by Don Franks
Earlier 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.
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.