American notes: Oakland workers down but not out

Posted: January 24, 2016 by daphna in 'Race' and 'difference', Community organising, Limits of capitalism, Poverty & Inequality, United States, United States - economy, United States - politics

by Don Franks

camdenEarlier this month I took a trip to the States, to visit a musician friend from Oakland.

When she drove me round her home neighbourhood, Amirh pointed out numerous houses that had unwillingly been vacated in recent years. Live examples of a burning issue for locals  – gentrification.

To long-term Oakland residents, “gentrification” means displacement of the former working class residents, by means of rent rises and aggressive house buy-ups.

Between 2000 and 2013 Oakland lost almost a quarter of its African-American population. The white population increased by a similar amount, while rents went through the roof. The number of tenants paying over 50% of their income in rent increased by 39%. People forced out of Oakland by economic attack had to exchange their familiar communities for inferior areas. Areas lacking ammenities like social services and public transport.

Next day I walked downtown, a street a vendor offered me a copy of Street Spirit, eight pages of “justice news and homeless blues in the Bay Area”.
Page four’s article “San Mateo County Renters fight rising evictions” exposed the plight of tenants:
“ A group of community workers, along with mostly Latino and African American working class parents hold hands in a prayer vigil at a suburban Bay Area neighbourhood. They huddle together in the shade on the front lawn of a townhouse complex was their children play with protest signs and run around with friends. So close to San Francisco with its rent control and modest eviction preventions, the Silicon Valley city of San Mateo provides no security for tenants. The renters at 1824 El Parque court are not the only ones threatened with eviction. San Mateo has no Rent Stabilisation Board to compile reliable statistics. Tenants in several other buildings – 910 Clinton St and the Park Royal among them- also got eviction notices in previous months”.
The paper’s lead article, “Public Land for the Public Good”, reported better news, a people’s partial victory against gentrification.
“The City of Oakland is currently considering five proposals for development on a prime piece of publicly-owned land on the shore of Lake Merritt, just blocks away from downtown and key transit hubs. Most, if not all, of the proposals include affordable housing, and one is a visionary community – developed plan for 98 affordable units and plenty of green space.

If this sounds good to you, be sure to thank the neighbours.

In January, this outcome was unimaginable to all but a dedicated group of neighbours who make up Eastlake United for Justice (EUJ). At the time, the city was barreling forward with plans to sell the East 12th Street parcel at a discount for the development of a monstrous tower of luxury apartments for household making $120,000 and up – more than three times the median income for the neighbourhood.

While the outcome seemed inevitable to some. Eastlake United for Justice had a different vision for the site and one over arching demand – public land for the public good. Through fearless and relentless organising using a range of strategies EUJ stopped the moving train of luxury development and steered the process towards a more equitable outcome” .

EUJ  reached out to unite with other community groups such as Black Seed, Asians for Black Lives and Causa Justa. They held rallies and protests at City Hall and in City Council chambers. At one meeting Black Seed and Asians for Black Lives linked arms to shut down proceedings, preventing a pro-gentrification vote being rushed through.

Finally: “ The City Council surprised everyone by listening to the public’s demands and voting against the 100 percent luxury development.”

Street Spirit concluded: “ the City knows that community members and advocates will be watching how it disposes of public land in the future. The message is still loud and clear – Public Land for the Public Good.”

The Bay Area paper seller looked tired and battered.  Street Spirit was run off on cheap paper that crumples quickly. Not so the inspiring words burning out from every page.


Comments are closed.