Once again, Oakland essentially let a slumlord coast for the better part of a decade, letting him provide affordable housing in exchange for health and safety violations.
Not even six months after the deadly Dec. 2 Ghost Ship fire, tragedy has struck again in Oakland, California. A four-alarm fire engulfed the third floor of an apartment building in West Oakland early Monday morning. Seven people were saved from from the fire; one person was found dead and three others were severely wounded, primarily from injuries related to smoke inhalation. According to the Oakland Fire Department battalion chief and KTVU, no one is unaccounted for at this time.
The building was shelter for roughly 80 people, including many folks in transitional housing. KTVU spoke with several residents, one of whom described the building as multi-use, with the first floor serving as a drug rehab center. The second floor was for clean and sober living, and the third floor was for independent living.
Many residents in transitional housing and drug treatment centers often have dual diagnoses, one or more relating to a mental health condition or disability, and the second centering on addiction. Several residents who vacated the building by using the fire escapes expressed concern for the many residents who use wheelchairs, as the hallways were engulfed in smoke and flames.
Folks living with disabilities, addictions and other conditions that suppress them socially and economically are the most vulnerable when predatory landlords look for occupants to fill their undesirable, unkempt spaces. Unfortunately, those same folks are usually the first forced back out onto the streets when those same landlords find a buyer for the property or the area becomes gentrified and there are suddenly renters with deeper pockets and less social stigmas.”
Landlord Keith Kim received many complaints from tenants over the years. According to the Mercury News, the City of Oakland has received 20 complaints about pests, electrical issues, mold, trash, graffiti, floors caving in, roof leaks and other blight issues. The East Bay Express states that in 2013, Oakland building inspector Timothy Low cited Kim for “hazardous and injurious” conditions that came with $3,239 in fees.
The city essentially let this slumlord coast for the better part of a decade, providing affordable housing in exchange for health and safety violations. Those who find themselves most vulnerable to these risks are the disabled, elderly, folks in recovery and other oppressed groups. These folks rarely have anyone to champion their cause.
Kim attempted to evict the group of residents living with Urojas Community Services after the Ghost Ship fire. Tenants were resisting the eviction, which raises concerns about the nature of the fire, according to the East Bay Express.
Residents of the building went as far as acquiring a restraining order against Kim. Because of the extenuating circumstances, the lawyer representing residents is now calling for an arson investigation. According to the East Bay Express, the hostile process had escalated over the last few weeks.
“Next thing I know, I get up this morning, my client’s building is on fire, it’s up in smoke,” James Cook of the John L. Burris Law Offices told the East Bay Express. “I want it to be investigated as an arson.”
Other claims about the building include a woman who had been sexually assaulted in her home in August 2015, due to the lack of locks on her doors.
Rather than take care of our most vulnerable populations, the City of Oakland seems to have turned a blind eye for too long, allowing conditions to worsen without stepping in to protect and assist those who need it most — while bending over backwards to accommodate developers who want to gentrify the city’s historically Black neighborhoods.
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