Housing Law That Protects Artists is Needed Now in the Bay Area
The tragedy in Oakland has caused tremendous pain, loss, and fear. In its wake, the artistic communities both in the Bay Area and abroad morn the brutal loss of life and also fear for the future. Artist collectives in the Bay Area and across the United States have come under threat for eviction following the nationally publicized tragedy.
In Oakland the pressure is building, many tenants who have not yet had time to grieve have already been vistited by city officials asking about their permititng and in many cases landlords have simply served eviction notices out of fear or self interest.
Landlords and city officials are right to fear another tragedy due to unsafe living conditions in buildings sometimes not zoned or permited for work/living situations. But we should not react thoughtlessly. Evicting more artists and Oakland residents in general will not solve this problem or bring any of the victims back. It will only cause more pain in the community.
In April of this year, the Oakland City Council approved a 90-day moratorium on rent hikes & evictions because of the affordable housing crisis we have been facing all over the bay area. We need similar emergency legislation now. To protect residents in the short term, and to give our officials time to come up with long term solutions.
Thankfully, Oakland has politicians who value the artistic community and recognize how important creative people are to the culture and vibrancy of a city. On Thursday the Oakland City Counsil finished declaring a state of emergency in Oakland thereby applying for relief funds from state and federal agencies. At this council meeting many members of the Oakland community voiced their concerns about displacement. You can watch the entire counsil meeting here.
Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney assured those in attendance that the council was NOT “looking to bring down the hammer and cause mass evictions” but rather the city was looking for ways to work with tenants and landlords to help the situation. To make the city permitting system more approachable, and to look at legislation that has worked in the past in similar housing crisis. Namely the NY Loft Laws. Laws that were instrumental to protecting New York’s creative spaces in the past. These were wise and reassuring words.
Vice Mayor Annie Campbell Washington had strong words in support of the artistic community, she said, “I choose to believe we can preserve our artists here in Oakland, that we can preserve your housing, that we can preserve your spaces…I don’t know what we are able to say to today to allay all your fears…but I believe we will do this hard work to preserve the artistic community of Oakland.”
When you hear the things that McElhaney & Washington expressed, you thank your stars you live in a culturally enlightened place like the Bay Area. But we still need to push for immidiate change, they certainly can’t do it alone.
The New York Loft Laws are fairly simple, and should be tailored to fit both Oakland and San Francisco law. If you are a tenant in a building that qualifies in their model, the benefits are very clear:
- you’ll no longer be at risk of being vacated for illegal residency by the DOB
- you’ll live in a safe building
- your unit will be rent stabilized
- your unit will be a legal live/work loft
- you can stay for life with all the protections of rent stabilization
- one-time sucession right for family members
- you’ll have guaranteed services (heat, hot water, electricity, habitability)
- you’ll be able to go to Housing Court if there are any problems with the building
- you’ll have the right to sell your Loft Law rights – your landlord has to buy you out if he wants to avoid rent stabilization for the unit, and both of you must agree to the dollar amount
- if your landlord sells the building you keep all these benefits with the new landlord.
There is a wonderful breakdown the NY model on nyclofttenants.org. It explains requirements, benefits, and the application process in the NY model. We think our government legislators, landlords, and the artistic community should take a look at it too.
We will have more on how the community is organizing to help this situation in meaningful ways going forward. Meanwhile, if you have the means, here is a link to donate to the Fire Relief Fund for Victims of Ghostship Oakland Fire organized by the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts non-profit