Manhattan Comes to Oakland

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We have just walked two blocks past cool to the downtown Oakland of homeless people and old parking lots. I'm with a commercial broker looking at an almost perfect office that we might squeeze into, when I learn that the asking has gone up 60 cents-a-square-foot in the past 10 days. I know we are caught in a change moment. 

The influx of money into Oakland has been both charming and alarming. There's a real danger that the people who made this town a vibrant place to live and work -- most especially communities of color -- are being forced out, and so are the small businesses and non-profits that fill downtown buildings. My national non-profit has been based in downtown Oakland for over 20 years and we've seen the changes.

Our lease is up and the new owners have been kindly waiting for us to find new space, but they want to gut the entire floor and rent it to one tenant. That's a thing now: but what if 5000 square feet isn't in your budget? Businesses fleeing the Manhattanized rents in the city are flooding the Oakland office market. The tipping point was probably Uber's announced move to the old Sears store just a few blocks from our office. Uber neighbor equals uber rent hikes. Our broker told us that the last month has been the most dramatic shift in downtown Oakland he's seen in 30 years. 

There have to be solutions and ways that the super techies can live together with the change makers and small businesses in our city's core. The employees of 150 non-profits spend our days trying to stop hate, serve foster youth, make media with young people and save the environment. We need to mix with the business and government workers who share our city. City leaders, building owners, corporate execs and others with the policy and economic tools to fix this problem, we're asking you to step up and help protect the soul of our town. Don't let San Francisco happen to us too. 

Oh, we lost that almost perfect office to a legal group with a big co-signer. If you see anything on Craigslist, let me know. 


With a Perspective, I'm Patrice O'Neill.

Patrice O'Neill is CEO of Not In Our Town, a national non-profit working to stop hate and bullying.