My home is killing me … literally! This is unfortunately the case for many families all over Oakland who are exposed to problems in their living conditions posing harmful health effects. A majority of Oakland’s residents are renters, a large number of whom are members of low-income households. To families whose major housing issue is securing decent accommodations, mold has become a major culprit posing a harmful and costly public health issue. In Oakland, low-income families spend 35 percent of their income on rent, there is not much room left for other expenses, such as medical and food, resulting in overcrowding of apartments and harmful living conditions.
In 2010, adults in Oakland had an asthma rate that was two and a half times the California rate, and in children the rate was five times the California rate. With increased housing prices, families start cramming too many people into very small and inadequate accommodations. Children who are living in crowded housing situations are six times more likely to develop asthma and to develop more medical conditions than children who have adequate living accommodations. On average, Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, with two-thirds of that within their homes. With mold being the No. 1 housing problem, it’s no wonder families are being poisoned within their homes.
Stabilizing the renter’s market is no easy task. At the end of 2016, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland was around $2,356 a month, so it’s no wonder why low-income families are willing to compromise the quality of living just to be able to feed their families, provide transportation to school and work and to afford medical expenses. As large tech companies such as Uber are moving parts of their operations to Oakland, the cost of housing is expected to continue to rise, leaving families with the option to either move farther and farther away or move into substandard living conditions just to make ends meet.
What is the city of Oakland currently doing to address the housing crisis? The city of Oakland’s current plan is to bring together stakeholders and experts to protect 17,000 Oaklanders over the next 8 years. They also plan to build 17,000 new units of housing. Mayor Libby Schaaf as well as the city plan to acquire new sources of funding in order to purchase existing low-income housing to ensure these families have somewhere affordable and permanent to call home. Oakland did pass two major housing-related measures, measure A1 and measure KK. Measure A1 is a $580 million bond to fund the creation of permanently affordable rental housing. Measure KK approved $100 million to go toward an anti-displacement and housing effort, which will protect long-time residents to stay in affordable, quality housing. Both these measures are a step in the right direction, but more can be done. Providing housing is important, but what is Oakland doing about cleaning up current affordable housing units to ensure there is no mold or pests, and that the water supply is adequate? Currently the housing plan is to provide more units, but what about the conditions and upkeep?
There are two suggestions I would have for helping deal with Oakland’s housing crisis. First, ensure the new avenues of funding will help proposed projects become a reality as well as designate a piece of that funding to go toward the cleanup and upkeep of units owned by the city of Oakland. Secondly, I would suggest expanding rent control into already existing affordable housing not owned by the city of Oakland. Doing so would help crack down on abusive landlords and strengthen tenant protection, not only from already skyrocketing rent prices, but also from substandard living conditions. A system should be developed for stricter rental inspections to encourage keeping living standards at a safe and regulated level. Implementing a fine or penalty to landlords if basic living condition standards aren’t met would help to encourage upkeep of properties and address housing conditions before they become hazardous. This will take not only local government to push for more strict regulation, but will also call for the support of the public and the recognition of this as an issue for everyone, not just low-income families.
Bailey O’Mara is an Oakland resident.