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Oakland Tenants Protest Investors Plan to ‘Inspect’ Their Units During Pandemic

A Bay Area rent strike could be a harbinger of tenant unrest as California prepares for an eviction tsunami triggered by the pandemic.

David Bacon

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Editor’s Note: Few of the economic crises spawned by the pandemic are likely to prove more devastating than the one now enveloping California’s renters. Already battered by skyrocketing rents and pressured by gentrification, middle- and low-income tenants are increasingly facing a world without paychecks – and without government assistance, as eviction moratoriums begin to expire and supplemental unemployment benefits run out. A report by the Aspen Institute predicts an eviction “tsunami” by the end of September.
Photojournalist David Bacon’s images here capture the plight and resistance of one group of Oakland tenants, as they launch a rent strike to challenge the right of their apartment complex’s owner, Mosser Capital, to allow investors into their homes to inspect the units. (This, when the coronavirus is resurging.) When asked by KPIX TV why it felt the need to send investors into the Oakland complex in the middle of a pandemic, Mosser Capital issued a statement that read, in part: “Building and apartment inspections are necessary to maintain properties, comply with local laws, and for insurance purposes.”

 

All photos by David Bacon

 
 

 
Tenants and supporters demonstrated at an Oakland apartment complex where tenants are mounting a rent strike against Mosser Capital. During the COVID-19 crisis the landlord is insisting on bringing investors to inspect the apartments despite the danger of contagion.
Mosser bought more than 20 buildings in Oakland in 2016, according to the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), which organized the rent strike. Mosser received a Paycheck Protection Program loan between $2 million and $5 million during the pandemic.

 


 

 
Sharena Diamond Thomas (left) and Sabeena Shah (right) stand at the front of a group of renters determined not to let speculators into their apartment complex.
 

 

 
Sharena Diamond Thomas is a renter in another building, where tenants have been on strike since April. She had a small catering business, and after the pandemic started she couldn’t serve food in the community anymore. “I have a family, and it would put my own kids in danger, and others too. Now I can’t afford the rent, and I have to choose between that and feeding my own family. My landlord lives in L.A., and when I try to talk to her about the pandemic she acts like I’m speaking a foreign language.”
 

 
Pedro Viramontes and Andrea Bonilla moved in May into one of the apartments that had been renovated, and pay $2,500 a month.  Viramontes works at the East Bay Community Law Office and Bonilla is a tech worker.  When they found out about the rent strike they supported it immediately.
 

 

 
Rent strikers and supporters from buildings throughout Oakland wait for the arrival of the investor tour organized by the struck landlord, Mosser Capital.
 

 

 
Carroll Fife is director of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) for Oakland and San Francisco. She told the tenants: “If you can charge the highest price for an item that people actually need to live and thrive, we’re always going to have an issue here. And it hits Black and brown folks the most.”
 

 

 
Tenants accused Mosser Capital of violating Alameda County public health orders that restrict real estate tours and endanger tenants. The county is a COVID-19 hotspot, and as of July 16 had 8,499 cases and 154 deaths. Infection and death is a danger especially to older people, and most of the tenants in the 34 units of the apartment house are seniors.
 

 

 
The Brass Liberation Orchestra, a Bay Area radical musicians collective, showed up to play and urge tenants to sing — and to lift the morale of strikers.
 

 

 

“Seniors deserve a secure life and retirement,” Sharena Diamond Thomas said as supporters wearing masks looked on. “They shouldn’t have to worry about the rent going up.  Housing is a human right. Yet Black people are facing a wave of evictions in Oakland, which is as serious a problem for our community as terror from the police.”

 


 

A masked striker looks on from her balcony as other tenants prepare to confront the landlord and the investor group.

 


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