Downtown Oakland: Fighting Crusade to stop Gentrification

Oakland, CA- Judy Elkan gallery owner of Mary Weather has been living Oakland for the past eight years.  She described moving into Oakland as having a southern charm and a vibrancy that resonates in the community.  Elkan immediately felt at home, opened a store/gallery in 2009 on 15th street.  As soon a Downtown Oakland became appealing, wealthier gentrifies started moving in, “artists get blamed a little bit for causing gentrification,” she said.  

Having experienced gentrification at an early age in East Village, New York, Elka grew up in the seventies in a neighborhood that was not as safe and there was a lot drug use.  She witnessed artists flocked to her community, to pay a flat for sixty-dollars and it became the Downtown art scene. The way Elkan sees it, problem is rent control, “There is no housing crisis in Oakland, there is a humanity crisis in Oakland. There tons of housing, tons section eight vouchers.”

According to Trulia, Oakland market trends indicate an increase of $90,000 (16%) in median home sales over the past year. The average price per square foot for this same period rose to $520, up from $487.” The median rent in Downtown Oakland is between $1,000-$2,000 dollars, as for small business owners rent has also increased drastically. Gallery owner of Naming, Lisa Aurora, has seen hundreds of her friends lose their spots, “landlords for the first time, have properties that are worth so much more, can rent out for so much more.” She also explained that there are building seven high rises and there all residential.

On March 3, 2017, Oakland City members approved residential skyscraper to build MacArthur, by project sponsors, McGrath properties and Boston properties. Despite the proposal of providing affordable housing for residents, depending on their yearly income, “affordable units ranging in between $22,000 to $77, 000.”  Residents of West Oakland who participated at Oakland City Hall meeting were skeptical of assisting living. Oakland Sears building was also bought out by Uber in 2014, expected to provide more employment this year and boost Uptown Oakland’s credibility.

Downtown Oakland has rapidly been experiencing gentrification, as more apartment condos are being built and new businesses thrive. Landlords are increasing rent, but are neglecting safety of their tenants.  “Whatever the owner wants to charge, they can raise it on market rate once the lease is up,” said Elkan. At the corner of 15th street, new murals are painted and everyone treats one another like family.  Hardly anyone passes by, “There was a double murder, cars get broken in at night. For Downtown Oakland, this probably the worst block.” Last year after shooting, the streets were vacated, but normally no one really walks down 15th street, unless artists host events.

“Now people walk down the street, people use to be fearful of this street. Downtown is barely resurfaced.”

On December 2, 2016, at least 36 people died after Ghost ship warehouse went into flames. The once famous underground scene, which hosted events for electric music brought artists and community members together. The non-residential area had no permit, which was meant to be a commercial property.  Rather it provided housing for many artists, regrettably that night it went into flames trapping everyone inside.

The landlord owner, Chor Ng had known of electrical problems building and late-night parties. According to the Healthy Homes Provision of City of Oakland, housing codes that are hazardous are considered substandard.  “Inadequate Maintenance (HSC Section 17920.3). Any building or portion thereof which is determined to be an unsafe building due to inadequate maintenance, in accordance with the latest edition of the Uniform Building Code.”

Another building with history of code violations was a residential area in San Pablo Avenue. On March 27, 2017, at least four victims lost their lives.  Eighty people evacuated the four-alarm building, early morning in Oakland. Property owner Keith Kim had rented out the apartments to non-profit Urojas Community Services to assist low-income residents with housing.

Despite tragic events in Oakland, many artists have come together in solidarity to protect Oakland community housing and small business owners. Oakland Warehouse Coalition has fundraised thousands of dollars to aid victims.  The community organizer, Jonah Stauss has created a you caring account to receive donations.  Currently the goal is to receive $50,0000, and as of now, $40, 429 has been raised by 597 donors.

For instance, organization such as just cause has been providing services for tenants to get familiar with their rights. They have also hosted housing rights campaigns for neighborhoods in Oakland that are becoming gentrified. According to Tobener Ravenscroft, a land lord should have reasonable reason to evict tenant. The site also provides tenants to file petition on rent increase at the Oakland Rent Board.

Before evicting, the landlord must obtain all necessary permits from the City of Oakland. The eviction must be in good faith to undertake substantial repairs that cannot be completed while the unit is occupied, and the repairs must be necessary either to bring the property into compliance with applicable codes and laws affecting health and safety of tenants of the building, or under an outstanding notice of code violations affecting the health and safety of tenants of the building.”

For small business owners like Judy and Lisa, they’re able to stay at their galleries because rent is affordable. So, long as there no foot traffic, otherwise commercial real estate will raise the rent.  “I’ve found courage in me, swear God. I don’t have kids, don’t have nothing to lose. I want to fight for Oakland. I feel fearless in the fight, were small enough and big enough at the same time,” said Elkan. Since then she’s began to attend community meetings and get involved in Downtown Oakland’s rent and safety. She explained that gentrification is not the issue, but participation of residents who need to realize their being bullied by City of Oakland district members.

For more information on rent control and housing in City of Oakland please refer to Just Cause campaign.

Google Drive tour: Downtown Oakland















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