Housing advocates attend Council member Kaplan's Ghost Ship Fire forum

Dozens of people who lost loved ones in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire last month, attended a packed forum at Oakland City Hall Wednesday night. 

The forum, which was organized by city council member Rebecca Kaplan, focused on ways to prevent another tragedy, and also on unaffordable housing that many housing advocates say contributed to the fire that killed 36 people on December 2nd.

The Oakland Warehouse Coalition, which was formed in the wake of the tragedy, teamed up with a group called Land Action, and wrote an emergency ordinance which they plan to propose to the city council on January 17th. 

The proposal would place a moratorium on evictions and red-tagging buildings for code violations.  The only exceptions would be for violations considered life-threatening.

“What we’re seeing is a lot more of these notices to vacate, we’re seeing harassment from landlords and we’re seeing flash inspections from the building department,” said Katherine Quinn of the Warehouse Coalition.

Rachel, who did not share her last name or the location of the warehouse where she lives, said she received an eviction notice from her landlord just days after the tragedy.

“They sent us this eviction notice because they’re afraid,” she said.  “And they’ve said they would love to have us there but they don’t feel like they have a path forward to legalizing the spaces, so they can potentially bring it up to code.”

There are no firm numbers but the Warehouse Coalition says the number of people being evicted from commercially-zoned properties is on the rise.

Council member Kaplan says ensuring safe living conditions and protecting tenant rights are not mutually exclusive.

“We're looking at laws that we could strengthen to protect tenants to provide relocation assistance and to help properties that are out of compliance, come into compliance without mass evictions,” Kaplan said.
Carmen Brito, who lived at the Ghost Ship warehouse addressed the gathering by pleading with city officials to act to prevent another fire.

“I’ve heard so many wonderful ideas and plans for the future of our city.  Please, don’t wait.”