West Oakland’s Qilombo Loses Lease After Ghost Ship Fire Oakland’s red-tagging not providing incentive to ask for safety inspections, say community members

Photo courtesy of Oakland Socialist.

Photo courtesy of Oakland Socialist.

Since the Oakland warehouse fire that claimed 36 lives earlier this month, the city has seen a rash of landlord panic and opportunism, according to community members who have seen the number of unannounced fire inspections from city officials spike, putting several homes and community centers at risk of being shut down. 


Qilombo, a radical community social center in the heart of West Oakland’s Afrikatown, is one of the latest spaces to be impacted by the rise of code enforcement complaints, which has threatened to board up its services.


According to Qilombo’s organizers, the property’s management company—SCM East Bay—had renewed their monthly lease but reversed its decision a few days after the Ghost Ship fire.


The center then had a surprise inspection last week that resulted in a “cease and desist” order for all public events.


The move is a renewed attempt by SMC East Bay to remove the community center from the property, a battle that Qilombo has dealt with in the past, said Van Dell, Qilombo’s operations manager.


“We don’t see the relationship between not being allowed to host unpermitted public events and not being able to be a leaseholder,” Dell told the Post.


Furthermore, by Wednesday the city had not told Qilombo members any details about what changes should be made to bring the community center’s space up to code.


This kind of disregard by city officials is one of the reasons people living and working in unsafe conditions are fearful to come out and ask for safety inspections, said Dell.


“If the steps taken by the city had anything to do with our safety, the result would have been to give us some time to fix these things while holding landlords accountable to making these repairs, not a permanent cease and desist order,” she said.


“Instead, it makes us more vulnerable and disposable as we deal with gentrification and then landlords get to reap the benefits.”


Qilombo is a community space that provides important services to people along the San Pablo Avenue corridor, including a needle exchange, free meals, a community garden and African cultural classes.


According to Chaga Kwa Nia, a main organizer at Qilombo, the community center is vital for residents he says the city has given up on.


“We provide those services for folks who are Black and Indigenous, and elderly people who are sick and going through mental illness and drug issues,” Kwa Nia said.


SMC East Bay, the building’s property manager and the building inspector did not return the Post’s calls for comments.



Tulio Ospina is the assistant editor of the Oakland Post and editor-in-chief of El Mundo.

Email tulio.postnewsgroup@gmail.com

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  3. John

    Sadly, the reason for landlords in CYA mode is that after the Ghostship Fire, they will likely be found partially liable for any residential deaths in a non-residential space. Building codes for residential spaces are more strict than most to not only ensure the safety of sleeping occupants, but to also protect – partially by way of standardization – the lives of the people who search for and rescue occupant in the event of a tragedy. It will be interesting to see what happens to landlords, or even lease holders, that have knowingly leased or subletted to residents and profited along the way. This is a sad moment for so many reasons and the artistic communities of so many urban areas will never be the same again.

  4. K.G.

    I used to live down the street from Qilombo and their presence in this neighborhood has had incredibly positive and essential impact on the community. The decision to revoke their lease for blatant greed and opportunism is unconscionable. There are so many people suffering in this area and Qilombo has helped so many and provided support for those that society dismisses and overlooks. Shame on SMC East Bay, I hope Qilombo finds a way to stay in their location because they are needed.

  5. Andre Freimann

    same down here in LA, no reasons given, landlord wants us out.

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