Category: Affordable Housing

Communities Mobilize to Repeal State Law That Restricts Renter Protections

Affordable housing protest at Oakland City Hall

Affordable housing protest at Oakland City Hall

By Post Staff

Rob Bonta and two other member of the State Assembly are sponsoring a bill, AB 1506, to repeal the Costa Hawkins Act, which prevents local governments from passing laws to protect California communities from the runaway rental crisis that is engulfing the state.

Affordable housing advocates are asking supporters statewide to support the bill authored by Assemblymembers Bonta, Richard Bloom and David Chiu.

“This will be a heavy lift and we need all hands on deck,” according to an email sent out by Bonta’s office earlier this year.

“The bill is pretty straightforward as it repeals the Costa-Hawkins law…. We are asking all of our local advocates and their partners to help by sending in letters of support, making phone calls, writing op-eds, setting up meetings with key Assemblymembers and mobilize constituents in support of AB 1506,”
the email said.

For a list of housing committee members, go to http://ahcd.assembly.ca.gov/membersstaff

Passed in 1995, Costa-Hawkins prohibits cities from enacting rent increase limitations on certain kinds of exempted dwelling units, allows rent increases on subtenants following departure by tenants of rent-controlled tenancies and prohibits “vacancy control” — the regulation of rental rates on units that have been voluntarily vacated by the previous renters at an amount other than what the open market would bear.”

Costa Hawkins also prohibits any type of controls on rents or leases of condominium units or single-family homes.

According to James Vann, co-founder of the Oakland Tenants Union and a supporter of AB 1506,“The repeal of Costa Hawkins the is absolutely critical to help stop the displacement that is running rampant in this state – the law prevents cities from enacting any kind of effective control on rents.

“Real estate and landlord groups have been vociferously lobbying against repeal,” Vann said. They were able to block the repeal effort two years ago, but pro-tenant organizations were not as strong at that time, he said.

“We need for tenant and pro housing advocates to lobby the Legislature for the bill to come up next year,” Vann said.

Landlords groups that are fighting the repeal bill argue that developers will not build homes if they fear their projects might fall under rent control.
“Rent control builds no new housing, and that has to be our focus in the Legislature,” said Debra Carlton, spokeswoman for the California Apartment Association in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.

For more information go to www.tenantstogether.org/campaigns/repeal-costa-hawkins-re

Published August 17, 20017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Oakland City Councilmembers Reluctant to Call Housing State of Emergency

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Housing protest in Oakland

By Ken Epstein

The City of Alameda has been in the spotlight in the past few weeks after it declared a housing crisis state of emergency, which includes a temporary freeze on rent increases and blocks evictions.

But the Oakland City Council appears to be unwilling to follow the path that Alameda is treading.

The Oakland Post sent questions to the mayor and all eight city council members this week, asking if they would support declaring a housing state of emergency.foreclosure action 3  8 12 003.preview

Most of the councilmembers did not reply to the questions. Those who did reply did not speak in favor of calling a housing state of emergency in Oakland.

The Post also asked the officials if they were willing to take other immediate actions to slow down the displacement tidal wave, including: backing a housing development impact fee, which would be used to exclusively support affordable housing; strengthening rent control so it would have teeth to protect tenants from huge rent increases; and imposing relocation or other fees on landlords who evict tenants.

Councilmember Dan Kalb and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan responded to the questions.

Council members who did not respond were Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Desley Brooks, Anne Campbell Washington, Larry Reid, Noel Gallo and Abel Guillen.

Councilmember Kalb said:

“I strongly support efforts to make sure the City Council prioritizes the construction of lower- and moderate- income housing, including housing for families.

Protest for housing in Boston, as gentrification sweeps through cities across the country.

Protest for housing in Boston, as gentrification sweeps through cities across the country.

“I’m certainly fine with additional market rate housing as well, but I want to put an emphasis on the lower and moderate income portions of the spectrum. We need some type of inclusionary housing requirement for ownership housing, and I intend to put forward legislation on this.

“I am proud to have been the author of the landmark ordinance that helps protect tenants from harassment, including prohibiting attempts to influence a tenant to vacate via intimidation or coercion. We need to make sure that this law is fully implemented and enforced.

“I support instituting a requirement that requires landlords to submit applications for any rental increase beyond the annual cost-of-living increase that is already allowed.

Kalb supports development impact fee to fund affordable housing.

“Another ordinance that I have been working is condominium conversion legislation that will better protect renters from displacement.”

Vice Mayor Kaplan said:

” We must do more than just admit that we have a housing problem, we must also take action to solve it.  That is why I have been working hard to pass real actions to stop the wave of displacement and protect and expand affordable housing.

“This includes recently winning funding for enforcement of tenant’s rights laws, so we don’t have so many people being displaced.  Thanks to the efforts of Councilmember Brooks and myself, along with a grassroots coalition, we were able to get this funding passed despite resistance.

“Now I am continuing to work for stronger relocation assistance laws, improving the rent board, an affordable housing impact fee and other strategies.  My proposals to expand relocation assistance will be coming to the City Council in the coming month.”

Mayor Schaaf’s office said:

The City Council has voted in favor of Mayor Schaaf and Councilmember Abel Guillen’s proposal to declare a shelter crisis.  The measure will provide more housing for the homeless population.

“On the question of strengthening rent control, the mayor’s office said, “Property ownership and management encompasses many financial responsibilities which need to be factored and balanced in order to respond thoughtfully to this question.

There have been good discussions at the Housing Cabinet about various revisions and amendments to the City’s renter protection and rent adjustment regulations.  These are being considered by the Housing Cabinet and will be presented to the City Council early next year.”

Her office said the mayor supports impact fees for creating affordable housing and other infrastructure improvement.

On the issue of charging landlords fees for tenant evictions, her office said, “There are various proposals, which “are scheduled for discussion some time early next year.”

Also being discussed, the mayor’s office said, are an increase in the renter assistance program fee and potential eviction/relocation fees and Ellis Act fees.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 13, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Community Protesters: Amid Housing Crisis, Why is Council Funding More Police?

Community member's protested at last Tuesday's City Council to spend money on more police instead of dealing with Oakland's housing crisis. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

Community members protested at last Tuesday’s City Council  meeting against the council members decision to spend money on more police instead of dealing with Oakland’s housing crisis. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Tulio Ospina

The Oakland City Council voted Tuesday evening to accept a controversial $1.875 million federal grant from the US Department of Justice that would pay 18 percent of the cost of hiring 15 additional Oakland police officers over three years.

The grant requires the city to “match” the federal funds by spending an additional $10.25 million from its general funds in order to receive the $1.875 million.

According to a city report, most of the city money will be appropriated from future budgetary cycles, taking $6.5 million from the 2017-2019 budget.

Speaking at the council meeting, Oakland Police Deputy Chief David Downing said that receiving the grant is a cheaper way of increasing staff to better do community policing.

“Nothing is better than having a walking officer on the street with direct contact with the community each and every day,” he said.

City councilmembers in support of the resolution cited increased crime and robberies in Oakland as reasons they were voting to fund hiring the 15 new officers.

But dozens of community members and housing rights activists filled City Hall to speak out against the resolution, claiming that the Oakland Police Department is already overfunded—receiving nearly half the city’s budget—and that the extra spending flies in the face of Oakland’s housing and displacement crisis.

“Police do not stop the cause of crime,” said one Oakland resident at the council meeting. “Increase people’s dignity, their sense of self-worth, their ability to attend schools, have a warm meal with their families. Good housing is a deterrent to crime.”

Other community members referred to how under-resourced and under-funded the city’s Rent Adjustment program and other anti-eviction services are, making them barely enforceable.

“We can’t spend millions of dollars on 15 officers when 1,000 residents are being displaced per month,” said Ramiro Montoya, a member of East Bay Housing Organizations.

“I experience crime in my neighborhood daily and understand that more cops in the street is not the solution. We need more services for people to improve their lives,” said Montoya.

Desley Brooks was the only councilmember to vote against the resolution, questioning why the council was not as proactive about funding housing solutions amid a housing crisis.

“We keep talking about a housing crisis and the city puts no money towards actually addressing it,” said Brooks.

“And who pays $10 million to get $1.8 million? That’s just bad math,” she said.

“Here’s proof that there’s money and, if there’s truly a housing crisis, we’re choosing not to fund it,” said Brooks. “The council isn’t being honest if they’re saying that they are concerned about a housing crisis.”

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan was also skeptical about the city’s willingness to spend millions on hiring new police after being told for months that there was not enough funding for enforcement of tenants’ rights laws and having to scrape to fund the Housing Equity Roadmap earlier this year.

Kaplan noted that the resolution was really a budgetary adoption as opposed to a grant match.

“It feels procedurally weird to me that $10 million is to be adopted entirely outside the budgetary process,” said Kaplan. She ultimately abstained from the vote.

After the public comments section of the agenda item, attendees dropped red painted dollars of “blood money” from the balconies in protest of the resolution.

“The health of a city is about public safety. and that relies on services and people’s access to decent affordable housing, access to income and to food,” said Robbie Clark of Causa Justa: Just Cause.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 12, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

Neighborhood Coalition Awaits City Council Decision on East 12th Street Development

A rendering of the E. 12 Street Coalition's housing proposal.

A rendering of the E. 12 Street Coalition’s housing proposal.

By Tulio Ospina

The East 12th Wishlist Design Team, supported by the neighborhood coalition Eastlake United for Justice, has submitted a proposal to build a 100 percent affordable housing development on the contentious East 12th Street Remainder parcel by Lake Merritt.

Early in November, the neighborhood team decided to partner with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA), an affordable housing developer that has built several projects throughout Oakland, including a senior center not too far from the parcel.

The team’s proposal, developed with extensive community input, includes 98 units of exclusively affordable housing, small commercial enterprising space, rooftop gardens and a safe pedestrian pathway connecting the property to Lake Merritt.

The proposal is for a low-rise building, unlike the high-rise tower proposed for the site that was defeated earlier this year by community opposition.

“We see this as becoming a home for low-income Black and Brown families here in Oakland,” said Katie Loncke, an organizer with the East 12th Wishlist coalition

Meanwhile, UrbanCore—the company behind the previous high-rise proposal—has partnered with the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) and resubmitted a new proposal to the city that would still include a high-rise tower of market-rate housing in addition to a smaller adjacent building of affordable housing units, said members of the Wishlist Design team.

“It’s a tiny affordable housing box being overshadowed by a luxury tower,” said Loncke. “It reminds me of the “poor door” buildings in New York where low-income people are told to go through one door while the wealthy go through another.”

The Post contacted UrbanCore, which was unwilling to share details about its proposal.

The City Council is expected to make a decision on which housing proposal to accept in January.

According to Loncke, the council will look at the proposals’ number of units, the developers’ experience, cost efficiency and community benefits and then decide based on their own criteria which project is the best fit.

On Nov. 20, the community group hosted a “guerilla art” exhibit wherein they reached out to 11th graders at Coliseum College Prep Academy in East Oakland and asked them to contribute a series of murals depicting gentrification.

“It was amazing to see how the students made the connections between gentrification and other global issues without ever using words,” said Loncke.

“These young artists really understood the effects that gentrification and displacement have on Oakland’s low-income communities of color,” she said.

Oakland is now ranked the nation’s fifth most expensive rental market, with Black and Latino residents being some of the hardest hit by the city’s affordability crisis.

According to city statistics, the number of Black residents in Oakland decreased by nearly 40 percent between 1990 and 2011.

“We are saying that if you want to consume Oakland’s murals, music and film, Black and Brown people have to come along, too,” said Brytannee Brown, an organizer for the art installation.

“Black and Brown youth and families are being pushed out of Oakland every day by skyrocketing housing costs. We refuse to become cultural artifacts,” she said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Oakland Steps Out for Faith with a Joyful Noise

The city of Oakland has long been considered the citadel for progressive civil rights and political movements involving activism for racial and social inclusion and equity.

 In response to neighbors’ complaints about the loud sounds of music coming from churches, ministers and churches called for a public demonstration of respect for its churches instead of using the police and fines to punish their congregations.

More than 30 pastors stood in solidarity with Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. They were joined by city and county officials along with the SambaFunk! drummers, church choirs, gospel soloists and Black Arts groups.

True to its radical and revolutionary roots, Oakland is redefining respect for religion. Ministers called for the city to declare itself, to be a sanctuary city for its sanctuaries.

The First Amendment and religious freedom were embraced by a coalition that included the Oakland NAACP, the Post News Group, Baptists, Methodists, Muslims, Mormons, COGICs, AME, Catholics, the Black Arts Movement, Soul of Oakland, Oakland Private Industry Council, Pastors of Oakland, Baptist Ministers Union, Seventh-day Adventists and many others.

The event took place Saturday, Nov. 7 in front of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on Adeline Street in West Oakland. It was the response to a city noise complaint against Pleasant Grove that kicked off the current solidarity movement.

Speaking at the event, Amos Brown of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco said his church has faced similar attempts to silence worship.

He told the crowd that earlier this year “two rogue cops” entered his church one afternoon to tell parishioners to quiet down during a service, where a gumbo band was playing in honor of a church member who had passed away.

But he told the police: “We are going to sing, we are going to shout. We’re going to let nobody tell us to shut up.”

The arts community and the religious community are coming together, said Theo Williams of the SambaFunk! drummers, who performed at the event.

“We came here to stand with you in solidarity,” he said. “This is monumental.”

Said Mayor Libby Schaaf, who spoke after Theo Williams, “This city has some strong roots, and these roots are in our faith community and our arts community.”

“My city has some SambaFunk!,” she said.

City Councilmember and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, who is a rabbi, urged people to raise their voice and sing out in praise.

“It is a miracle that we are still here to sing praises,” said Kaplan, referring to the holocausts faced by Black people during the Middle Passage, Jews during World War II and indigenous people in the United States during the Trail of Tears.

“We give thanks that we have survived to this day,” she said. “Let us use this as a force to unite.”

Bishop Joseph Simmons of Greater St. Paul Baptist Church praised church and community members who have spoken up about attacks on the right to worship.

“I want to thank the people who complained because your complaints made us stand up,” he said.

Rev. Ray Williams of Morning Star Baptist Church said people have to stand up to forces that want to push them out of the city.

“We used to steal away to Jesus to worship,” he said. “(But) we aren’t going to steal away anymore. We’re here to take back what gentrification has taken away from us.”

“We need our council members to have the courage to challenge chase bank for reneging on it’s promise to Oakland,” said Post publisher Paul Cobb.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, November 13, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Gentrification Threatens Oakland Churches and Artists

Coalition of faith-based, housing and cultural groups join to protect sacred spaces, say speakers at Post Salon

Speakers at the Oct. 25 Post Salon at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle were (L to R): Pastor Thomas Harris, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church; Pastor Phyllis Scott of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; Anyka Barber, owner of Betti Ono gallery; Theo Williams, SambaFunk!. and co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery. Photo by Tulio Ospina, First Presbyterian Church. Photo by Tulio Ospina

Speakers at the Oct. 25 Post Salon at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle were (L to R): Pastor Thomas Harris, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church; Pastor Phyllis Scott, Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; Anyka Barber, owner of Betti Ono gallery; Theo Williams, SambaFunk!; and co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery, First Presbyterian Church. Photo by Tulio Ospina

  By Ken Epstein

Oakland and other Bay Area cities are in the throes of a market-driven surge in evictions and rent increases, as long-term residents, small businesses and nonprofit agencies are being pushed out of their communities at an increasingly feverish pace.

Tensions are reaching a flashpoint in Oakland, where veteran residents are finding that a handful of gentrifiers  – perceived as acting out of a sense of entitlement – are trying to suppress the culture and religious worship that many see as the expression of life and breath.

At the heart of the conflict are two incidents that have become emblematic of the deepening tensions.
One of the incidents occurred in August when a resident called 911 to complain about an evening church choir practice at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland, which received a city letter threatening penalties.

The second occurred in September when a resident approached drummers at Lake Merritt, tried to take away their drumsticks and called police to press assault charges against the musicians.

Exacerbating tensions, the city has seemed to side with the complainers – by threatening the church with penalties and filing charges against two of the drummers – though all charges were ultimately dropped this week.

Many residents see a double standard on the part of city agencies, which rarely respond when neighbors complain about a crack house next door or when garbage and other trash are piling up on their block.

These were concerns raised last Sunday, when residents, members of church congregations and cultural workers packed into a space at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland for a community discussion led by a panel of religious and arts’ leaders about how to come to grips with the current threat.

“(Our) church has been there over 65 years, and Wednesday night is choir rehearsal,” said Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove.

“We were shocked, stunned when we heard that we were a nuisance in the community,” he said.  “We want to embrace change, (but) we also want the community to realize there is a tradition.”

Pastor Harris said he was also surprised by the widespread support his church has been receiving.
“I didn’t know this was going to take off like this,” he said, adding that he has heard from someone in Colorado, who told him, “We can’t hear you – you’re not loud enough.”

“I can’t believe all this is going on,” Pastor Harris said. “ If I’m the instrument to be used to make a change, I’m ready to be used.“

Co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery of the First Presbyterian Church of Oakland emphasized the connections between the churches and cultural expression, saying, “The church and the artists belong together.”

Another speaker, Theo Williams, is head of the drumming group SambaFunk! Funkquarians and co-founder of the Soul of Oakland coalition.

“We are all in this this together – this monster is coming to devour our community and devour our soul, ” he said.   “Just know we are standing with you. It is our job to come together now, not to look at our differences,” he said.

Drumming is rooted in African culture, Williams said, and, “We go to church almost every day of the week (somewhere in the city), and you are saying that it is going to be prohibited and restricted – that is our culture.”

Williams said the city should pass an ordinance to protect its cultural institutions. New residents who are moving next door to churches and cultural spaces should know they are protected by law.

The city should also eliminate policies that penalize or undermine cultural spaces.  “It’s time to look through all the municipal codes,” he said.

Pastor Phyllis Scott of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries said churches receives complaints because, “We do a major work the city does not do. We feed the hungry, and we have HIV testing.”

Some people are complaining because they don’t want the “flood of homeless people coming into the neighborhood,” because the churches are feeding those who are in need, she said.

Anyka Barber, co-creator of the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition and owner of the Betti Ono art gallery, explained she was born in Oakland and is committed to fight for the city’s cultural identity.

“It is my responsibility as a native, as a business owner (and) as a mother to step up,” she said. “There is no disconnection between the churches and the cultural workers. Everything I know I learned in church.”

Barber called for the city to reestablish its Cultural Arts Commission, “made up of residents who really represent our interests.”

She criticized the city’s process for creating a downtown development plan. “This planning process is not indicative of the community,” she said. “A lot of people feel like it should be scrapped and start all over. That’s my sense of it.”

Post publisher Paul Cobb, co-moderator of the event, called on the City Council to pass a “Church Pride Day” to acknowledge the churches, “so Oakland can be a sanctuary city for our sanctuaries.”

City development plans should include a “faith-based zone,” where affordable housing can be built around the churches, he said.

“The city needs a master plan for downtown that protects all the nonprofits, community groups and small businesses that are being pushed out because of gentrification,” Cobb said.

He also suggested putting out a national call for people to come to Oakland to hold sit-ins and picket lines at some of some of the city’s hip new restaurants that do not hire Black workers, “to integrate the jobs in these new restaurants in the same manner that we integrated southern lunch counters and restaurants in the 60s.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 30, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Community Turns Up the Volume to Defend Residents and Businesses

Activists demand “Development Without Displacement” after mayor’s staff says there is no housing crisis in Oakland

Community members and anti-displacement activists surround city Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn Oct. 19 at the Downtown Specific Plan design workshop. Photo by Tulio Ospina

Community members and anti-displacement activists surround city Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn Oct. 19 at the Downtown Specific Plan design workshop. Photo by Tulio Ospina

 By Ashley Chambers and Tulio Ospina

Community members are raising the volume on their demands that the city protect Oaklanders’ rights following a number of noise complaints by a few residents targeting Lake Merritt drummers and Black churches.

A number of creative artists, singers, and community and faith leaders made their voices and musical instruments heard Monday evening at the Rally to Defend Oakland’s Culture, calling on city government to stand up for cultural equity in Oakland.

The rally in front of the Rotunda Building at Frank Ogawa Plaza, organized by the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition (OCNC), included performances by poets, the Oakland Creative Voices Choir and spoken word by the group Young, Gifted & Black.

Speakers included Robbie Clark of Causa Justa; Chaney Turner of Black Lives Matter, Bay Area chapter; artist and director of CultureStrike, Favianna Rodriguez; Pastor Phyllis Scott, Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; and Post publisher Paul Cobb.

The speakers loudly defended the freedom of creative and cultural expression, and voiced their concerns that the local arts and culture community has been left out of the city’s planning process on the development of downtown Oakland.

“They can develop, but they are not going to displace us,” said Cobb, speaking at the rally.

“We wanna give the drummer some,” he said. “We want to make sure that our gospel singers don’t have to close their windows, and we want to make sure that our creative artists and our nonprofit organizations have a place to exist in this city to serve the population.”

The protest was held in front of the first of the city’s workshops to inform residents of the Downtown Specific Plan and designed to receive input on the area’s redevelopment, but arts and culture activists are saying they have not been invited to the table.

The workshops were created following a report released by San Francisco Planning & Urban Research (SPUR), funded by the city, that community activists say is a roadmap to gentrification.

According to Eric Arnold, a member of the OCNC steering committee, the SPUR report, titled “Downtown for Everyone,” is “a blueprint for exclusion of people of color and low-income residents, as well as the creative arts community” from downtown Oakland.

The SPUR report also contends that speculative construction in the downtown area is being inhibited by commercial rents that are too low and a lack of big tenants. Critics of the report say nonprofits and small commercial tenants are already being pushed out of downtown area by recent uncontrolled rent increases.

As the rally ended, attendees flowed into the workshop to make sure their opinions were heard throughout the chambers.

“We want cultural equity, affordable housing and anti-displacement protections for the existing residents and commercial sector throughout the city that have made Oakland such a vibrant and desirable place to live,” community members demanded.

OCNC demanded that the city’s Cultural Arts Commission be restored and called for a fully staffed Cultural Arts Department to ensure prioritization for Oakland’s historically underrepresented communities.

They also want to pass ordinances to preserve Oakland’s cultural diversity. Earlier this year, Mayor Libby Schaaf showed support for creating a Black Arts Movement Cultural District down 14th Street in downtown Oakland but has not yet acted on the proposal.

During the workshop on Monday, Rachel Flynn, Director of Planning and Building, was surrounded by activists demanding clarity on a controversial statement she made earlier this month claiming that there was no housing crisis in Oakland.

Faith leaders are also reacting to the city’s support for complaints from a handful of residents who are saying church worship is too loud.

“Our music and the way that we worship God is an expression of our heritage and our creativity,” said Pastor Scott at the Monday night rally. “Nobody should tell us that we have to express our creativity in the way they say so. We need to keep the creative juices flowing through Oakland.”

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland is potentially facing $500-a-day fines from the city. In response, Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove is bringing local clergy together for an outdoor worship service on Saturday, Nov. 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Adeline St. between 10th and 14th St.

He said it is a time for churches to worship in the streets and invite to neighbors and people of all backgrounds to join in community fellowship.

Defending community voices, Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan spoke at this week’s City Council meeting.

“Psalm 98:4 says make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” she said. “The laws require us to respect freedom of religious practice, and it is certainly my hope that we will do just that.”

According to Theo Williams of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians and journalist Zenophon Abraham, the problem isn’t the complaints but that the city and police are listening to them.

“If the complaint came from a 911 call, then that’s against California Penal Code Section 148.3 on ‘False Reporting of an Emergency,’” said Abraham in a letter to several city officials.

“You specifically allowed a single person to violate (the law) and without action,” he said. “You can’t get by with the idea that someone did not report that the complainer was in violation of the law.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 23, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland Anti-Displacement Coalition Says “Speak Out to Stay Put!”

Carroll Fife (top left), a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, spoke at a workshop on developing an anti-displacement electoral strategy Oct. 17 "Speak Out to Stay Put!"forum in Oakland. Photo b Ken Epstien

Carroll Fife (top left), a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, spoke at a workshop on developing an anti-displacement electoral strategy Oct. 17 “Speak Out to Stay Put!”forum in Oakland. Photo b Ken Epstien

By Ken A. Epstein

Local organizations took a big step forward last weekend in their efforts to coalesce the growing movement to impact the market-driven wave of displacement that is pushing out local residents and small businesses, fueling criminalization of young people and adults and suppressing Oaklanders’ cultural expression in the parks and churches.

About 500 people squeezed into the West Oakland Youth Center last Saturday for an event called “Speak Out to Stay Put! An Oakland-wide Anti-Displacement Forum,” hosted by over a dozen organizations and endorsed by over 20 groups.

Groups that helped put on the event included: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Causa Justa: Just Cause (CJJC), California Nurses Association (CNA), Community Planning Leaders (CPL), East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), East Bay Organizing Committee (EBOC), Oakland Alliance, Oakland Tenants Union (OTU), SEIU 1021 and Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP).

Robbie Clark

Robbie Clark

 The purpose of the forum was enhance connections between the groups that are working against displacement and to deepen the understanding of the complex connections between various aspects of displacement and the variety solutions that organizations that groups are supporting.

“We wanted to come together to unite a lot of the forces who are in motion against gentrification, people who are involved in their neighborhoods or working on a variety of development plans and policies,” said Robbie Clark, regional housing rights campaign lead organizer at Causa Justa, in an interview with the Post.

“We want to broaden how people look at displacement, look at the factors that play into gentrification, plug people into additional ways to fight displacement and expand the strategies they can use,” said Clark

 The day’s workshop topics indicate the breath of the concerns: climate change and displacement, community land trusts for public control of city-owned land, the poor people’s movement to fight homelessness, police brutality and gentrification, the fight for jobs and decent wages for Oaklanders, promoting tenant rights and how to elect public officials who are accountable to residents.

 Clark pointed out an aspect of gentrification that so far have not received much attention are the explosive commercial rental increases that are pushing out small businesses and nonprofits that provide services to residents.

“These small businesses and nonprofits are all part of the neighborhood fabric that holds communities together – businesses and services that people utilize are being threatened,” said Clark.

One of the speakers at the workshop on elections and voting was Carroll Fife, a co-founder the Oakland Alliance, a citywide organization that formed about a year ago.

 Fife said her experience working in Dan Siegel’s mayoral campaign last year showed her, “There is a lot of energy that is untapped in this city – (but) we have to put egos aside. There are lots of organizations that are doing work in silos,” unconnected to each other.

She said the Oakland Alliance is trying to find ways groups can work together, not in interests of one organization, but “for what is good for everyone in the city.”

Dan Siegel, an Oakland civil rights attorney, said that voting is a component of building peoples’ power.

“An electoral strategy by itself will not make change,” but the movement needs to select and elect leaders who will be accountable to the community and the promises they make when they running for office, said Siegel.

“(At present), we see people who say they are going to do this or they are going to do that, but (once elected) they don’t do it,” said Siegel. “Oakland has a city council that has completely checked out on housing.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, Oct. 22, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Op-ed: City Council Must Take Immediate Steps to Address to Housing Crisis

Representatives must take emergency action to halt displacement of Oakland residents

Housing rights activists are fighting to keep Oakland from sharing the fate of working families in San Francisco.

Anti-gentrification protest in San Francisco. Housing rights activists are fighting to keep Oakland residents from sharing the fate of working families in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Tim Porter.

By Margaretta Lin

In the tradition of Dr. King, Pastor Agee of Pastors of Oakland and Reverend Buford of Allen Temple remind us that housing is a human right guaranteed under international covenants. It is the job of government to ensure that these rights are safeguarded for its people.

MargarettaLin

MargarettaLin

Today, Oakland families making the median tenant household income of $34,195 would have to pay over 90 percent of their income to cover the current median rent of $2,650.

What can the City of Oakland do to address this unprecedented housing crisis?

There are emergency measures such as enforcing the City’s Tenant Protection Ordinance, using public lands for temporary housing, and requiring a City process prior to tenant evictions.

In addition, on Sept. 30 the City Council approved the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap. Specific ordinances must now be developed and sent to the council for adoption.

The crisis is real and immediate. Foreclosures have devastated Oakland, with the loss of over 11,000 homes. The African American homeownership rate in East Oakland areas has declined by 25 percent.

Over 90 percent of foreclosed homes in East and West Oakland were purchased by investors and largely flipped into market rentals. Under state law, rent controls are not allowed on these single-family homes.

What was once affordable homeownership for Oakland’s working-class became—overnight–unaffordable.

Further, the regional economic boom has escalated demands for housing but is generating jobs mainly at polar ends—high-wage tech and other professional jobs or low-wage service jobs. Housing supply has continued to grossly lag behind the demand.

Finally, structural racism continues to impact access to stable jobs for people of color. This has resulted in a racial wealth gap. From 2000 to 2010, incomes for Oakland’s African American, Latino, and Asian populations declined, while income for the White population increased.

We need comprehensive action from the City Council, Mayor, City Administration, and stakeholder groups. The roadmap identifies 17 recommended actions for these groups.

These strategies are pragmatic—vetted by City departments and based upon best practices.

Nine of these strategies require changes to existing laws and City Council action. The below is a modified City staff timeline for Council legislative action.

Fall 2015:

Tenant eviction protection & relocation requirements; Condo conversion protections; and Seismic retrofit with anti-displacement protections

Winter 2016:

Public lands for affordable housing; Allow second units; and Housing Impact Fee & Mixed Income Development;

Spring 2016:

Proactive rental inspection with anti-displacement; housing bond; and dealing with vacant lots.

Anti-displacement strategies include: preventing the conversion of 29,000 at risk rental units into market rate condo; improving tenant eviction protections and relocation requirements; and requiring the seismic retrofit of 14,000 at-risk rental units with anti-displacement protections.

In addition, city officials can prevent continuing foreclosures through a distressed mortgage notes program.

Strategies to produce more affordable housing include: using public lands for affordable housing; charging a housing impact fee; requiring mixed-income housing on private projects; facilitating second units; and waiving city liens to transform problem properties.

The City can also lead a housing bond measure.

To improve habitability requires a City Council proactive rental inspection policy.

While the city does not have the ability to change regional economic trends, it does have the ability and obligation to house its residents.

As former Congressman and Mayor Ron Dellums says, “Democracy rests on people asserting the fullness of their human rights.”

We greatly need Oakland’s people to engage and demand action from their representatives.

Margaretta Lin is the co-author of the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap along with Kalima Rose from PolicyLink. She was director of Strategic Initiatives for the City of Oakland’s Department of Housing and Community Development and is currently a principal at the Dellums Institute, a social justice advocacy organization.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 16, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Is Oakland a “Sanctuary City” for Its Sanctuaries?

Gentrifiers cause the city to use police and fines to punish drummers, churches and creative artists

Drummers of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians perform with members of the public at Lake Merritt in protest. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

Drummers of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians perform with members of the public at Lake Merritt in protest. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Ashley Chambers and Tulio Ospina

Black churches in Oakland are being asked to moderate their worship voices after neighbors have made noise complaints to the city about the volume of the gospel that is reaching beyond the church walls.

But these churches are not going to be silent. They are standing together to make a “joyful noise” in the community and demanding that sanctuaries in Oakland be protected.

Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church discusses with clergy and Post staff the noise complaints that the church has received from gentrifying neighbors. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church discusses with clergy and Post staff the noise complaints
that the church has received from gentrifying
neighbors. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

An unprecedented coalition is coming together between faith-based organizations and arts community activists, such as the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition and Lake Merritt drummers who are being silenced by Oakland police.

“The institution of the church is one of the foundations of the community,” said Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland. The church received a formal complaint in August from neighbors about loud noise during their Wednesday night choir rehearsal.

Although the church attempted to talk with the neighbors and addressed their concerns in a formal letter, that conversation never happened, said Harris.

The City of Oakland sent a letter dated August 31, 2015, alerting the church of the noise complaint and citing Oakland’s Noise Ordinance, Municipal Code 8.18.

However, clergy are concerned that this letter came without any sort of city outreach – no warning, personal visit or discussion with the church relating to the matter.

Anyka Barber

Anyka Barber

“This activity may constitute a public nuisance due to its impact to the use and quiet enjoyment of the surrounding community’s property,” the letter read, signed by Greg Minor, Assistant to the City Administrator.

According to the city’s letter, the church would be fined a $3,529 nuisance case fee as well as civil penalties of $500 a day if the city moves forward with a public nuisance abatement case.

“This letter from the city without any notification is a direct assault on the African American community in Oakland, especially West Oakland,” said Rev. Lawrence VanHook, pastor of Community Church in West Oakland.

Rev. Gerald Agee, president of Pastors of Oakland and pastor of Friendship Christian Church, said, “It seems a little disheartening that people would come into a community without first researching to see if there are things within that community that they would not like, (rather) than to come in and try to change the community based on their likes and dislikes.”

Pastor Harris, along with other local clergy, Oakland NAACP President George Holland, and Post Publisher Paul Cobb met this week to discuss how faith leaders in Oakland can respond to the attack on Black churches.

“We need to organize in the streets to make a joyful noise,” said Cobb, who encourages the city to protect houses of worship and to make Oakland into a “sanctuary for sanctuaries.”

“You (gentrifiers) don’t tell us how to worship. We will not be ashamed of the gospel,” he said.

Churches are planning outdoor worship services in coming weeks, connected with a voter registration drive.

Like the city’s Black churches, the arts community is finding itself threatened by a handful of residents who consider their cultural expression to be a nuisance. Cultural centers that are rooted in Oakland’s diverse cultural history – the Malonga Casquelourd Center, the Humanist Hall and the SambaFunk! Funkquarians – have faced criminal charges and expensive fines, following complaints by a few residents.

About 100 people attended a meeting Wednesday evening at the Asian Cultural Center, organized by the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, to discuss how to defend cultural expression.

“We are all neighbors in Oakland. We live, we work, we play together here,” said Anyka Barber, a member of the coalition’s steering committee and owner of Betti Ono, a local art gallery.

“The arts and culture community are what make Oakland known worldwide, and this is a critical moment to take action, to be proactive, well-organized and united in our agendas,” said Barber.

Speakers at the meeting emphasized the common interests of Oakland’s churches and the arts community.

“Let’s just say it. The things happening to Black churches in West Oakland are also happening to artists and residents who are predominantly people of color. These are underrepresented communities, and we are aligned, aligned, aligned in our goals,” said Barber.

At the meeting, Post Publisher Cobb called on “artists, the faith-based community and the media to come together and form a Holy Trinity connection.”

Stressing the need to have power at the ballot box, Cobb said, “We can vote artistically minded and faithful leaders into the city government.”

A multicultural drum circle protest last Sunday at Lake Merritt, hosted by the newly formed Soul of Oakland coalition, drew drummers and performers of different backgrounds from around the East Bay to share their cultural sounds.

Councilmember Desley Brooks spoke to the crowd about the importance of raising their voices to demand strong policies to protect residents’ livelihood and cultures.

“First, they came for the Black people in this city, and they pushed them out one by one. In 10 years, we lost about 10,000 Black residents,” said Brooks.

“Then they came and said that artists couldn’t drum at the park,” she said. “They told the churches that they were too loud.”

“Let them hear you,” Brooks said. “Do not let them silence your voices because we are a powerful people, and all of Oakland should hear us.”

In response to questions from the Post, city communications director and Assistant City Administrator Karen Boyd said the West Oakland church has not been listed as a public nuisance.

“We recognize that houses of worship are an intrinsic and vital dimension of Oakland,” said Boyd. “We are working to revise the language in our courtesy notices to reflect our intent to communicate openly with property owners about any complaints we receive so that issues may be resolved.”

Post Publisher Cobb says the City Administrator’s position does not protect the rights of churches.

“The position taken by the City Administrator doesn’t do anything to protect houses of worship that are in jeopardy,” said Cobb. “We must organize to protect houses of worship—we can’t equivocate on the First Amendment.”

The suppression of church and community cultural expression is closely connected to other aspects of gentrification, says community activist and educator Kitty Kelly Epstein.

“Treating the sounds of Oakland residents’ churches and drummers as a public nuisance is related to producing policies that ignore our demands for affordable homes and jobs that will support our ability to continue to live in this city,” she said.

For updates on the “Sancutary4Sanctuaries” Movement, follow Paul Cobb on Twitter @PaulCobbOakland.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 16, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)