Two leading tenants rights groups released a joint statement on Thursday asking city officials to focus on solutions, not evictions, in the wake of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.
The fire killed 36 people, and the media has been quick to point out that a lack of sprinklers, fire alarm system or residential permitting may be to blame.
But Tenants Together and Causa Justa::Just Cause say that City of Oakland should not immediately move to vacate other artists from warehouses, and should instead work with communities to bring facilities up to code.
“In a gentrifying city with the fourth highest rents in the country, making do in unsafe housing is a choice people make in order to stay in the city, in order to retain their creative and community networks, in order to make art for a living,” the statement reads. “This is a choice no one should have to make. No one should have to choose between safety and affordability.”
One solution the organizations propose is to establish a code enforcement department that seeks to correct violations through working with residents. Other cities, they point out, offer a program where tenants who live in buildings with violations are allowed to pay a reduced rent, thereby encouraging the landlord to make repairs. If a building is in possession of too many violations to be easily repaired and must be red-tagged, temporary housing should be offered to tenants who are displaced.
Another change the tenants groups are calling for is for the City of Oakland to support community land trusts, thereby putting buildings legally in the hands of artists, and working with communities to make sure structures are up to code.
“Cracking down and punishing residents is a horrifying response to this loss,” they write. “Instead of helping to drive artists out of the community, it could support artists by developing communal art spaces that are safe and affordable.”
An investigation into the cause of the Ghost Ship fire is still in progress.