The Forces Driving Gentrification in Oakland 

The East Bay has seen a widening gap between rich and poor and the displacement of people who are low-income and of color. But it doesn't have to be this way.

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White flight, in which white residents fled urban centers for suburbs, was another phenomenon that set the stage for the urban gentrification we see today.

Furthermore, the subprime lending boom and foreclosure crisis, in which banks targeted low-income people, especially Black and Brown borrowers, with fraudulent loans, disproportionately harmed low-income communities of color in the Bay Area. Foreclosures drove many homeowners into bankruptcy and displaced them outside the region. Foreclosed properties were later bought by more affluent residents or large corporate landlords who now rent the properties out at rates working-class people can't afford.

Can we have urban revitalization without gentrification and displacement?

Chris Schildt, a senior associate at PolicyLink, a national research and action institute that works on racial and economic equity, noted that it's rare for gentrification to happen without displacement. Gentrifying a neighborhood without displacing its residents is "held up as a hopeful outcome," said Schildt, but it's not a sustainable scenario. "The introduction of a different demographic signals to the market that this is a neighborhood that's desirable." That leads to businesses and investments that end up "flipping" the neighborhood.

A new baseball stadium can also impact vulnerable communities. That's why, as the Oakland A's look to build their new ballpark, team president Dave Kaval wants to have "a robust community benefits agreement" to be part of the process. Chris De Benedetti has the details.

However, displacement can also happen without gentrification. Schildt noted that in deep East Oakland, the foreclosure crisis led to large corporate institutions buying up homes and turning them into rental properties. As the housing market heated up, they sold them for a large profit. "That's been hugely destabilizing for residents in those neighborhoods."

Schildt said it's possible to invest in a community without causing displacement — particularly if it's public investment or community-driven. Oakland's Fruitvale Village is held up as a national model.

As Scott Morris reports, the mixed-use development near Fruitvale BART improved the socio-economic well-being of residents in the immediate neighborhood and preserved the area's racial and ethnic diversity.

Schildt noted that the fact that social services and local businesses catering to the existing community were intentionally built into the development made all the difference. "If that was full of Starbucks and trendy new bars, it would have made it attractive to another demographic," Schildt noted.

It proved that development — if done right — doesn't have to result in displacement.

How bad is gentrification in the East Bay?

According to the Urban Displacement Project, large swaths of low-income neighborhoods in Berkeley and Oakland are vulnerable to gentrification: 93 percent of low-income neighborhoods in Oakland are at risk of or are already undergoing gentrification, while in Berkeley, 75 percent of low-income neighborhoods are threatened.

Things aren't better in higher-income neighborhoods: In fact, the researchers found that moderate- and high-income areas lost 40 percent more low-income households compared to more inexpensive neighborhoods — "suggesting that exclusion is more prevalent than gentrification."

This has led to a dramatic drop in the Black population. In Oakland, the percentage of Black residents dropped from 35 percent to 28 percent between 2000 and 2010 — a loss of nearly 33,000 people — and the estimate for 2017 is 24 percent. Berkeley and Richmond have also seen large declines in their Black populations.

What are the implications of displacement?

When people are displaced from their home and community, there are troubling effects.

The Urban Displacement Project surveyed people who sought legal aid in San Mateo County and found that 1 in 3 reported some period of homelessness following their displacement.

In the study, people who were displaced ended up in more dangerous and polluted environments and had less access to health-care resources. "So low-income households are often displaced to even more low-income neighborhoods than they were previously living in," Cash said. This has implications for education and economic mobility.

"Displacement can be an impact of poverty but it can also worsen poverty conditions," Cash continued. Displacement can lead to longer commute times, as well as stress and depression. Children suffer academically and from behavioral and emotional issues.

There can also be a loss of a sense of belonging when someone is displaced from a neighborhood.

Some longtime Oakland residents told Azucena Rasilla that they feel disrespected and alienated by new residents and businesses.

Artists are also at risk of being displaced, although they've also had a hand in helping usher in gentrification. Beatrice Kilat reports on how Oakland's Black Arts Movement and Business District hopes to support the city's Black artists who represent the community most at risk of being displaced.

"It's not just this one terrible moment or incident," said Cash about displacement. "It has ripple effects that continue forward."

These demographic shifts are resulting in the widening income inequality in the Bay Area and the further segregation of neighborhoods. A 2016 report by Urban Habitat found that, between 2000 and 2014, the dramatic shift in the Black population from the inner to the outer Bay Area coincided with an increase in poverty.

And according to a Brookings Institution study, the Bay Area has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the country.


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