Sale of Oakland housing complex to nonprofit ends years-long rent strike

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OAKLAND (KPIX) – Tenants and housing activists are celebrating the end of one of the longest rent strikes in Oakland history.

The owner of a 14-unit apartment building has sold to a non-profit, in a deal that will keep it affordable and give long-term tenants their chance at the American dream of l home ownership.

It all started six years ago with a dispute over the condition of the apartments at 1534 29th Avenue in the Fruitvale district of Oakland.

Francisco Perez had to install new flooring in his apartment and fix his own cabinets, which were falling apart, but then came rent increases and Perez worried about where he and his wife Graciella would end up.

“I’m going to have to go somewhere under the highway or an overpass,” he said in a 2019 interview. “And there’s no more room for us. All those places are already full of people. “

So, out of frustration, the tenants organized a rent strike that lasted almost 2 and a half years.

On Saturday, they were decorating for a community party. The rent strike was over. After years of resistance, the owner officially sold the building to the Oakland Community Land Trust for $3.3 million — money generated by the voter-approved KK measure.

It will now be affordable housing in perpetuity and tenants will be able to buy their homes. Grace Martinez, Oakland director of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said this could be a model for other tenant-landlord disputes in the future.

“What this has opened up is discussion, communication and genuine questioning of ownership – should you even own this property?” she says. “The tenants are fighting, they’re looking after their own property at this point and you’re just taking our rent, aren’t you?”

There is a growing movement toward laws that give tenants or non-profit organizations the first right to purchase rental property when it comes up for sale. They are called “opportunity to buy” acts and are being considered in San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley.

That may sound good, but Krista Gulbransen of the Berkeley Property Owners Association warned that nonprofits have a poor record when it comes to maintaining their properties. She said their buildings often fell into disrepair when rents were stuck low.

“They find they’re not getting enough income because they have lower rents and affordable housing, but they still have to reinvest in the building to maintain and improve it,” Gulbransen said. “So at the end of the day, they have very little money to invest in maintaining and upgrading the building.”

This does not worry Francisco Perez. With the money he saved from the 2-year rent strike, he said he planned to fix the apartment for himself and Graciella. In fact, he intends to buy it outright so he never has to worry about living under a bridge again.

“We now feel safe, completely safe,” he said. “Because now we know, we are sure that we have a roof over our heads.”

The sale was finalized in June but tenants and activists chose Saturday to throw a party to celebrate the news with their neighbours.

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