From L-R, Anthony Smith, Solaire Spellen and April Haley talk during a break at the second African American Tenants Union gathering. Oakland resident Haley said she learned about the event from friends.
 Sara Hossaini/KQED
From L-R, Anthony Smith, Solaire Spellen and April Haley talk during a break at the second African American Tenants Union gathering. Oakland resident Haley said she learned about the event from friends.  (Sara Hossaini/KQED)

Black Housing Union Emerges in Oakland

Black Housing Union Emerges in Oakland

The leaders of a local nonprofit that helped push a statewide rent cap through the Legislature this month are now focusing on building an African American housing union in Oakland.

About 100 black residents, city leaders and advocates gathered at the West Oakland Branch of the Oakland Public Library on Saturday to discuss ways to fight displacement. It was the second town hall this summer. The first was held in May.

Local Maurice Hedgepeth said he said he's here because he has a good job as a truck driver but can't see himself owning a home where he grew up.
Maurice Hedgepeth said he said he's here because he has a good job as a truck driver but can't see himself owning a home where he grew up. (Sara Hossaini/KQED)

Standing outside the door of the packed room, local resident Maurice Hedgepeth said he came because he has a good job as a truck driver but can't see himself owning a home where he grew up.

"I was just hoping to hear that they were walking down the path of solutions that can help get a lot of us out of this problem," said Hedgepeth.

The meeting focused on educating people about housing rights, including a presentation from the city's Rent Adjustment Board about what sorts of rent hikes are allowable and how to arbitrate illegal increases.

Former Black panther Arthur Tenette expressed frustration that black displacement, something he remembers battling decades ago, is still an ongoing issue. "These babies are gonna figure out rent control before we figure out how to keep Black people in Oakland!" said Tenette.
Former Black Panther Arthur Tenette expressed frustration that black displacement, something he remembers battling decades ago, is still an ongoing issue. "These babies are gonna figure out climate change before we figure out how to keep black people in Oakland!" said Tenette. (Sara Hossaini/KQED)

It also focused on the housing discrimination black folks have historically faced in Oakland — such as redlining — with the ultimate goal of mobilizing those who are impacted.

That included informing attendees about strategies that are already at play. For example, the Oakland Community Land Trust "removes land from the speculative market so that it serves low-income residents forever." It is among the organizations that will benefit from $12 million allocated in this year's city budget to create a municipal fund supporting such trusts and limited equity housing cooperatives.

Carole Fife directs the Oakland Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, the group behind the event.
Carroll Fife directs the Oakland Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, the group behind the event. (Sara Hossaini/KQED)

"We want to see a group of people who are ready to activate around policy changes, and folks who are willing to put their bodies on the line to do direct action the way that we do it," said Carroll Fife, director of the Oakland Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, which organized the event.

ACCE Oakland said it already has an anti-displacement chapter that meets every Thursday, as well as East and West Oakland chapters that meet twice a month.

"The crisis has been going on for many years," said resident RoQuel Johnson, "and how do we as a community start really doing some action?"
"The crisis has been going on for many years," said resident RocQuel Johnson, "and how do we as a community start really doing some action?" (Sara Hossaini/KQED)

"It was worth coming out," said RocQuel Johnson, who still works downtown despite being pushed out of Oakland. "We need to get out and really start knocking on some doors."

The nascent Black Housing Union is a subcommittee that will look at how housing issues impact the black community and support homegrown solutions. A number of ACCE affiliates statewide are looking at expanding the black tenants union to other California cities.

A panel featuring Darleen Flynn of the City of Oakland’s Department of Race & Equity, Chanee Franklin Minor of the City of Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Program, and Zachary Murray of the Oakland Community Land Trust discuss housing affordability and community land ownership at a Black Tenants Union meeting put on by ACCE in September 2019.
A panel — featuring Darlene Flynn of Oakland’s Department of Race & Equity, Chanee Franklin Minor of Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Program and Zachary Murray of the Oakland Community Land Trust — discusses housing affordability and community land ownership at a Black Tenants Union meeting put on by ACCE in September 2019. (Sara Hossaini/KQED)
Laney College student Kai Johnson said he heard about the meeting from his political science teacher. "Not only will I get extra credit," said Johnson, "but I'm trying to stay in Oakland, I'm just trying not to move from the Bay Area, so I'm trying to figure out ways to keep black people in Oakland."
Laney College student Kai Johnson heard about the meeting from his political science teacher. "Not only will I get extra credit," said Johnson, "but I'm trying to stay in Oakland, I'm just trying not to move from the Bay Area, so I'm trying to figure out ways to keep black people in Oakland." (Sara Hossaini/KQED)
David Peters is a third generation West Oakland resident. "The vacancy tax is running black people out of Oakland," said Peters, "My family has historically housed black people; How do we create union between tenants rights and historical black multi-generation property owners so we are not pushed out by white techies who are using the rent rules to allow them with their high salaries to come into our properties? "
David Peters is a third-generation West Oakland resident. "The vacancy tax is running black people out of Oakland," said Peters. "My family has historically housed black people. How do we create union between tenants rights and historical black multigeneration property owners so we are not pushed out by white techies who are using the rent rules to allow them with their high salaries to come into our properties?" (Sara Hossaini/KQED)

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