12:48pm

Thu October 3, 2013
Economy/Labor/Biz

East Bay Express: Who's jacking up housing prices in West Oakland?

As the tsunami of foreclosures in Oakland finally subsided over the past year, residents of the city's flatlands neighborhoods looked around at the new landscape and saw less room for themselves and people like them. Many of their neighbors were gone, of course. And many of the foreclosed homes were snapped up — not by new homeowners, but by large-scale investors, including national and global corporations.

Some of these investors have stuck to the traditional fix-and-flip business model, but others are assembling large numbers of houses to rent. Colin Weil, managing director and co-founder of Oakland-based Waypoint Homes, which owns more than 4,000 houses across the country, has told reporters that he believes the single-family-house rental business will become a $10 billion industry nationwide.

Whether flipping or renting, the new owners have put a higher — sometimes much higher — price tag on living in traditionally low-cost West and East Oakland, home to large black and Latino populations. And the investors have found eager renters and buyers streaming across the bay as housing costs in San Francisco continue to soar. The result, said Steve King, a researcher for the nonprofit Urban Strategies Council, is "wholesale neighborhood change."

The process is "transferring homes where people have lived a long time, raised families, been part of the community, to younger folks, mostly white," added Margaretta Lin, special projects director in the City of Oakland's Community and Economic Development Agency. But the city is "trying to do what we can to forestall the displacement [with new] strategies to keep people here."

Several nonprofits are partnering with the city and also launching their own programs with the goal of increasing the availability of affordable housing in Oakland. Meanwhile, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) has started a campaign to hold large-scale housing investors accountable to the community.

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