Affordable Housing Now 

An Oakland solidarity statement and open letter to members of the Oakland City Council.

We are concerned Black residents of Oakland calling on you to stop the illegitimate process of the sale of public land for private gain. On May 5, 2015, you will decide on whether to turn a public parcel of land into high-rise luxury apartments on East 12th Street near the south end of Lake Merritt. The entire process has been shrouded in secrecy and has lacked transparency, as documented by several publications. From the private bids to the outright unethical manipulation of elders in the Asian-American community by UrbanCore officials, it is clear that gentrification and displacement in Oakland is profit-driven, and enabled by the policies and practices of city officials.

However, we refuse to remain silent. These are our lives and they do matter. We will not be manipulated or ignored by government officials and profit-driven business persons who have zero interest in the wellbeing, security, and quality of life for Black, Brown, and Asian communities.

To be clear, gentrification is not the same as development, and has no benefits for low-income Black people and other low-income people of color in Oakland. Plans to construct a 24-story luxury condo in Eastlake, and others like it, are driven by the desire to gain capital, rather than build community. Such projects serve to change the urban landscape on the basis of race and class, displacing low-income communities of color who have continuously suffered from historical disinvestment. We are speaking out on the East 12th Street development specifically, but we reject all major capital projects in this city that serve to gentrify neighborhoods and callously displace long-term residents.

Gentrification in urban areas functions both to clear space for and to benefit a specific population of largely white, moneyed professionals. In practice, the way space is "made available" for gentrification is by enforcing de facto segregation; gentrified areas are characterized by who is "not" welcome and/or permitted access. In Oakland and across the country, our generation is forced to endure not only displacement from our neighborhoods with this corporate profit-driven agenda, but also its attendant patterns of policing that threaten the lives and free movement of Black people daily. Perhaps nowhere are poor and working class Black people's lives more threatened by police, for example, than in gentrified areas, as was made clear in the January police killing of Yuvette Henderson of Emeryville.

Oakland is now widely seen as an attractive location for newcomers because of its proximity to San Francisco as well as its rich and diverse culture. Undeniably, a large part of this attraction is due to the significant and historical social, cultural, and political contributions of the Black community in this city. However, in 2015, Black residents can barely afford to live in the very city that we have helped shape.

Skyrocketing rents and shrinking vacancies have forced long-term Oakland residents to seek more affordable housing elsewhere, which does nothing to alleviate the stresses of economic disadvantage, because many of these areas do not have adequate infrastructure, such as access to public transportation and social services. Furthermore, the displacement of residents disconnects them from their social networks and harms us because it fractures our communities and rips at our cultural fabric.

When the city prioritizes developments like the luxury tower on the East 12th Street parcel rather than affordable housing, it further exacerbates the housing crisis and displacement of low-income Black people. It would be extremely irresponsible — and morally questionable — for you to approve this development in a city in which more than 50 percent of the residents are low-income, yet only 30 percent of new housing developments are considered affordable for low-income residents. The devastation that the gentrification agenda in Oakland has wreaked — and continues to wreak — on our communities is not a natural disaster; it is a preventable, man-made one that you have the power to change.

Moreover, gentrification is also directly connected to the nationwide crisis surrounding rampant police killings of unarmed Black people, alongside other forms of state-sanctioned racist violence. Not only does the displacement of Black residents constitute a form of state-sanctioned violence that must be challenged in its own right, but luxury developments also attract police surveillance and militarized security forces that contribute to the ongoing oppression of communities of color in this city. We demand an Oakland in which Black families feel free to enjoy Lake Merritt without fear of suspicion that could end in their death — another Trayvon Martin gunned down for being in the "wrong neighborhood."

We are concerned community members and we call on you to stop the sale of the East 12th Street parcel. We stand in solidarity with and support the demands of the Eastlake United for Justice:

— We want an Eastlake neighborhood, District Two, and Oakland in which working class residents stay long term and benefit from sustainable development, and in which the culture, community, and character of the neighborhood and city are respected, not displaced.

— We demand that any new housing development at the city-owned property on East 12th Street be 100 percent affordable housing. We do not want a luxury high-rise apartment tower.

— We demand the city suspend the current negotiations with UrbanCore Development, LLC and put a out a request for proposals with a focus on affordable housing.

— We demand a more extensive, truly inclusive community visioning process to discuss meaningful ways that this publicly owned parcel can benefit the community.

— We want the mayor and the city council to create a real affordable housing plan that ensures sustainable investment in our communities, not development that leads to displacement.

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