How Many Are Being Displaced by Gentrification in Oakland?

10 min
Community advocacy group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) leads 'Tent City' protest over home foreclosure auction. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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here are a couple of go-to topics of conversation when you meet someone new in the Bay Area -- the weather and the crushing cost of housing. The first is a bit befuddling for a place that sees so little weather variation from day to day, and even month to month. But housing on the other hand ... ooof. There is so much to say.

Rents are up. Housing prices are up. We're all paying more and it seems no one is immune.

The place where prices are rising the fastest isn't San Francisco anymore -- it's Oakland. Between July 2011 and July 2016 the median price of a home nearly doubled to $626,000, according to real estate website Trulia. And median rents went up by $1,100 during that time.

Seeing these market forces at play, Bay Curious listener Elena Foshay wonders: "How many people are actually being displaced by gentrification in Oakland?"

Driving at a Number

Ok, first, a disclaimer: It's nearly impossible to get an exact number of how many people are being displaced because we can't know why everyone decides, or is forced, to move. It's not like there is an exit survey that people fill out when they drive their U-Haul across the Oakland border.

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We can use U.S. Census Bureau outmigration data to learn about who is leaving Oakland, and that can give us some clues about the magnitude of economic displacement.

Assuming that all things are fair and equal (I know, I know, use your imagination for a moment), we would expect people of different income groups to move out of a city at a rate proportional to their population in the city. In Oakland, 14.6 percent of households make less than $30,000, so we'd expect about 14.6 percent of people in that income level to leave the city.

Between 2010 and 2014, Trulia found 28 percent of those leaving Oakland made less than $30,000. That's nearly double what we would expect, and confirms that low-income people are leaving the city at disproportionately high rates. At the other end of the spectrum, high-income earners making $150,000 or more are leaving at a rate about 30 percent lower than expected. All this points to cost being a major driver of who has to leave and who gets to stay.

How many people are we talking about?

During that five-year span between 2010 and 2014, 104,544 people left Oakland. (Sidenote: 108,649 people moved in, so overall the city grew.) So, we'll speculate that during the five-year span, at least 14,008 left Oakland for economic reasons.

That number is likely on the low end of reality because it doesn't factor in households making more than $30,000. There are certainly many people making middle or high incomes who can't afford a comfortable life in Oakland, especially with a family.

We can also tell from census data that people of color are leaving Oakland in record numbers. Since 2000, the city has lost 30 percent of its black population -- a notable trend for a city that was once 47 percent black, and home to the Black Panther Party.

Where is Everybody Going?

According to census data, the majority of residents being pushed out of Oakland are staying in California.

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Housing prices are on the rise in Antioch, too.

KQED reporters Devin Katayama and Sandhya Dirks spent a year reporting on the outmigration of low-income residents and people of color from Oakland, San Francisco and Richmond to the surrounding suburbs.

"As we were reporting on Oakland we kept hearing, 'Oh, they're going out to Antioch,' 'He moved to Antioch,' 'She moved to Antioch,' " says Dirks. "So, we went to Antioch."

The traditionally white working-class community about 45 miles east of San Francisco is undergoing a change that is often overlooked in reports about gentrification in the Bay Area.

Listen to the first episode of their project, American Suburb, which is Season 1 of KQED's Q'ed Up podcast. Their work answers many more questions about the impacts of gentrification on Oakland and beyond.

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American Suburb: The Tipping Point

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