly tenants and former homeowners who lost their homes, formerly incarcerated residents and students.
The good news is that $5 million for 2 years is available in the city’s budget to fund proven anti-displacement strategies that would help over 7,000 tenants and 300 elderly homeowners at severe risk of displacement and homelessness.
Why should the City Council prioritize funding proven anti-displacement strategies–housing counseling, legal services, and emergency housing funds for low-income tenants and homeowners—when the City has so many other pressing demands for its limited dollars?
First, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. It costs about $500 to keep a family in their home versus $500,000 to build a new housing unit or about $100,000/person to provide homeless wrap-around services.
And most of all, we can prevent human suffering and trauma from losing one’s home and slipping into homelessness or displacement.
Second, investing in anti-displacement prevents homelessness. Oakland recently passed policies to protect tenants—Measure JJ and the Tenant Protection Ordinance. But what’s needed to make these protections real is funding frontline housing defenders—housing counselors and lawyers—as well as emergency housing funds to help cover rent during a financial set-back or for security deposit.
There are over 3,500 tenants facing evictions annually who do not have legal representation. And there many Oakland elderly homeowners, disproportionately African American, who are at risk of losing their homes.
Third, non-general fund monies are available for anti-displacement, which means that the Council won’t have to choose between funding more police or keeping people in their homes. The City of Oakland has $5 million available over the next 2 years, housing boomerang funds used to build affordable housing, that can be used instead for anti-displacement. Through new housing bond measures and new housing impact fee, the city will have over $200 million in other funds for affordable housing development.
But it will take three to five years to build new units. Meanwhile, people are losing their homes every day. By prioritizing anti-displacement, the City’s housing boomerang funds could prevent displacement of over 7,000 tenants and 300 homeowners in the next 2 years.
With the thousand and one pulls on the council attention and budget, it’s going to take people willing to care enough to contact Oakland City Councilmembers and let them know that funding anti-displacement is a priority.
Without significant resources going into preventing displacement, Oakland’s African American population will be decimated, our homeless crisis will continue to escalate, and our ability to create Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community here in Oakland will be impeded.
Let’s make sure that the Oakland City Council takes action at the special Council budget meeting on June 12th to prevent displacement—call them today!
Reverend Damita Davis-Howard is a leader with Oakland Community Organization (OCO) and the Our Beloved Community Action Network. John Jones III is a life coach with Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) and a leader of the Our Beloved Community Action Network.