The movement of middle-class people into low-income neighborhoods is profoundly and rapidly reshaping the urban core of the Bay Area, from San Francisco’s Mission District to the farthest reaches of East Oakland, according to a sweeping report released Tuesday.
It’s called gentrification, and those most adversely affected – the poor and working class, African Americans and Latinos – are suffering financially as well as physically, according to the report, “Development Without Displacement: Resisting Gentrification in the Bay Area.”
Oakland lost almost half of its African American population from 1990 to 2011, and fewer African Americans own homes, says the report from Causa Justa, an Oakland housing advocacy group, and the Alameda County Public Health Department. Rents in neighborhoods that were once predominantly African American, such as North Oakland and West Oakland, have risen so high they’re now closing in on those in Rockridge and Montclair.
In fact, Oakland had some of the country’s highest rents and rent increases in 2013, real estate data show.
“The housing market conditions are completely out of control, with no real accountability to the people who are being displaced,” said Robbie Clark of Causa Justa. “These stark rent increases, people being forced to move far away and commute longer – these are not signs of healthy communities.”
Scope of the report
The 112-page report examined census figures on home sales and rents, as well as residents’ income, race and education level over a 20-year period in San Francisco and Oakland.
Jon Bean, 31, is among those displaced. A longtime resident of North Oakland, he moved to 94th Avenue in East Oakland in 2004 for cheaper rent. But last year he was forced out of there, as well, when his rent for a two-bedroom apartment jumped from $1,100 to $1,800, despite the neighborhood’s high crime rate.
Now he and his three kids live in a $945-per-month apartment in Antioch, and he commutes about three hours round-trip daily for his job at a nonprofit in Oakland.
“I spend so much time commuting I hardly see my kids,” he said. “On my lunch break, sometimes I go to my old neighborhood in North Oakland and it’s totally different. There used to be kids playing in the street, basketball games going on. Now it’s a lot of ‘For Sale’ signs and cafes.”
Stress and longer commutes – and the resulting mental and physical impacts – are typical for those forced to move farther afield, according to the report.
Good for some
But for some, gentrification has been a blessing. Rising home prices and community investment have played a role in lowering crime, improving schools and bringing more amenities like grocery stores and banks, said Councilman Larry Reid, who represents East Oakland.
“Change is always good,” he said. While gentrification once meant only more white people moving in, today many Latinos are part of the incoming middle class. Reid noted that his district is increasingly Latino as African Americans continue to move away. “Where we once had vacant storefronts, we now have Latino businesses. And in the hills we’re seeing young families from San Francisco. It’s definitely shifting.”
Furthermore, African Americans have left Oakland for many reasons, he said, not just rising rents. Homeowners were able to sell when prices were high, and others left in search of better schools and safer streets.
Kate Phillips, a real estate agent who specializes in Maxwell Park, an East Oakland neighborhood near Mills College, said open houses these days are packed with 100 people or more, and most homes receive multiple offers. The threat of crime is outweighed by the relatively low prices, good weather and proximity to parks and cultural amenities, she said.
A 558-square-foot cottage listed for $299,000 is currently in escrow for “well over” the asking price after receiving eight offers, she said. The buyers are a couple from San Francisco with a baby.
“It’s a mob scene,” she said, describing interest from San Francisco buyers. “Maybe once this was considered the hinterlands, but now? No. Absolutely not.”
Keeping people in place
The Causa Justa report emphasized that government and the public need to do more to keep low-income people in their homes so they can enjoy the benefits of gentrification without being displaced. Stricter rent control and antiforeclosure laws, more affordable housing and greater public input in planning decisions would help, the report said.
Olis Simmons, head of Youth Uprising, an East Oakland community center, said that villainizing newcomers is not the way to go. Development and investment should be welcome in poor neighborhoods. But residents should be able to benefit from the new jobs and other perks.
“It’s true, I’m beginning to see white people in (deep East Oakland). … The only reason it hasn’t happened sooner is because we have six shootings a day around here,” she said. “The question is not whether this change is good or bad. It’s how do we find a balance, and how do we start the conversation?”
Carolyn Jones is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org