The Struggle to Build Housing When You are Homeless -Poor and homeless builders struggle with Permit Gangsterism and Politricks

Tiny - Posted on 03 February 2020

“You owe $72,000 for these water and sewer permits,” said East Bay Municipal Water District (EBMUD) clerk to Homefulness

“We don’t have that kind of money,” we said.

“Well maybe you shouldn’t be building this project then…” EBMUD replied and then without waiting for a response walked away from us. These lines of disgusted discouragement leaving us, the Homefulness building co-leaders destroyed. One more little murder of the soul, as my Mama Dee used to call it. 


But sadly this was nothing new. This latest demand just took the permit gangsterism ( as I called it) to a new high.

Just to begin building this landless/houseless peoples solution to homelessness we were asked to come up with $29,000. More money than most of us had ever seen. And then there were the individual and constant building permits. Permit after permit was demanded and each one had its own exorbitant price and its own expensive inspection attached to it- which ran 200-500.00 depending on the agency, the utility, and/or the fee. For example a permit was required for toilets that just for the paper that said we could do it, not the appliances, the plumbing or the sewer or the water itself was priced at over $8,000 After hours and days and weeks and months and years of teaching folks with race and class privilege about radical redistribution of hoarded and stolen wealth to poor and indigenous people, which is how we fund this land liberation work and then more years and days and months of planning, working, organizing, praying, dreaming, poem-bringing, theatre-creating, story-telling, protesting, marching and teaching, us poor, migrant, indigenous and homeless builders standing shoulder to shoulder with an architect, designer and engineer and other folks with different forms of race, class and formal education privilege who had those papers saying they were “qualified” builders and engineers, submitted this prayerful and powerful project to the City of Oakland in 2011.


From the trauma of our own broken lives as evicted, houseless and gentriFUKed people, trying to manifest something different together on this stolen land to the trauma we get when we try to resist the set-up from the get-up, these kinds of statements were said more times than I actually want to remember. From poltricksters to permit gangsters, public and private, there has been an ongoing refrain of how hard, how expensive, how impossible and ultimately how unrealistic it was for us homeless and poor people to build our own solution to homelessness we call Homefulness. But we pushed on. Refusing to give up and let these settler-colonial lies (Laws) sanctioned thieves of Mama Earths’ water, energy, minerals and earth.


But the paper-trails are covered in blood and always have been. Since the Stealing Fathers (Founding Fathers) claiming that Mama Earth and her Earth’s peoples were something to buy and sell, committing genocidal terror on the indigenous peoples of this land and then enslaving, exporting and perpetrating more genocide on more African and Turtle Island indigenous peoples to manifest it. 


Now the genocide, removal and colonization looks like Blight notices, bankkksters, evictions, poLice and mortgages, permits, imminent domain, devil-Opment and seminars on how to Buy Your Ugly House.


"The "City" of Oakland  has been charging us several thousands of dollars we didn't have from the beginning just to build Homefulness t"to code" and its made it so hard for us to even build this project as poor folks, " Muteado Silencio, homeless, indigenous co-founder of Homefulness and POOR Magazine.


From the I-Hotel to Moms4Housing, moves to take back land have been met with poLice terror and guns because the ownership of Mama Earth can’t be questioned in this stolen land.


Homefulness, a homeless peoples solution to homelessness which was launched in 2011 by a multi-generational, multi-racial, community of homeless, migrant, disabled, and indigenous peoples trying to create their own self-determined solution, within the laws set forth by the Oakland Departmentt of Building Inspection (DBI) so it would never be a possibility for their dream to be destroyed or shut down by claims that it "wasn't up to code" which happens all the time to homeless and low-income builders, has been plagued from the beginning of their project by huge fees, from public and private agencies like PGE and DWP as well as the CIty itself that oversees building and construction projects.


Last month, before the holidays, they shut down Homefulness building process all together saying they "took too long" to build and assessed an "impact fee" which is supposedly to support low-income housing projects as well as told Homefulness we had to start all over again. 


Thanks to intense community pressure Homefulness just received a 30 day extension to the shut down, but in this crisis, the Homefulness project realized they have to speak out as these fees and and the process to build and try to work with conscious legislators to exempt poor and homeless people from these exorbitant fees and impossible requirements which make it impossible for homeless and poor people to manifest our own solutions and stay in our neighborhoods and communities.To date Homefulness has created sustainable and safe housing for 4 houseless families and disabled elders , a school for homeless children a sliding scale cafe for the community to eat healthy food and a poor and homeless people-run radio station.


"Affordable housing is not affordable, section eight vouchers are useless and when poor people build our own homes we get hit by thousand dollars permits over and over to come to the realization that the system want to keep us chasing our tails while city government continues to red tape our hands behind our back thus turning us back to the streets as they continue to play footies with million developers who are giving a green light to build multi million dollar luxury condos with no low income buy in., said Leroy Moore, formerly homeless, disabled co-founder of Homefulness and POOR Magazine


“Six years ago before I left DBI, they said they were trying to become more “business-like”,  said Bill Durham, long-time Oakland resident who was gentrified out of his neighborhood and stand with POOR Magazine to manifest this change. “After they said that permits got more expensive. I didnt even understand what they meant, I though we were there to serve the people of Oakland. “ Bill concluded. 


"When the City Swept our encampment they claimed our curbside homes weren't "up to code" which is how the City rationalized demolishing them."said Alfred Estrada, currently houseless after multiple sweeps and demolitions of encampments he was staying in. 


We poor and homeless people will not give up or give in to the same colonial forces that made us houseless in the first place. But we cannot stay silent about this anymore and we have no more money for these exorbitant fees so we are beginning a series of legislative visits to change this set-up from the get-up situation  for poor, working class and homeless builders in Oakland. Please stand with us- please join us as we continue the work of UnSElling Mama Earth and UngentriFUKing our neighborhoods and lives.


TOMORROW,TUESDAY, FEB 4th at 12 noon

Oakland City Hall- Oscar Grant Plaza - 14th & Broadway 

Oakland, Ca- ( Followed by a legislative visit to Nikki Fortunato Bass’ Homelessness Coordinator) more info here



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