The East Bay Housing Crisis
This past week I volunteered at the East Bay Housing Organization’s interfaith breakfast. The event was about how faith-based institutions play a part in creating affordable housing solutions in their community. The event was held in Walnut Creek at the Universalist Unitarian Church. Caroline, the Jesuit Volunteer here at St. Mary’s Center, went with me and my three other roommates. The event was a good opportunity for all of us to learn more about what is being done in the East Bay area to create more affordable housing. More and more apartments are being built and rented at market rate and the developers aren’t building affordable housing, especially for those on a fixed income making under $1,000 a month.
When I learned that I would be moving to the Bay Area, I understood that there was extreme gentrification happening in San Francisco and that it was spilling over to the East Bay, but I didn’t realize how extreme the crisis was until I moved here and started exploring the area more. Under many underpasses in Oakland, you can find a homeless encampment. The homeless crisis affects populations differently. Families don’t face the same struggles as seniors, and able-bodied people don’t have the same roadblocks as non-able-bodied people, but all have multiple, complicated barriers to permanent housing. To describe how the housing and homeless crisis affects Oaklanders would take an incredibly long time; so I will focus specifically on how it affects extremely low-income seniors: persons over 55 years of age living on a fixed income making way under a $1,000 a month.
The waiting time for many of the housing options they apply for can be anywhere from six months to five years, but that is only if they get onto the waiting list. Where do homeless seniors live while they wait for an affordable unit? There are not enough shelters and/or transitional housing units available for homeless seniors to live in while they search and wait for permanent affordable housing. The Oakland homeless population has grown substantially over the past five years due to high rents, long wait times for subsidized housing and an inadequate number of shelter beds. We have lost many affordable units to developers who bought foreclosed properties and turned them into market-rate units. Subsequently, existing landlords displaced tenants legally and illegally to cash in on the booming rental markets. More and more people moved into the Bay Area trying to avoid the ridiculously high San Francisco rents, forcing deeper pockets of gentrification in Oakland.
Living outside is a health crisis, comparable to what happens after a natural disaster or refugee crisis. People live in deplorable situations with no running water and sanitation. San Diego is experiencing a serious outbreak of hepatitis in their homeless encampments. The news article said that it is because people do not have access to public restrooms. San Diego is literally bleaching down its streets in an attempt to curb the outbreak. If you look at the conditions in Oakland encampments, we could be next.
The encampments should be classified as a public health crisis and community, city and county need to respond accordingly. We need to treat people as if they are going through a crisis with care and respect and a true offer of real help, just like we do when people lose everything and their homes. People living on the streets need access to clean bathrooms, showers, handwashing stations, fresh food, and other basic necessities that could help their situation.
St. Mary’s Center does everything it can to help place seniors into permanent affordable housing, but when we have 50,000 people apply for 30 units in a new affordable housing complex, it’s an uphill climb to get seniors housed. The city and county are working on solutions that will include expanding transitional housing units and designating open space for safe encampments. It’s up to all of us, community, city, and county to treat people who live outside with the respect they deserve or the homeless crisis will continue to get worse. We have a social justice group who is working on issues – email Janny Castillo, Hope and Justice Coordinator to find out more firstname.lastname@example.org.
Claire is the 2016-17 XPLOR intern with our Resources for the Third Age program. During her time with us, she will be writing a weekly blog on her experiences with St. Mary's Center including insights into our programming, interviews with clients, and more. To see all of her posts, check out our XPLOR tag.