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UncategorizedGentrification takes toll on Oakland seniors

Gentrification takes toll on Oakland seniors

With tech money pouring in, it’s hard for low-income seniors to stay in their communities.

Ortencia, 82, would like to stay in Oakland
Ortencia, 82, would like to stay in Oakland

By Laura McCamy

APRIL 6, 2015 — At a recent meeting of the Hope and Justice Committee of St. Mary’s Center, in Oakland, the members allowed a reporter to sit in as they discussed their experiences with gentrification.

For Oakland’s many low-income seniors, the escalating cost of living from the influx of technology workers and others able to pay higher rents makes the hope of aging in place more of a dream than a reality.

This problem is not limited to Oakland, although fast-rising rents and a shortage of affordable housing make the problem more acute here. According to a 2014 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Oakland-Fremont metropolitan area was country’s seventh most expensive jurisdiction for housing.

‘Everybody’s Face Has Changed’

Ortencia is 82 and, like all the members of the group, preferred not to give her last name. She pays $600 for her studio apartment here. She gets a break because she does yard work at her building; the rent would be $850 otherwise.

Veleda was born and raised in Oakland after her grandmother moved the family here from Oklahoma. “This place was littered with big hotels because people was coming here to work in the shipyards” in the 1940s and 1950s, she recalled. “Now we go to Oakland and everybody’s face has changed.”

Today, Veleda, 62, lives at the San Pablo Hotel, a senior single room occupancy  hotel. She struggles to manage her diabetes in a unit that shares a bathroom with another apartment. “Thank God I still have my ability to think and a zest to do things,” she said. “God forbid the day I can’t do that.”

Denise’s family moved to the Bay Area from Louisiana. Her grandmother couldn’t read or write. When Denise became a mother in her teens, her grandparents took her in and she was able to go back to school and get a college degree. She worked for Bank of America in San Francisco and Concord and raised two children as a single mother.

When she got married later, Denise moved to Oakland because her husband wanted to be here. Now he has passed away and, she said, “I’m left here all alone.” She says there are “bullets flying” around the transitional housing where she currently lives. Still, she wants to make Oakland her home.

Dwindling Affordable, Accessible Senior Housing 

Nationally, a 2014 study by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and the AARP Foundation projects that by 2024, “the number of households aged 65 and over with incomes less than $15,000 is expected to rise 37 percent, or by 1.8 million households.”

The report also found that the supply of affordable senior homes is dwindling, while those with universal design features to make them accessible to older adults with disabilities falls far short of demand.

Growing older in urban areas like Oakland can be especially difficult for African Americans, according to Zoë Levitt, of the Alameda County Public Health Department. Unlike whites, Latinos and Asians, when black households have to move, they “are more likely to end up in a neighborhood with lower-income residents than their current neighborhood,” she wrote.

Levitt added, “Thus, African American seniors, if displaced, are more likely to find themselves in neighborhoods with fewer health-promoting resources and/or lower quality amenities, as average neighborhood income is closely tied to the availability of neighborhood resources.”

Steve King, senior associate at the Urban Strategies Council, noted the growing mismatch between the cost of housing and the income of Oakland residents. “At every level, the median income earner…cannot afford the median house, either to own or rent [in their neighborhood],” he said. “It obviously affects everyone, “ he said, but people at the bottom income tiers have a harder time.

The State of Bay Area Blacks Report, prepared by the Council, looked at local population trends between 2000 and 2008.

This report showed population changes already underway between the 1990 and 2000 census. Their analysis revealed that number of census tracts with a majority black population declined, although some Oakland neighborhoods remain predominantly black. In Oakland, the report found, a declining black population was replaced mostly with an influx of white residents.

“We know Oakland lost 24 percent of its African American population.” But teasing out the reasons, King said, is not so easy. “It’s a complex story.”

Elder Majority in County is Black

The story is somewhat different for black seniors. While the number of Oakland residents over 65 grew by 4 percent from 2000 to 2010, the number of black seniors over 60 increased 12 percent.

Data from the 2000 and 2010 census, as well as from the Council’s study, shows that more than half of Oakland’s senior population is African American.

But staying put in one’s later years is not always easy. King noted that, according to the Council’s 2012 report, “Who Owns Your Neighborhood?” in some blocks of East Oakland, 90 percent of homes were foreclosed between 2007 and 2011. “When you think about the social fabric of a neighborhood and the social ties that evaporated,” he said, “we know it’s a huge issue.”
This isn’t the first time Oakland neighborhoods have experienced radical change. “The word ‘gentrification,’ when I was coming up in Oakland, is a word I didn’t hear a lot,” said Veleda, who is African American: “If the government wanted your property, they would take your property by public domain.”

Veleda remembers an earlier transition in West Oakland. “We moved into a neighborhood that was occupied by Italians and whites,” she said. “When they moved out, they took everything of value that was beautiful.”

Close neighborhood ties are essential to seniors. At the nonprofit Family Bridges, which operates four health centers for older Asians in Alameda County, CEO Corrine Jan observed that isolation is more detrimental to health than many medical diagnoses.

Because seniors make up half the transit-dependent population nationwide, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department, many fall prey to social isolation if they are forced to move to neighborhoods poorly served by transit.

The agency’s Levitt said, “According to a survey of 400-plus transit-dependent bus riders we conducted in 2012, seniors were most likely among all age groups to feel socially isolated, with more than half reporting no friends or family within walking distance of their homes.”

A 2013 report prepared for the Alameda County Healthy Homes Alliance concluded that, while Oakland as a whole is very diverse, “the same cannot be said for many neighborhoods in the city.” The data showed a huge correlation between largely ethnic communities, renters and indicators of low income and poor health outcomes.

Laura McCamy wrote this article for Oakland Local with support from the Journalists in Aging Fellows Program of the Gerontological Society of America and New America Media, sponsored by AARP. This story is part of a series on the effect of gentrification on seniors in Oakland.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. I think there are some really good points here – as the author of this article, I wanted to weigh in on a couple.

    This story is part of a series of five published by Oakland Local and New America Media. Some of the issues you bring up below are addressed in the other pieces. The picture of what’s happening to seniors in Oakland is complex and involves a multitude of factors.

    SSI is inadequate to pay for basic needs; there is currently a campaign to increase the amount of SSI benefits. On top of this, decades of federal underfunding have led to a lack of development and a shortage of affordable housing.

    Gentrification is not just a Bay Area problem; it’s a story that is playing out in cities across the US. The Bay Area does, however, have one of the tightest housing markets in the country, which negatively impacts low income seniors and others living on fixed incomes. It would be interesting to compare what is happening here to other cities. Perhaps another article.

  2. What nonsense you’ve written. Open your deluded eyes. Renters are being driven out of their homes at an unprecedented clip. Small businesses and artistic groups of diverse sorts have been given the boot by greedy gentrifiers and financial predators. The “tech and wealth invasion” is akin to a bacterial infection on the civic, spiritual level. As a wise sage put it, “Tech is dreck.”

  3. And Tim would be absolutely correct to blame the vile soulless contagions called “tech dreck” — aka techies — and “gentrification”, a far too impersonal term for the despotic wickedness of driving people from their homes and taking over whole areas for greedy vermin.

  4. “This story is not about blame, it’s about the desperate plight of these seniors.”

    Ok, but why are the first words at the top “With tech money pouring in”? Come on. If you’re really going to go there, at least make the most basic effort to link the two.

    I can imagine the headline on 48Hills after the next big one: “7.0 earthquake hits, dozens killed, hundred injured, tech companies continue to receive tax breaks”.

  5. Again, if it is the influx of tech workers is the primary driver of suffering for seniors, then presumably seniors are doing great everywhere no tech works are relocating to, which is almost everywhere in the nation?

    Is that your claim?

  6. Jesus, you poverty-denying trolls are too much. The article is studded with statistics and links to studies. FLASH: The second sentence reads, “… the escalating cost of living from the influx of technology workers AND OTHERS able to pay higher rents….” (caps mine).

    This story is not about blame, it’s about the desperate plight of these seniors. Do you not care a whit about them? If not, you’re trolling the wrong blog!

  7. Laura couldn’t really blame Ed Lee given that this was Oakland, but she did blame gentrification without citing any evidence. And without bothering to research whether poor seniors in non-gentrified places are any better or worse.

    My guess is that Tim won’t sanction any article for publication unless it blames either tech, developers or gentrification.

  8. Also, the article leads with the obligatory 48 Hills headline blaming the techies but it never explains the nexus. I kept waiting for examples of seniors being evicted so that some Apple executive can build a putting green but it never came.

    By definition life is tough on low income seniors. To the extent that tech money is pouring in then it is up to the city leaders and voters to make sure that some of the extra tax revenue is used to benefit those who most need it.

    Oh well, at least Laura didn’t blame Ed Lee like Tim Redmond would have.

  9. Laura, your article might have been more interesting if you had compared the fate of seniors in the Bay Area with the fate of seniors in a place with no tech or wealth invasion.

    Like Detroit, for instance.

    If your theory is correct, then seniors in Detroit would be doing much better than seniors in the Bay Area. Is that true? Do you now?

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