Oakland's Perfect Storm 

As the city has failed to build enough housing and has been slow to respond to the affordability crisis, more and more people are being displaced.

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"The mismatch between job growth and housing production across the Bay Area is extreme," said Rose, who emphasized the need for Oakland city officials to prioritize finding funding for housing near major transit centers, like BART stations.

And while the city has been slow to respond to the affordability crisis, Oakland's perfect housing storm is continuing to displace more and more people, especially African Americans.

Paula Beal has lived in Oakland for 40 years and watched her seven children and 27 grandchildren all leave Oakland over the last several decades, many because of affordability concerns.

Beal rented a two-bedroom house on Linden Street in West Oakland for four years until her landlord died in 2011, and the house went into foreclosure. After the lender, Fannie Mae, repossessed the house, Beal moved out. She said she knew the lender would want to sell the house, which would mean an uphill legal battle for current tenants. According to property records, the property sold in January 2015 for $260,000. The property was then sold again in April for $490,000 — an 88-percent markup.

After leaving West Oakland in 2011, Beal moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Eastlake. In November, she received a 60-day notice from her landlord that her rent would be raised by $230 a month — from $995 to $1,225. The notice cited the increase in cost of utilities, maintenance, taxes, and insurance as the causes of the 23-percent increase.

In an interview, Jane To, the building's landlord, confirmed that she sent the sixty-day notices to her tenants, but asserted that the increase is within the limits of the current laws.

Beal said she is seeking legal help from Causa Justa Just Cause (CJJC) — a tenants' rights organization that has helped Beal in the past — for legal advice to determine if the increase is actually lawful.

click to enlarge Many of Paula Beal's family members have left Oakland because of high housing costs. - PHOTO BY LUCAS WALDRON
  • Photo by Lucas Waldron
  • Many of Paula Beal's family members have left Oakland because of high housing costs.

Though Beal is informed about renters' resources, she said she's very concerned about the thousands of Oaklanders who don't know about the city's Rent Adjustment Program, which limits many landlords from increasing rents beyond the annual change in the Consumer Price Index (which is 1.7 percent in 2015) — the cap established by Oakland's Just Cause for Evictions Ordinance, which voters passed in 2002.

In Oakland, the responsibility to enforce tenant protections falls entirely on the tenant. In the case of an illegal rent increase, tenants have sixty days to file a petition challenging the rent hike. If they do not file in that time period, they lose their legal rights to challenge the increase.

Beal said her son, his wife, and their four children moved to Hercules earlier this year after being evicted from a three-bedroom apartment in East Oakland. Beal's son, who supports his family through working as a security guard, looked for eight months for housing he could afford in Oakland. His family stayed in a shelter for four days and then moved between motel rooms before deciding to move away.

"He was paying his whole paycheck and half of my paycheck" on hotel rooms, Paula Beal recalled. "Even his brother in Florida was sending him money." Beal said her son applied for housing subsidies through the Oakland Housing Authority, but she said the line for subsidies is so long that she does not expect him to hear back anytime soon.

Though her son's family has found housing, Beal said she's worried about other low-income families experiencing homelessness. "It's getting worse and worse everyday," she said.

Though displacement affects tenants of all races, the African-American community in Oakland has been disproportionately affected by rising housing costs. According to the equity report, Oakland's African-American population decreased 24 percent from 2000 to 2010. In the same time frame, median income for African-American households decreased from $42,975 to $35,050 — less than half of the income needed to make Oakland's median rent affordable, based on 2014 data. Affordability, as defined in the equity report, requires a household to spend no more than 30 percent of its income on housing costs.

At an October city council meeting, Oakland native John Jones III, outreach coordinator for the Ella Baker Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for racial and economic justice through lobbying lawmakers and organizing community programs, implored councilmembers to act to protect low-income communities and make sure African Americans are not pushed out of their own neighborhoods. Jones said he is currently searching for housing and staying on a friend's couch.

"If I've got to live on the streets to stay here, I will, because this is my home," said Jessica Hollie, a 32-year-old Oakland native, during a public comment period at the same council meeting. "I refused to be pushed out. I refused to keep feeling like I'm not worth it."

Hollie, who identified herself as activist with Black Lives Matter, choked back tears as she explained to the council members that she is a single mother from West Oakland working full-time and facing homelessness as council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who represents West Oakland, looked on, her brow furrowed and tears welling in her eyes.

"As a college-educated citizen of Oakland, I'm angry as hell because I can't afford affordable housing," Hollie continued, telling the council that although 2015 has seen the growth of Black Lives Matter, she doesn't feel like black lives really do matter in Oakland.

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