Who can really afford rent in the Bay Area? Beats the heck out of me

Welcome to another episode of the top-rated game show, “Who Can Really Afford to Rent in the Bay Area?” I’m your host, It Beats the Heck Out of Me.

In the last episode, we met Crystal Chandler, a single mother who was evicted from her apartment in Concord. It turned out fine because she moved to Arizona and bought a house.

In today’s episode, the audience will get to know Jenn Oakley, a homeless woman affectionately known as Tennessee Jenn on the street. She’s lived in Oakland for 14 years, moving here from — you guessed it — Tennessee.

Earlier this week, I met Oakley on 10th Street outside of the Lake Merritt Tuff Sheds. She had her face in the hood of her car. It was leaking oil.

Oakley’s in a construction-training program and has a full-time security job which pays her about $1,800 per month. She’s lived at the transitional housing site since February. She’s ready to move out, but she’s having trouble securing financial help. And she was having trouble getting a meeting with the site’s housing coordinator.

“I’m finding places, but I don’t know if I have the income,” Oakley, 41, said. “I’m scared to death I’m not gonna be able to pay my rent. I’m not saying, ‘Please pay my whole rent for a year.’ I just need a little help through school.”

 Who can really afford rent in the Bay Area? Beats the heck out of meJenn Oakley, 41, walks with her dog Fattie outside the Lake Merritt Community Cabins, located at 9 10th St., in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. The unsheltered are housed in storage sheds at the site. According to reopening guidelines, counties can’t open unless they can house 15 percent of its unsheltered population. The county has around 8,000 folks who are unsheltered. The Lake Merritt site was scheduled to be shut down at the end of the month, but Oakland has canceled those plans. Oakley is having trouble getting help to find something on her own.

Oakley has a clear-eyed understanding of her situation. She’s crunched the numbers. In April, the average one-bedroom apartment in Oakland cost $2,460 per month, according to Rent Jungle, a real estate tracking website.

Listening to her made me think: If someone as dedicated as Oakley is finding it hard to get an affordable apartment, how will Oakland and Alameda County manage to find permanent, affordable housing for the hundreds of people being moved into hotels and trailers because of the coronavirus? And how will the people left on the street to struggle with addiction, mental disorders and lack of opportunity find their way to housing?

It beats the heck out of me.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. First, part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan for reopening parts of the state includes the criteria that counties will need to show they can temporarily house at least 15% of their homeless residents. Do the math: Alameda County has 8,000 people living on the street, which means 1,200 need to be moved indoors.

That’s on the to-do list of Kerry Abbott, director of the county’s Office of Homeless Care and Coordination.

“We always had a goal of getting to around that number of (hotel) rooms, so that’s the direction we’ve been headed in,” Abbott told me. “We currently have 522 under lease, and it’ll be back up to 530 when we have some room repairs done. Under consideration, we currently have over 700 that we are in some form of negotiation with.”

That’s 1,200 people who most likely won’t be able to find permanent housing without assistance. Housing navigation is even more complicated now because landlords haven’t been showing vacant units, according to Darin Lounds, executive director of Housing Consortium of the East Bay. The organization provides housing services and manages transitional sites, including the Lake Merritt sheds and Operation HomeBase, which opened last week in East Oakland.

“It was really just to limit exposure to COVID, not having people coming in and out of a unit to view it,” said Lounds, referring to landlords. “That’s meant that we’ve had kind of a backlog of folks.”

Folks like Oakley. Before the coronavirus, she was in the fourth week of a 10-week training program at Rising Sun Center for Opportunity. The organization provides job training to low-income adults who want careers in the construction industry. Oakley wants to be a heavy equipment operator and mechanic. A hard worker, she was April’s employee of the month at the security company.

After moving to the Bay Area, Oakley sold insurance. Her slide into homelessness began when her father died in 2009. He was her best friend, she told me.

“I just felt like I didn’t have anybody to prove anything to,” she said. “I went nuts, just lost it. I spent all the money he left me. And then I ended up on the streets of Oakland.”

She started using methamphetamine. She lost everything, she said.

“The whole thing about homelessness is it becomes a lifestyle, and you just live it,” she said. “When you’re doing drugs and having fun, then homelessness can be fun.”

In October, she had a stroke in a motel. When she woke up, she said, the right side of her body was paralyzed. After a two-month hospital stay, she began rebuilding her life.

I believe she’s ready to have a home again. She simply needs more help than most. And that’s OK, because everyone deserves the security that comes from having a stable home.

When I interviewed Oakley, she told me she hadn’t showered in four days. That’s because the mobile shower comes to the sheds once a week on Wednesday mornings, a day that Oakley’s shift starts at 7 a.m.

“The only thing saving me is that during COVID everybody has to wear masks and they can’t smell me,” she said, laughing.

The day after I inquired about Oakley’s housing prospects, she had a meeting with the site’s director. There’s a follow-up scheduled for next week, Oakley said. Does this mean she’s now a step closer to getting a place?

C’mon, folks, you know my name: It Beats the Heck Out of Me. Wear your mask, and please join us next time on “Who Can Really Afford to Rent in the Bay Area?”

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Otis R. Taylor Jr. appears Mondays and Thursdays. Email: otaylor@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @otisrtaylorjr

Article source: https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/otisrtaylorjr/article/Who-can-really-afford-rent-in-the-Bay-Area-Beats-15271337.php

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