Activists in Oakland submitted an emergency ordinance to the city administrator’s office last week that would temporarily halt evictions of residents from commercial properties and prevent red-tagging of buildings with non-life-threatening violations, The Mercury News reports. The move, by the newly formed Oakland Warehouse Coalition, aims to halt the evictions from makeshift spaces that have multiplied since the deadly Ghost Ship fire.
Matt Hummel, a member of the coalition, said since the fire — which killed 36 concert-goers on Dec. 2 — he’s received reports of at least a dozen tenants being kicked out of unpermitted live/work spaces throughout the city. The ordinance would prevent more evictions while city leaders and landlords come to a long-term solution.
“We had earnest, panicked landlords, and we also had landlords who knew this was an opportunity to move people out,” Hummel told The Mercury News. “We wanted to put a stop to it at least temporarily.”
The ordinance follows on the heels of a letter submitted by several survivors of the Ghost Ship fire to Mayor Libby Schaaf. With more than 1,000 signatures, the letter called for a moratorium on evictions and urged Schaaf to “clear a path for artists’ spaces to address safety concerns without risking expulsion.” It also called for a reassessment of housing policies and the permitting process.
The ordinance submitted Friday would place such an emergency moratorium on the eviction of tenants from commercially zoned properties, provide amnesty for past permitting violations at live/work spaces, give tenants two weeks notice of any inspection unless there are life-threatening safety concerns, and apply the city’s Just Cause for Eviction ordinance to commercial properties being used as residences, among other strengthened tenant protections.
“If there is a fear of displacement, property owners and tenants won’t cooperate with officials and tenants will be fearful to communicate with landlords and landlords will be afraid to communicate with tenants or cooperate with inspections,” says Steven DeCaprio, one of the ordinance’s authors. He believes this would incentivize tenants and property owners to make their spaces safer because they would feel more comfortable being forthright with the city.
Oakland’s city council will not return to session until Jan. 17, and thus will not be able to consider the ordinance until then. Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney told Mercury News she is not likely to include the ordinance on that day’s agenda, unless staff has time to review it first. Earlier this month, she asked staff to come up with an analysis of pathways to legalize commercial buildings for residential uses no later than February.
“I don’t want to give people false hope,” she said. “I don’t want us to be in a position where we say we can do something if state law prohibits us from doing that. … It needs to be analyzed.”
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.