Just Business: Oakland Ups Its Eviction Game

Like many in the Bay Area, I've been evicted at least once.

In August of last year I was walking home from the gym and feeling positively enchanted with San Francisco. The ocean breeze had wound its way up Geary Street and mingled with the smell of Peking duck and crepes. “I love living here,” I thought as I bounced up my front steps, where I was met by four white papers taped to the door.

My breath caught in my throat. Eviction notices — one for each roommate that lived there. Our landlord had caught on that we were occasionally renting out the extra room in our house to travelers on Airbnb, and she jumped at the chance to evict us. Our San Francisco dream was over.

And so with very heavy hearts we packed up our podcasting equipment and moved across the bay where most of our friends already lived anyway. Bay Area landlords had become positively enchanted with the promise of a sky-high rental market and the possibility of becoming an Ellis Act millionaire. I have just one friend who still lives within the San Francisco city limits, and she lives in constant fear of eviction and harassment from her landlord.

And here in Oakland, they're flipping houses so fast I can barely see my block through all the scaffolding. The cost of rent increased more than 10 percent last year in Oakland, making it the sixth fastest-growing rental market in the state, head and shoulders above even San Francisco.

Now, a new expansion of Oakland's Nuisance Eviction Ordinance has me worried about my future as a tenant on the sunny side of the bay.

Since 2004, Oakland has had a law in place that allows the city attorney to order evictions of tenants who are believed to be engaging in illegal activity involving drugs and weapons.

On Tuesday, Oct. 21, City Attorney Barbara Parker recommended expanding the Nuisance Eviction Ordinance to include prostitution.

The Red Light Abatement Act of 1913 already allows landlords to evict tenants who they believe to be selling sex inside their apartments. But this new Oakland law would make sex workers' everyday business acts — like keeping money in the home, or taking a phone call with a client — grounds for eviction. Parker's agenda report from Sept. 16 cited Oakland's economy as one of the reasons for the expansion. “As Oakland struggles to recover economically, nuisances hamper that recovery by discouraging potential customers from visiting businesses in Oakland. Many potential customers may be discouraged to shop in Oakland by the possible violence involved in prostitution.” She went on to say, “Not only does illegal nuisance activity detract from the beauty and livability of our city, but it breeds disrespect for our neighborhoods and communities.”

Parker has lived in Oakland for more than 30 years — she has far more claim to this place than I do. As a newcomer to this side of the bay, I don't really feel like I have the right to tell her how to run this city. But I do know that while sex work may seem a nuisance to some, for many it is a means of survival in an economy that, as Parker acknowledges, is still recovering. Keeping up with the rising cost of food and rent in this area is one of the main reasons I began my career in the sex industry.

Renting my room on Airbnb was far more of a nuisance to my neighbors and community — lost tourists constantly on my doorstep and the rowdy backpackers who roll into town at midnight. I don't think any of my neighbors have been bothered by the phone calls and emails I exchange with my clients. I have a hard time believing that anyone in my building is having their safety jeopardized by the money I have in my wallet.

Our life is not a nuisance. Sex work means food on the table, taxes in the mail, and rent in my landlord's pocket. Sex work is what many Oakland residents do to survive, but now it may be just another excuse to push more people out of their homes.

View Comments