Get Up, Get Down, Theres a Houzin' Crisis in This Town


root - Posted on 18 February 2002

PNN re-ports and Sup-ports on a tenants protest of The Rental Housing Assoc a.k.a. the landlords, who are against Measure EE, the Just Cause legislation in
Oakland

by Michael Vizcarra/PoorNewsNetwork Community Journalist

Oakland, one of the most ethnically and economically diverse city in the
nation, doesn't care about its tenants. Even with the rising costs of
housing, landlords have the ability to use no-cause evictions to get higher
rent and push out long time residents of color, families with children, and
seniors to make more of a profit. Evictions and rising housing costs have
already pushed thousands of residents, especially African Americans, out of
Oakland. In other words, landlords do not have to give tenants any reason
to evict them. They just can. Measure EE, proposed by Just Cause Oakland,
requires landlords to have a valid reason if they want to force a tenant to
leave their home.

On Thursday night, October 17, 2000 Just Cause staged one of their
best protest and rally to date, to Re-port and Sup-port for
PoorNewsNetwork(PNN), I was a part of it. Over 70 of us took a rented bus
from the Just Cause headquarters on 16th and Telegraph to 4700 Lincoln
Avenue where Measure EE's strongest opponents, The Rental Housing
Association of Northern Alameda County (RHANAC), were having their monthly
meeting. Once we arrived chants of, "Get up, get down, there's a housing
crisis in this town," came from the enthusiastic crowd and echoed through
the still night air. The landlords were not expecting this.

"Since 1998, the eviction rate [in Oakland] has gone up 300%," says
Margaret Solle, a volunteer on the media committee for Just Cause Oakland.
"75% are people of color, 50% are African-American, and about 20 to 25% are
seniors with disabilities," she added. "We need to get the message out
there."

The landlords didn't want to hear any of it. As soon as they heard
the chants and saw us outside their meeting place they quickly closed the
blinds of their windows; once again turning a blind eye from the people
they house. We couldn't enter the meeting, but a few Just Cause organizers
had secretly "infiltrated" the meeting before we arrived. Adam Gold was
one of them.

"They talked about different Measures," he says, "but the emphasis
was on Measure EE.

"It's great because right when they were talking about EE, Just
Cause came and started the protest. It was perfect timing," says Gold.

It was amazing to see such a diverse group at a protest. We
consisted of activists, tenants, homeowners, and even landlords. The ages
ranged from the very young to seniors. There were also many different
ethnicities that made up the protestors. And there were several who spoke
about their experiences of being a victim to no-cause eviction.

There was Doris, an elderly African-American woman, who was evicted
for no reason after 36 years of living at the same location. There was a
young woman, pregnant of 7 months, African-American, who was also evicted
for no reason. There was Kevin and there was Sue. And the list goes on.
To the landlords, these people are like the names on this page: faceless
and part of a statistic.

"They say we're acting like children out here and the adults are in
there," yells Doris, who was at the meeting a few moments before.

"These swines in here care nothing except for money," says Ron,
from Campaign for Renters' Rights. "Many people are homeless because of
landlords."

One example of that is of Meika Johnson. Meika was evicted twice
because of no-cause eviction practice. The first time was in 1999. Meika
and her husband and son were renting a two-bedroom apartment in Oakland for
$660/month. One night they arrived home to find an eviction notice. They
had 30 days to move out. They tried to fight the eviction or at least get
more time to move, but the landlord would not have it. She knew the
landlord just wanted to rent to someone else for higher rent but she could
not prove it. Therein lies the problem with the current laws in Oakland:
without having to give a cause, the burden of proof is on the tenant that
the eviction occurred to raise the rent or in retaliation. The vast
majority of tenants do not fight a no-cause eviction primarily because it
is too overwhelming - knowing that in 30 days they will be homeless - and
the legal costs.

Meika had to spend 6 months with relatives until she finally found
a home in Newark in 2000. She was pushed out of Oakland because of the
rising cost of housing. But just when she thought she finally could get
back on track, once again she was served with eviction papers 18 months
later. And once again she had 30 days to move out. No reason, no-cause.
She asked the landlord why she was being evicted but he explained, "By law
I'm not obligated to give a reason." Meika had to move in with relatives
again until she could find another place to live.

By December 2001, Meika found a home in Hayward. She now pays
$1200/month for her apartment but also has another son to take care of.
Her husband has been recently laid-off from his job and she fears that soon
they will have to move again to find cheaper housing. Her bills have been
piling up and she is, for the first time, late on her rent.

"You can't even begin to catch up [on bills]," she says. "You have
to start from scratch each time you move. There's the first month's rent
and a deposit. I'm afraid I won't be able to find another place because of
my eviction record. The eviction record doesn't show why you're evicted."

This is an endless cycle, one that can lead to homelessness. Who
knows what would have happened to them, if Meika and her family were not
able to move in with relatives? They have already been displaced from
Oakland, having to move further away to find housing they could afford.
This is typical of what's happening to thousands of people in Oakland.

I also spoke with an African-American landlord, who wished to
remain anonymous, who attended the RHANAC meeting. Asked his reaction to
the protest, he replied, "We hardly even noticed. It didn't bother us."

I inquired why he was against Measure EE. He stated that the
Measure lets a tenant sublet his apartment without letting the landlord
screen the new applicant, e.g., through an interview or a credit check.
Therefore, he says, the quality of life goes down if the new tenant is not
screened properly and starts creating problems. He also said that there is
already a current law does the same thing Measure EE calls for.

Andrea Cousins, Media Coordinator for Just Cause Oakland, says
that's not true. "The existing laws are poorly constructed. They have
nothing to do with eviction protection," she says.

"Measure EE does not take away landlords' rights to screen
applicants. The clause in the Measure is for replacing a roommate, not for
subletting an apartment," says Andrea. "It closes the loopholes in
existing housing laws. It keeps tenants in their apartments."

The protest ended as the meeting came to a close. "Boo's" and
"hisses" came from the protestors as the landlords hurriedly made their way
out of the building. Police officers were on guard in case something
happened. One woman asked a police officer to take the protesters away.
The officer replied, "These people are really passionate about what they're
saying and doing."

As I rode the bus back to Just Cause headquarters, I couldn't help
but think how much of an impact we were making. Back in June, Just Cause
needed 19,200 signatures to qualify the initiative; they got 36,000
signatures. Recent polls show that 66% of voters would vote "yes" for
Measure EE. Some estimates show that up to 70% would vote "yes." The
people want Measure EE to pass. The people need Measure EE to pass. I can
still hear the chants on the way home. "Aqui estamos. Y no nos vamos!"
I'm glad I was a part of it.

PNN RADIO

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