Responding to Oakland's Housing Crisis

June 27 2016
June 27 2016

By

The past couple of weeks have been rough in Oakland.  The OPD has been exposed for rampant abuse, the mayor’s office is opening an investigation into who is leaking information, a teenager was killed at a memorial service, a recycling center (which is a lifeline for nearly 400 homeless residents) is shutting down in August, and then there is the affordable housing crisis.  There never seems to be a shortage of scandal or obstacles to overcome in our city.

In the past 18 months rent in Oakland has increased by 40%, roughly 60% of the city’s residents are renters with a median annual income of about $36,000. Oakland is now the fourth most expensive rental market in the country.

A story came out a few days ago describing a landlord attempting to raise rent from $1,080 to $3,870 per month. Those profiled in the story are average citizens of Oakland, a teacher, bus driver and community organizer.  I bet you have similar stories to share.  A family who can’t move because they can’t afford a rent hike.  Friends considering moving away after years in the East Bay because they just can’t afford the rent any longer.  People conflicted over being “gentrifiers” by moving into a more affordable neighborhood.

As Oakland residents, it can be overwhelming to consider all the impacts of day to day decisions we make.  Most days, all we can focus on is how to keep living here ourselves.  Those most in need seem a world away, but are in fact living right down the street or right next door.  Most of the time there is a feeling of helplessness to do anything that will make a difference.

 

As the Executive Director of Project Peace I have the honor to work alongside organizations working for change.  Often their work is not front page news, but research and working to hold our elected officials accountable.  They do the hard work of assessing what they think will be the most effective in helping the marginalized. When they ask for assistance, I try my best to listen and trust their input.

I am also trying my best to understand how my own faith compels me to consider various actions.  I find myself looking for answers in scripture, wondering what God has to say about the poor and marginalized.  I certainly don’t have all the right answers, but I’m going to keep being informed by my faith and how God treats those in need.

Last week, Oakland Community Organizations, asked for help in urging Oakland City Council to adopt a plan by Council Member Kaplan that changes the way landlords can increase rent.  (An email template is below along with contact information for the City Council.)  The template encourages the council to adopt a plan that puts the burden on the landlord to increase rent, rather than the tenant submitting a petition after the rent has been raised. It is based on a model the city of Berkeley utilizes.

This week, I submitted an email to each City Council Member and the Mayor’s office in support of Council Member Kaplan’s plan.  In the midst of the turmoil surrounding Oakland, sending an email to give voice to those being squeezed out of Oakland seems like a small effort that is influenced by my faith.

I urge you to consider sending an email of your own, adding a story, and encouraging those in leadership to help protect everyday citizens of Oakland.

Jen