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Gentrification Continues to Leave its Mark in Oakland

By Noah Mitchell

I am a senior at Skyline High School in Oakland. My capstone project is based on gentrification in Oakland and how African Americans are being displaced because of it. Oakland is continuing to lose its African American population because it is becoming harder to live here. I want to inform the readers about gentrification and the displacement of African Americans in Oakland, in hopes to equip them with the basics of this issue and possible plans that can be put in place to help lessen this problem.

Many people are not truly aware of gentrification, as it is not always so bold or obvious. But most people have noticed certain effects such as the increased cost of living, the arrival of big corporations, and even the installation of rental transportation.

When it comes down to it, gentrification is so much more than rich people coming to a neighborhood and improving it, it is a process of development in an undervalued neighborhood or district that attracts new residents who differ in race, income level, education, etc.

In all of my research, it seems that Oakland’s gentrification problem (as we see it right now) has largely been caused by San Francisco’s tech boom. Not only is Silicon Valley right around the corner from both San Francisco and Oakland, but the Bay Area has been the birthplace of Steve Jobs (and Apple), one of the first places to have computers commercially, and the home to startup companies like Amazon.

Because the Bay Area in the last few decades has been at the forefront of the nations technological advancement, this is causing rapid development in cities, like Oakland. What continues to make it worse, is when the employees of these companies can no longer afford to live in San Francisco, so they start buying up cheap property in Oakland to cut down on commute time to work. Both aforementioned reasons account for the increase in the cost of living.

Even Oakland’s recent teacher strike is directly linked to the city’s gentrification issue.

Even Oakland’s recent teacher strike is directly linked to the city’s gentrification issue. The demand for higher pay was rooted in the fact that most teachers can not afford to live in the Bay Area due to the rising cost of living, so they have to live in surrounding areas instead. This makes their commute to get to work very time consuming all because there is a lack of affordable housing (due to it being bought up by people who can not afford to live in San Francisco).

Now with all of this background, you may be asking, “what does this have to do with African American displacement?” Well, African Americans are being displaced from Oakland because there is a serious lack of rent control and it is almost impossible to own homes.

Because of the influx of people trying to live in the East Bay, landlords are trying to maximize profits by driving up the cost of rent. Many landlords maximize profits because the cost of living in Oakland continues to rise, and sometimes they have no choice but to raise the rent on tenants. If the tenants can not afford to pay to stay there, then the landlord must evict them in order to rent to people with a higher income. Unfortunately, those who continue to get evicted are people of color and African Americans who have to look for other places to stay.

Due to the increased price of living, it is near impossible for the previous lower-income African American residents to buy or remain in their households. Unless the house was purchased by family a few decades ago, back when it was cheaper to own homes, then there is little chance at being able to come up with the money to continue to stay in Oakland long-term.

This phenomenon, (sometimes called Oakland’s black flight) occurs when African Americans leave to find better neighborhoods around the bay or in other places where the cost of living is cheaper. These neighborhoods could be better economically, educationally, or physically compared to the previous neighborhood.

So what solutions (if any) can we find to help lessen this issue? I have found three possible solutions that can help not just African Americans, but all people of color being displaced. Tech companies in the Bay Area should donate money, Proposition C. should be brought to Oakland or Proposition 10 should be passed, And Oaklands vacant lot tax proposition should be approved.

If tech companies (like Google) that surround the Bay Area could donate money to communities that have suffered from housing crises, (due to the explosion of tech hubs and their employees buying cheap housing) then that could help raise low-income communities and people into a better spot financially. This has already been done in Seattle, where Microsoft gave the Seattle area community $500 million and Amazon donated to Seattle’s homeless shelters.

Also, by passing Proposition C. (homeless tax) in Oakland, companies can do exactly like what Amazon did in Seattle and donate towards homeless shelters. This has already been implemented in San Francisco in order to aid homelessness efforts in the city, so why not try and bring it to Oakland as well?

Alternatively, we could get Proposition 10 (rent control laws) passed, which would put better laws in place on rent control, so that landlords do not raise the rents to unfair levels on tenants. This could keep many tenants from being forced to move to other areas or become homeless due to evictions of those who can not afford to pay more.

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