When Vanessa and Richard Bulnes got an eviction notice, it felt sadly ironic. The Bulneses were unable to pay the rent because their corporate landlord took three years to remediate high levels of lead in the backyard soil, which caused Vanessa to lose her business -- a family home child care that she had run for more than 20 years.
"There were nights where I would wake up and think, 'We're squatters.' And we felt really bad about that because it was never our intention to not pay rent," Vanessa said. "Because after you lose a house for not paying your mortgage, we knew that’s not the way to go. This was like a second chance. We didn’t want to be at the mercy of somebody saying, 'You gotta get out' again."
It was the latest in a string of injustices that happened to the Bulnes family: first, loan modification fraud, then foreclosure, now the threat of eviction. Their story is emblematic of a bigger problem: the disproportionate loss of African-American and Latino wealth during the foreclosure crisis and the obstacles to build up that wealth again. Between 2007 and 2013, so many African-American and Latino homeowners in Oakland were wiped out by foreclosure that entire neighborhoods were transformed. Many of the homes that were lost ended up in the hands of corporate investors, who then rented them out, sometimes to the same families who had lost their own homes. And that put those families, like the Bulneses, at risk of much more loss.