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Fruitvale Tenants Demand To Buy Their Building

The carpet in Maria Montes de Oca’s apartment is matted and discolored. She shows me how the base of the cabinet under her sink has collapsed from water damage.

De Oca speaks only Spanish, but Israel Lepiz, a community organizer with ACCE, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, translates. "She doesn't feel like it's right. And she sees it as, like, a major contradiction that none of the repairs are being made in the building and that these rent increases keep happening. She said that she had an infestation of cockroaches that led to a big problem in her building."

The tenants I talk with say they have complained for years without much response from the landlord. They’ve even paid for repairs on their own. Still, some of them say they’ve seen their rents double over the last decade or so.

The tenants are getting support from ACCE and the Oakland Community Land Trust. Both groups were instrumental in helping a group of mothers known as Moms4Housing negotiate the purchase last month of the Oakland home where they were squatting.

The Oakland Community Land trust put forth an offer on behalf of the tenants to purchase this 14-unit complex for just over $3 million. But the owners, Calvin and Melinda Wong, rejected that offer last fall. Since then, half of the residents decided to withhold their rent. In California, it's legal to withhold rent if conditions are deemed unsafe or unhealthy. 

Lepiz says, "You could feel that there's this kind of movement growing here in Oakland — Oakland and the Bay Area kind of being like ground zero for this housing crisis that's spreading all throughout the United States. People have been trying to go through conventional means to solve their problems, and there haven't been any sort of solutions put up by the systems. So people are getting creative in finding their own solutions."

The residents say the owner is hard to get a hold of, but they have received word that they might consider negotiating. I could not reach the owners for comment myself, but at this point the tenants of this Fruitvale building remain hopeful that they will sit down with them soon.