Community members and artists concerned about a regulatory crackdown on warehouse buildings following last month’s Ghost Ship warehouse fire that claimed 36 lives packed the Oakland City Council chambers Wednesday night for a hearing on housing issues.
City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who organized the hearing, said:
“There’s no reason why we can’t improve fire safety and fight the displacement of warehouse tenants at the same time. … We believe in positive and pro-active solutions and want to talk about not just what is wrong but what can be made right.”
Kaplan said the fast-rising cost of housing in Oakland has pushed out and displaced many long-time residents and resulted in many people living on freeway underpasses and other sub-standard housing.
“It is important that we provide safe and affordable housing in a manner that is effective and compassionate.”
Kaplan said that after the Ghost Ship fire there has been more scrutiny on warehouse spaces in Oakland, with some tenants receiving eviction notices and others fearing that a crackdown on warehouses will give landlords a reason to evict them to make safety improvements.
Jonah Strauss, a sound engineer who founded the Oakland Warehouse Coalition after the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire, said it’s time that something is done about Oakland’s housing problem because the city is “eight years into a worsening crisis” that has been especially hard on low-income people, immigrants, artists and musicians.
Strauss said, “We’re being evicted in greater numbers” by what he described as “predatory developers.”
Strauss said the Oakland Warehouse Coalition recently submitted an emergency tenant protection ordinance to the city that would put a moratorium on evictions and red-tagging of buildings for code violations, with the exception of life-threatening violations.
He said he hopes the City Council will put the ordinance on the agenda for its Jan. 17 meeting and vote for it at that time.
Strauss said that although there were unsafe conditions at the Ghost Ship warehouse, “99.9 percent of work spaces in Oakland don’t look like the Ghost Ship.”
Kaplan said that in February she will submit legislation that has strategies for preventing the displacement of tenants and creating more affordable housing for artists.
Bishop Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland said he’s been working hard on developing more affordable housing because many of his parishioners “can’t afford to live in Oakland anymore” and have moved to other cities where housing is less expensive.
Jackson said he’s worked on several affordable housing projects, including one on International Boulevard between 94th and 95th avenues.
Jackson said, “These are places where people with low incomes can live comfortably in Oakland” because the rents are affordable.
Steven DeCaprio of the activist group Land Action, which advocates taking over vacant houses so poor or homeless people can live in them, said, “There are six empty houses for every homeless person in Oakland.” DeCaprio said, “We have more houses than homeless people.”
Referring to Oakland’s housing crisis, he said, “This whole thing is fabricated.”