The December 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

The Poor Will Perish Without Housing

We Accuse the US Government

The Works of Mercy: Thoughts on the Death of a Homeless Man

Greed Fuels Oakland Condo Conversion Law

Berkeley Food and Housing Project

Happy Holidays: Berkeley Targets the Homeless

Claire Burch Documents Life on the Streets

St. Joseph the Worker Needs Support

94 Years Old and Still Homeless

Judge Orders Fresno to Uphold U.S. Constitution

Stranded in the Season of Giving

Stories of Street Survival

A Criminal of Poverty

New Media Offensive for Iraq War

Poor Leonard's Almanack on Religion

AIDS & Poverty: A Deadly Link

Mysteries in Our Own Back Yard

December Poetry of the Streets


November 2006

October 2006

September 2006

July 2006

June 2006

May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Greed Fuels Oakland Condo-Conversion Proposal

"This condo-conversion proposal is a diabolical scheme involving three councilmembers who consistently serve the interests of greedy developers, landlords and realtors, who plan to profit from the displacement of thousands of low-income people from the City of Oakland." -- James Vann, Oakland Tenant's Union

by Lynda Carson

Tenant activists and Oakland City Councilmembers gather at Pacific Renaissance Plaza in Oakland to oppose the condo-conversion proposal. Lydia Gans photo

Prejudice and greed are fueling the latest drive to kill Oakland's condo-conversion protections, and it has Oakland renters very concerned. A newly proposed ordinance is moving forward through Oakland City Hall, a condo-conversion plan that would offer the false hope of homeownership to Oakland renters; even though the ordinance, if enacted, would saddle them with drowning debt and foreclosures.

The proposed legislation would end the requirement that any conversion of four or more rental units into condominiums in Oakland must be alleviated by the development of new rental housing units to replace the ones converted into condos.

The newly proposed ordinance would end over 20 years of housing protections that have shielded renters, would fuel mass evictions, and according to the Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA), 90 percent of Oakland renters would not be able to afford the pricey $350,000-$400,000 condominiums.

During the past year, rents in Santa Clara County shot up an average 10.4 percent after the recent gold rush of condo-conversions resulted in the rental housing market being undersupplied in these communities. Oakland renters already know what is in store for them if the condo-conversion proposal passes here.

With the realty market in a crash from the housing boom bust, and foreclosures hitting an all-time high in California, and actually doubling in some states in the past year, Oakland City Councilmembers Desley Brooks, Henry Chang and Ignacio De La Fuente have teamed up with local speculators in an effort to sell off Oakland's rental housing stock to the highest bidders.

Outraged by the incessant selfish and immoral actions of a city hell-bent on evicting or dislocating its low-income citizens, Oakland tenants and their advocates, including the East Bay Community Law Center and ACORN, have united to speak out against the push to steal rental housing from under the feet of Oakland's renters.

Despite a huge turnout in opposition to the proposed ordinance during a recent CEDA meeting on November 14, CEDA committee members voted in favor of passing the condo-conversion proposal to the Oakland City Council for a full vote. The proposal will return before the CEDA committee one last time on November 28 for a discussion about possible amendments, before heading to the full City Council meetings scheduled for December 5 and December 19.

Gracie Jones of the East Bay Community Law Center said, "Oakland's landlords are already threatening tenants with 5 Day Notices if the tenant fails to sign a contract supporting the landlord's efforts to convert the rental unit to a condominium, and we want Oakland renters to contact us first, before signing anything."

Measure EE, Oakland's Just Cause anti-eviction ordinance, states that tenants do not have to sign a new contract that materially changes existing rental contracts.

Members of Just Cause Oakland, the Oakland Tenant's Union and California Housing Law Project have argued against the condo-conversion proposal because it has not been adequately studied to determine the negative impacts upon Oakland's vulnerable low-income communities.

On Saturday, November 18, around 40 renters and advocates held a rally in downtown Oakland at the Pacific Renaissance Plaza, which included City Councilmembers Nancy Nadel and Jean Quan, and longtime tenant advocate James Vann.

"We were happy to see somewhere between 30 to 40 people turn out for our rally, because it was put together in such short notice," said Vann of the Oakland Tenant's Union. "This condo-conversion proposal is a diabolical scheme involving three councilmembers who consistently serve the interests of greedy developers, landlords and realtors, who plan to profit from the displacement of thousands of low-income people from the City of Oakland."

The ordinance calls for 800 to 1,500 condo-conversions per year if approved; and with only a 2.7 percent vacancy rate in Oakland, it will force up rents on existing rental units, placing thousands more of Oakland renters at risk of homelessness.

Converting Oakland's rental housing units into market-rate condominiums will not benefit 90 percent of Oakland's renters; and to put this proposal into perspective, keep in mind that Berkeley only allows 100 condo-conversions per year, and San Francisco set the cap at 200 condo-conversions a year.

This proposal is so bad that there are actually two CEDA reports available. The first staff report on the proposal made its backers look so monstrous, that they demanded another report in an effort to put the best face possible on a proposal that will have dire consequences for Oakland's renters.

The proposal's backers hope to have a done deal by Christmas, before newly elected Mayor Ron Dellums gets into office on January 1, while Mayor Jerry Brown may still weigh in to support this hideous proposal if it flounders along the way.

Tenant organizers are urging everyone to oppose the drive to convert Oakland's rental housing stock into condominiums, and are asking tenants to appear at the upcoming City Council meetings at Oakland City Hall, on December 5 and December 19, at 7 p.m. Show up early to sign up to speak against the proposal.

Lynda Carson may be reached at

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

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