Unsheltered Oakland: A Tale of Two Cities
By Liz Jacobs
In this unseasonably cold winter and as we bundle up, think what it must be like in the homeless encampments in Oakland with no heat, no water, and a leaky roof if there is even one.
The fight for deeply affordable housing in our hometown grows stronger with the unjust eviction of the Moms 4 Housing. The eyes of the nation are watching our struggle
I have been a resident of Oakland for more than forty years, both as a renter and a homeowner. I chose to live in Oakland because of its genuine diversity, its bold activist community, and its progressive politics. I was proud to call Oakland my home long before it was referred to as the Brooklyn by the Bay.
Today I barely recognize my chosen hometown. Inequity has created a tale of two cities; one for the poor and unsheltered and another for the high income affluent. How can Oakland, which is one of the top twenty cities in the US for median household, turn its back on our less fortunate neighbors?
In my four decades here, the long-time Black population has decreased by more than half. Many of the unsheltered on our streets are that same population who can no longer afford the astronomical rents but still have family and community ties here. One third of Oakland’s homeless population are children like ours.
Our unsheltered residents are being treated like criminals with ongoing evictions of curbside communities, demolition of homes, and towing of vehicles people use as residences.
The New York Times recently did a major story about Oakland’s High Street encampment entitled Among the World’s most Dire Places citing a U.N report that compares it to the slums of Delhi, Pakistan, Mexico. Except in Mexico City, camp residents have working toilets in each structure. Is this to be our City’s legacy?
The City created an affordable housing fee three years ago. Developers haven’t built a single unit since. The new Mac Commons, a 24-story high rise adjacent to the MacArthur Bart rents one bedrooms for $4,425.00! We must put an end to issuing permits for more market rate and above market rate development and turn our attention to creating genuinely affordable housing.
In Oakland there are nearly four vacant homes for every unsheltered person. Most of these are sitting empty because of real estate greed and speculation. There are many unused city-owned lots and public land where curbside communities can be created with more permanent and safe housing providing porta potties, social services, trash pickup and clean drinking water. The City Council directed the Mayor to do this two years ago.
No one should be homeless when real estate speculator houses are sitting empty throughout the Oakland. Our city should be a leader in innovative real solutions. We are better than this. The Moms 4 Housing’s fight for a safe roof over their heads has made me Oakland proud once again.