OAKLAND, CA — Oakland has the hottest real estate market in the country and one of the worst housing crises. In July, fire destroyed the Alta Waverly construction site where 196 market-rate condos were being built. This was the fourth fire at a condo site in the Oakland area in the last year. One developer, Rick Holliday, stated that the fires indicate “a war on housing.”
Holliday wasn’t talking about the Grand Jury report that Oakland City Council handles lucrative deals for developers in secret. He wasn’t talking about developers dispossessing entire communities, often illegally. He didn’t mention that a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland now costs $4,000 a month, or that the City Council refuses to adopt a policy to limit rents. Somehow he failed to mention that in the first quarter of 2017 the city gave out 1,000 building permits, but not a single one to build affordable housing.
Homelessness in Alameda County increased 40% in the last year.
Fires have also burned at least two of the homeless camps that are appearing everywhere. We have seen fire destroy the Ghost Ship, killing 32 people, and another burn down affordable housing for over 100 people at 2515 San Pablo, killing four. In this case, the Oakland Relocation Law offers up to $6,500 for relocation, but somehow much of this money never found its way into the hands of the victims.
This is the real war on housing. The lobby of developers, real estate moguls and landlords is the richest in Oakland. On the city’s planning commission, six out of seven members (all appointed by the mayor, Libby Schaff) have such close ties to developers that they commonly have to recuse themselves when voting. The real war on housing is declared when Schaaf proclaims that the best way to get cheaper rent is to build unlimited, high-priced market-rate housing, producing so many apartments that “they will drive down housing costs.”
In Oakland, it is gentrification when well-off people move into your house or apartment. But when the entire community is replaced, the schools are privatized and the police criminalize or murder the youth, it is really dispossession. This is not an accident, or an act of God. It is a planned, organized and implemented campaign led by corporations.
In Oakland, the local government is directly responsible for the corporate dispossession that is sweeping the city. But the corporations operate behind closed doors. The only way forward is to hold every government official accountable to the demands of the people for affordable housing.