It doesn’t feel like the great recession is over in Oakland neighborhoods, where foreclosure, skyrocketing rents and unattended blight are making more families housing-insecure. The state’s theft of redevelopment removed the planning and start-up funding that generates affordable homes. Now Oakland residents are speaking out to demand that Oakland’s budget include funding in both the short and long-term for planning and program needs.

To learn more about the need for affordable homes, and the experience of advocating for them, we asked five remarkable women to share their wisdom. These seniors contributed to Oakland as teachers, social workers, and psychologists. As retirees, they took the time to inform themselves on the issues, attend budget hearings and meet personally with their elected representatives – opening their homes, their hearts and their vision for a secure, stable future to their elected representatives.

Here’s what they said about those person-to-person conversations, and what they are hoping to see.

When Mayme Lincoln of Bancroft Homes invited her Councilmember to visit, she was surprised that she accepted quickly, honored that the official kept her word, and then proud to show off her home.

· “This was an experience for me. When I gave her the invitation to come, I really and truly didn’t think she would. I gave her a tour of my apartment. I wanted her to see what a nice place it is. When you are on a limited income, it makes a difference. I can buy food, pay PG&E, and get groceries. Watch cable without it being shut off. The stress level goes down. In senior housing, you are with people your age, who have the same values you had coming up and still have. People want to maintain some style and class, that you can pass along to young people. We have a voice that is big enough to listen. I don’t know how she is going to vote but I know she understands why affordable housing is needed. The bottom line is people, not the budget.”

Elizabeth Grady (not her real name), moved into Sojourner Truth Manor on MLK while being treated for cancer. She appreciates the combination of privacy and socializing, and the security of affordable housing. Board members Sandra Jackson Simon and Cheryl Moore represented her in the photograph.

· “[My Councilmember] wanted to be sure not to leave out the middle class, the way the economy is going – our extremes of the haves and have-nots. He wasn’t just paying me lip service – he asked me for a copy of the report I had mentioned. He’s new, and trying to find his niche. He wants to represent all the citizens in his district, which is good. Because of the way things are going, more people are going to need affordable housing. Oakland needs staffing and seed money to take advantage of federal funding opportunities.”

Barbara Williams feels truly at home at the Altenheim, on MacArthur in the Dimond, with great views of San Francisco and Oakland skylines to the west.

· “[My Councilmember] was understanding and affirmative in his presence, but I didn’t feel like we got actual commitments from anybody. We are trying to get 25% of the boomerang funds (returned redevelopment money) committed to affordable housing staff and programming so that we can keep the staff that already exists and build a couple more homes. He was generous in listening to people’s stories, and took a tour. He was positive. He really stressed that he was supporting children and seniors.”

Fran Beal lives at Westlake Christian Homes off Broadway at 28th, and also enjoys great views of the bay Area. She needed affordable housing as she aged, and organized a letter signed by 260 residents in support of EBHO’s position on affordable housing.

· “My Councilmember is new and I voted for her because she had a program and policies that were good for seniors. She took positions that were good for Oakland, so I voted for her. Now we are waiting to see what she does. We are asking her not just to vote the right way but to become a champion for affordable housing. As seniors, if we can live in decent housing, we can still give back to the community and contribute.”

Marilyn Lawson remembers growing up in affordable housing, when her father served in the armed forces and her mother worked in the shipyards. Fighting lupus, she needed a secure place to live, and to help care for her granddaughter. She lives at Lion Creek Crossing.

· “Our youth today don’t have the opportunities and programs that we had. They need us even more, and if our housing is decent, we can do even more. When I heard my Councilmember say, ‘We don’t need affordable housing. Private developers will take care of it,’ I thought, there’s no guarantee. We have families struggling. Why take it away now? He has been a supporter in the past, very influential in bringing affordable housing into the community and implementing programs. But we’ve had private developers come in to the community, then leave.”

In the end, budgets are choices, and they reveal our values. Oakland’s city budget has a smaller gap than in recent years, but competing priorities remain: safety, youth, economics, retaining hard-working employees, affordable housing. These five women have given to Oakland throughout their adult lifetimes. Will Oakland give back and keep the promise of affordable housing?

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Sharon Cornu is a member of the freelance unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, encouraged by these conversations with leaders in affordable housing, hopeful it’s there for her someday.

2 Responses

  1. John Garvey

    Great perspective. In this budget discussion dominated by numbers and revenue versus expenditures plans, it is essential to remember that people and their lives are involved. Affordable housing and other programs that we fund via local government are important and enable us to fulfill what we claim are our values.

  2. Ben Toney

    People forget how urgently and widely needed affordable housing has become. With housing in general still a mess on a national scale, and increasing numbers of retirees as baby boomers age and exit the workforce, we should be prepared to support more affordable housing programs to accommodate them now and in the future. There’s always a lot of hubbub among city officials and private sector players alike around large-scale, for-profit development as the solution to any of a long list of municipal woes. Let’s remember that affordable housing for seniors and others who need it stabilizes communities and contributes overall to their strength in other ways as well. We all want to live in stable, healthy communities in which the inhabitants have some say in the decisions that affect them. Investing in more affordable housing would be a great way for Oakland to begin taking steps toward empowering communities.
    It’s also really refreshing to hear from people who actually benefit from and use the programs. They’re the experts. And they’ve worked their entire lives contributing to our society. Don’t we owe it to them to ensure their ability to live comfortably?


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