Photo Essay: Gentrification in Oakland

Mikala and Noel, two Oakland residents, near Campbell and 8th St. Photo: Shayyan Ahmad

By Shayyan Ahmad

(Images by Shayyan Ahmad & Santana Bellas)

In 1968, the Fair Housing Act made it illegal for landlords and property owners to discriminate against African-Americans and other minority groups in the U.S.

As more minority families moved into cities, places like Oakland began to experience “white flight,” a phenomenon where large populations of white Americans left cities and moved to the suburbs. White flight affected property values, which contributed to urban decay.

In the last few years, Oakland has experienced a shift back in the other direction.

The increase of tech jobs in the Bay Area has caused an influx of majority white workers looking for housing in places like West Oakland. As San Francisco became one of the most expensive rental markets in the country, many saw Oakland as the next best opportunity. Landlords began raising rent, selling off buildings and evicting residents to cash in on the shift. The cycle of gentrification has caused property values to rise.

These changes, of course, come at the cost of many long-term residents, who are being displaced as their rents soar.

Left, a laundromat in the City Tower Apartments building. Photo: Shayyan Ahmad. Right, City Tower Apartments, West Oakland. Photo: Santana Bellas

“It’s clearly a problem for those who can’t afford regular rent,” a woman whose mother lives in the apartment building above told us. Her children played in the laundromat as we talked. “There are a lot of people coming in who can afford the rent, but the people who’ve been here for decades are being pushed out.”

Left, True Light Church of God, West Oakland. Photo: Shayyan Ahmad. Right, a landlord (middle) talks about gentrification in his city. Photo: Santana Bellas

A man who was celebrating the Fourth of July at the True Light Church of God in West Oakland said he was personally affected by the increasing property prices.

“I’m a landlord in Oakland, so I’ve seen the change as well … it sucks, because how can you afford to live in the Bay Area?” he said. “I can’t afford to raise my rents ’cause I know my tenants can’t afford to pay any more.”

Left, a group of kids hang out in West Oakland. Right, a liquor store on Campbell & 8th St. Photos: Shayyan Ahmad

West Oakland is one of the neighborhoods that’s being hit hard by gentrification. Driving around the city, I’ve seen billboards and signs telling me that “West Oakland is the new tech hub.”

Some of the long-time residents who own their homes here say they see little problem with the changes, but the majority of people I spoke with don’t see the cultural and demographic shift as positive.

Nester, an Oakland resident who had just left a July 4th celebration, talks about gentrification and growing up in the city. Photos: Santana Bellas

“We’ve seen a lot of changes happen in the last decade, the developments around Oakland, just seeing our families and friends being pushed out. White people, mostly privileged white people, and the tech boom has affected the culture of Oakland,” says Noel (pictured below).

Left, Noel. Right, Mikala. Both are Oakland residents. Mikala is a student who was recently evicted. Photos: Shayyan Ahmad

“It’s crazy because we’re not only from the community, but we work within the community, helping feed homeless people, putting clothes on their backs and trying to run community centers,” she continues. “It’s very important, especially in this day and age. You don’t see a lot of that around, and it’s difficult to maintain when you’re fighting gentrification. One year you’re helping people that are being pushed out stay in their homes, and then the next, you become a victim.”

To see more of Shayyan and Santana’s work on this issue, go to their website, where you can buy prints of their gentrification-focused newspaper. All proceeds will be donated to East Bay Housing Organizations, an Oakland-based nonprofit.