West Oakland hyper gentrification in the WSJ

This Craigslist screen shot illustrates the trend: "nice&clean" in West Oakland.

Two stories on the theme of gentrification and displacement – a topic we at the Guardian have expended plenty of ink on – ran in major news outlets recently, showing how intense the Bay Area housing market pressure has become as it continues to be fueled by a rapid growth in high-salaried jobs in big tech.

Zeroing in on San Francisco, the LA Times turned an eye toward Mission District gentrification, illustrating the growing divide with a succinct comment overheard on a Muni bus: "I don't know why old people ride Muni. If I were old, I'd just take Uber."

And a Wall Street Journal article provides an eye-opening account of how REO Homes LLC is literally seeking to accelerate the gentrification process by “beautifying” West Oakland, an historic Black neighborhood that is home to predominantly low-income and working-class residents. (Note: The article may be behind a paywall.)

Minutes from downtown San Francisco via BART, West Oakland is dotted with Victorians and was hit with a wave of foreclosure during the economic crash, destabilizing the lives of many families who lost their homes.

REO is an investment firm helped along by San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, a well-connected venture capitalist (he even hosted a Democratic Party fundraiser with President Barack Obama at his Pacific Heights mansion earlier this year).

As the Journal’s Robbie Whelan reports, REO has been shelling out top dollar to spruce up not just its holdings, but residences nearby its West Oakland properties. In a rarely seen form of hyper-gentrification, the company has been planting trees, sprucing up homes (for free) of neighbors who aren’t in the market to sell or rent, mending fences, and making other improvements – all in an effort to lure higher-income residents to the neighborhood.

Since 2008, the height of the real-estate market crash, REO has acquired more than 200 homes in Oakland, Whelan reports, mostly in West Oakland. “Most houses cost around $200,000,” he writes, “and [founder Neill Sullivan] said he invests as much $100,000 to fix each one up.”

Real-estate agents have been marketing the neighborhood – which is no stranger to violent crime – to house-hunters as an affordable, nearby alternative to astronomically expensive San Francisco. Now that many people who weren’t able to keep up with mortgage payments have been forced out by foreclosure (see: robocalls, bungled loan modifications, foreclosure abuses), things are changing swiftly, as if by magic. Armed with cash, bankers are chasing away the blight and rolling out the welcome mat for up-and-comers who can’t swing it for that $3,000 one-bedroom in the city.

All of which will likely result in further displacement of Oakland residents who are barely holding on as it is. As Oakland councilwoman Desley Brooks told the Journal: "I'm not interested in finding housing for San Franciscans who can no longer afford San Francisco. I'm interested in helping people here in Oakland.”


In case it is not clear my "candor and clarity" comment was in response to the guest from w. oakland's post.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 1:57 am

Have to say, that was beautifully stated. I appreciate the candor and clarity with which you described the situation. You understand and care and yet still keep a cool disposition about things. 'Tis a rare quality. Keep on - and glad you did "chime in".

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 1:54 am

You had me agreeing until this stuff:
"the reason it is a cause for alarm, is because of course they're not actually doing it for the people who live here. They're doing it so they can bring in newer, richer, less-Black residents."

Why would you expect that total strangers spend their life savings for "me" (a long term resident)? Where is the expectation that I get that kind of sacrifice and service or from most people? I'm just saying it's not realistic, and it is kinda passive to expect other people to solve one's own problems and fortunes.

What do you suggest should be done if richer people are, statistically "less-Black" (but of course includes upper income Black residents)? Adopt racist policies that only encourage or allow new upper income Black residents?

"I would counter and say that if you get rid of POVERTY, then you'll get rid of crime."
How much can be realistically done to change the economic fortunes of those who are in poverty? Magically create high paying jobs that should only go to them?

And again, isn't bringing in people who aren't in poverty into the neighborhood going to reduce poverty in the area -- that sort of agrees with your premise here.

"It's building resources that serve the existing population. "
How many resources and programs have already been tried to serve. The word "serve" again reeks of passivity, as if all depends on someone else to do things for oneself -- as if this will magically change things as if it hasn't been tried before.

disclaimer: not a flame, just noting that the passivity -- expecting to be "served" and to be the recipient of extraordinary altruism by the rest of society isn't a realistic way to truly move forward to solve real problems for oneself.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 08, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

"Crime and ignorance will happen anywhere that a group is institutionally isolated, no matter what their race. That's what a ghettoization does to people."

History contradicts you. Jewish ghettos throughout Europe were not hotbeds of crime. Chinese ghettos throughout the US had murder rates among the lowest in the country. Both of these groups faced severe discrimination and "institutional isolation." In California, the left's beloved labor movement was responsible for much of the legal discrimination and violence against Chinese residents.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 09, 2013 @ 8:19 am

Cheap housing everywhere and beautiful views too. A diamond in the rough.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Aug. 15, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

Bankrupt cities are often cheap places to live, like Detroit, and Oakland may actually avoid bankruptcy itself, but probably only if it gentrifies even quicker than it is doing.

And then there's that pesky crime problem too, which gentrification can help solve.

Win-win for everyone.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2013 @ 8:59 am

Bankrupt ideas are often cheap talking points.

Gentrification helps the displaced.

Crime is a racial, not economic, issue.

Life is all about the win-win. Money in my pocket. Poor people (especially dark-skinned ones) down the road.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2013 @ 9:51 am

Inconveniently, poor blacks commit violent crimes at much higher rates than poor whites.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2013 @ 11:36 am

crimes than other races. Those people displace themselves.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

Poor blacks are also disproportionately targeted and prosecuted by the American justice system.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2013 @ 11:32 am

They are targeted more because they commit more crimes.

Posted by anon on Aug. 17, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

after several months and anon still has his head up his ass.

One easy example, sentencing disparities between powder cocaine and crack cocaine.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

But the sentences are the same regardless of the race of the felon.

Here's an idea - don't commit crimes, including doing drugs.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

Actually that is untrue. Whites are 80% of the drug users in America but blacks are targeted 70% more.Blacks actually use far less drugs than whites but the targeting is the difference. Most people in prison are on charges of drug abuse. The crime rate for blacks would be much lower if they weren't sought after from racial profiling.

Native Americans 15% having a substance use disorder, compared to 9.2% for people of mixed racial heritage, 9.0% for whites, 7.7% for Hispanics, 5% for African Americans and 3.5% for Asians and Pacific Islanders.

this is from times magazine. An article called "Study: Whites More Likely to Abuse Drugs Than Blacks".

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

Interesting history behind how many West Oakland Victorians fell into disrepair.

When the first Victorian restoration started in the 1980s in SF, there were many abandoned Victorians in West Oakland that had lots of wonderful old hardware and moldings.

There was a well-organized underground who stripped these homes and sold the original parts to the refurbishers in SF. I'm sure they considered themselves "recyclers" but they were stealing.

So there is a weird symmetry of rich people in SF investing in West Oakland after all that was stolen in previous decades. Certainly, it helps the profit margins over at Restoration Hardware.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 9:39 am

Contrast that with Detroit, which has (or rather, had) many many elegant old homes but they have turned into crackhouses, with people stripping the lead, copper etc and selling them to feed their drug habits.

Personally I like to see quality items being used, rather than being left to rot. Neighborhoods gets the homes they deserve.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 9:56 am

Maybe with some welcome gentrification, Oakland will be less of a muder capital? And Desley Brooks, you are obviously NOT helping anyone but YOURSELF!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 10:36 pm

You must love individuals like the shoddy business of Sullivan Management when they themselves do not reside in the neighborhoods they are "passionate" about. It has been told by my neighbor and extremely displeased Sullivan Management tenant that Mr. Sullivan enjoys his lush pad in SF to support his gay lifestyle where he feels threatened by it in WO.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 08, 2013 @ 11:27 am

justified in not feeling comfortable in WO?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 08, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

I am gay and Caucasian that lives in West Oakland. Is Mr. Sullivan white or black?

Posted by 123WestSide on Oct. 08, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

I am Caucasian and gay that resides in West Oakland. Is Mr. Sulivan white or black?

Posted by 123WestSide on Oct. 08, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

I get the issues with gentrification, former residents being displaced, increased racial/economic tensions, and the real issues with people's situations not being addressed. But as a lower paid tech transplant, I would love to see west oakland gentrified, or at least made safer. Before you go calling me a racist, I am perfectly comfortable living around people of all races. I picked a college with an amazing racial diversity. My friends and coworkers come from all different walks of life, and hell I used to fill in for my mom as a nanny to a black family.

I think west oakland looks like a beautiful community, and is logistically ideal for commuting. Before I found out about the high crime rate, it was a my ideal neighbourhood. The honest truth is, that Oakland does not have the funds to hire enough police to deal with the crime issue. In the same thread, it doesn't have enough money to fund the programs needed to deal with the poverty issues and help current residents. This is something that is systemically wrong across the US fact is that the rich aren't paying their fair share in taxes, and using those extra funds to keep it that way. Not to mention the fact that if we diverted funds spent on wars, in luring the drug war, there would be more money to invest in the lives of ordinary Americans.

So keeping these realities in mind, it seems the quickest and most realistic possible solution to oaklands problems is gentrification from people like me. The lower paid side of the tech force. I just want an affordable place to live, where I can pay my crazy student loans and rent and still eat. Hell maybe even invest in my future a bit. If west oakland gets safe enough that I can walk by myself around 9-10pm safely as a young white woman bring it on. West Oakland is a commuters dream and if it gentrified could generate enough revenue to help improve the lives of people in East Oakland. You can believe in ideals all you want, but we live I a broken country with a broken system. I would love for more people to look for positive opportunities in this, rather than the problems.

Sorry I am being pushed out of SF, and had to move across the country because there where no jobs where I am from. I just don't want to continue to commute an hour to work. Gee, don't I feel displaced.

Posted by SF low paid techy on Nov. 08, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

commute away in West Oakland - BART, freeways, AC Transit and even Amtrak (OK, that's a mile north in Emeryville).

Posted by Guest on Nov. 08, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

I like the fact that the neighborhoods are being cleaned up. I hate the fact that people from SF are moving here and making our rent skyrocket. I'm a home owner so it's really not affecting me in a bad way, I just don't like San Franciscans or their my shit don't stink attitudes.
As an 11 year resident and lifetime resident of the East Bay Area I can say they don't belong here. If you love SF so much stay there. Oakland residents have heard San Franciscans talk so much shit about the East Bay and Oakland specifically that there is no turning back. We have a bad taste in our mouths and it's not going to go away. I guarantee if you poll Oakland residents, at least 90% will say they are not welcome. If you think the Tenderloin is rough, your in for a big surprise.

We don't like you here, we don't want you here, and we will let you know.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 08, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

how can they complain about San Francisco exiles?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 08, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

Because they aren't black enough. It's true.

Posted by Seamus on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 7:10 pm

Most people living in San Francisco moving to Oakland I would say probably are not native San Franciscans. They are people just doing the same thing that they did to San Francisco. I agree that there is a problem when they don't care about the history nor the culture of where they're moving and just create their own. That makes residents not like you.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 11:52 am

Gentrification would be o.k. if the people moving in were bringing jobs with them for the current residents. The problem is they're not doing just that. The new residents are taking the old jobs that traditionally the older residents have had, and the new jobs as well. So how can you say there is a benefit to the residents already living there if they're not sharing in the success of the new Oakland? For any young person they cannot afford to move into the neighborhood they grew up in. The cost of living goes up and younger and older residents don't have a sufficient job that can support the new cost of living. The transition would be seamless if instead of just moving in and fixing up the neighborhood and adding value, rather to actually give people some value to support the appearance of just looking nice.

With that noted this is a bubble anyway. I doubt that when things hit the fan most of these new residents will be here after it bursts.

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Posted by pikachu onesie on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

I'm going to miss those mobile cultural atteches who offer free rap to the entire neighborhood...at all hours.

Posted by Seamus on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 7:09 pm

Seen some heavy violence downtown. Hear gunshots at night in my home. Am now for anything that makes things safer. Somewhat angry at thug culture after friends became victims of arbitrary beatings and one home-invasion robbery a few years ago.

Don't care about historical residency as much anymore.

Posted by GuestSeamus on May. 26, 2014 @ 7:44 am

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