Housing justice organizers are asking residents to attend the Tuesday, April 5 City Council meeting to push council members to pass a housing state of emergency in Oakland.
The organizers are encouraging Oaklanders—particularly the 60 percent who are renters—to come to the council meeting and to bring their family members and neighbors, saying this may be the best chance residents will have to respond to developers and speculators who are turning Oakland into a bedroom community for San Francisco.
Coordinating efforts to pass the housing state of emergency in Oakland have been activists and community members who have attended the past several Post Salons at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle.
How a Housing State of Emergency Works
The purpose of a housing state of emergency is to temporarily halt or slow down the city’s displacement crisis, giving officials and city staff several months to implement remedies for the damaging practices that continue to run out of control.
The declaration of a housing state of emergency also enables the city to utilize certain city funds and outside grants.
Under the city charter, a state of emergency must be passed by 75 percent of the council, or six of the eight council members.
“The 75 percent rule has been followed in declaring other states of emergency in the city – but we’re hoping all eight council members will do the right thing and respond to the present crisis,” said James Vann, housing activist and co-founder of the Oakland Tenants Union.
During the moratorium, rental property owners who have not taken a rent increase within the last 12 months can still raise rents based on the Consumer Price Index, which at present is 1.7 percent as determined by the city’s rent law – as opposed to exorbitant increases of 60 percent, 100 percent or 200 percent that are currently occurring.
In addition, tenants could only be evicted during the moratorium for just causes such as failure to pay rent or damaging their apartment or building.
If the declaration of emergency is violated by a property owner, tenants would have a right to go to court to stop the unlawful action. Owners also might be liable for damages for violating the state of emergency.
Organizing to Stay in Oakland
Activist Carroll Fife, who chaired the Post Salon’s organizing meeting last Sunday, said council members have ignored or minimized Oakland’s housing state of emergency for years.
“But now they seem prepared to act, and we need to be encouraged by that, and we should continue to organize,” said Fife.
Fife pointed out that more and more Oakland residents are living in their cars or in homeless encampments.
According to the city’s 2015 Rental Survey, Oakland’s average renter household can only afford to pay about $750 a month, far below the rents of the “affordable housing” that city officials approve for new non-profit projects.
Housing rights organizations estimate that about 1,000 Oakland residents are being displaced each month by exorbitant rent increases and unjust evictions.
Oakland’s housing crisis has been growing since 1970, but never has the council passed a state of emergency to address housing problems, according to activists.
However, almost every year, council members approve other states of emergencies for many other serious issues.
Speaking at Sunday’s Post Salon, Post Publisher Paul Cobb said people should organize outreach to Oakland’s Black churches, nonprofits, and flatland and Latino neighborhood organizations to urge them to bring their members to the April 5 council meeting.
“Everybody in their groups has to live somewhere,” said Cobb. “Everybody needs to get on board. We have to fill the council chambers and surround City Hall.”
Cobb continued, “We’re hopeful, but we have to operate on the working assumption we have no votes on the council.”
“The council members say they are sympathetic to renters’ plight, but that is not enough for renters to believe in them, he said. Faith without works is dead.”
Cobb added that he is working on a voter registration drive.
In addition to participants in the Post Salon, groups working on passing the state of emergency include the John George Democratic Club, Oakland Education Association, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Oakland Alliance, Qilombo, Block by Block Organizing Network and Oakland Tenants Union.