NorCal People’s Housing Union – fighting gentrification in Oakland – meets Saturday

by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey

The politics, color and income of Oakland is changing rapidly similar to what happened over in San Francisco, where the population went from 16 percent Black in the 1970s to 3 percent Black and shrinking today. Oakland, like many other largely Black cities, is being plagued by gentrification.

Housing Union flier 040916Now, with white flight to the suburbs in reverse and tech corporations like Google, Uber and Pandora eyeing prime real estate in the Bay Area’s most popular cities, rents have gone soaring, pricing long-time residents out of the market and sending them to live in what was once white suburbia – to Antioch, Stockton, Tracy, and Sacramento – if they can afford the price of four walls at all.

Instead of suffering in silence, Timothy Killings is a member of the Northern California People’s Housing Union, and the collective is having a meeting this Saturday, 12-3 p.m., at the Quilombo Community Center, 2313 San Pablo in West Oakland. Food and child care will be provided and all are invited. Check out Timothy in his own words.

M.O.I. JR: Why should housing be a human right? Why is it important for you to organize around this issue?

Timothy Killings: Housing should be a human right because it is one of the most basic human needs. It is tied to our sense of security, our livelihood, our safety, our sustenance, our dignity – and that of our children.

We see poverty as systemic violence, as so many people today are not able to obtain their most basic needs. Under this capitalist system, the city government, landlords and developers treat housing as simply a means for profit.

When the power structure makes housing a business and a privilege, rather than a basic human right, too many people are left vulnerable to exploitation and oppression. Today, we are facing a serious crisis of gentrification and displacement in the Bay Area, and we see it is our responsibility to organize and to empower our communities in order to ensure that we can both challenge the current structures of power and create real alternatives that serve the needs of the people.

M.O.I. JR: With the tech sector buying up San Francisco and sending rent soaring in Oakland, what is it that you and your collective of organizers are organizing to do?

Timothy Killings: We are organizing to increase the level of understanding, analysis and consciousness of the problems at hand. We are organizing to fight the root of the problems, which we see as systemic.

We are organizing to bring people together, to empower all those who are oppressed and marginalized to fight for their own interest, and to determine the future of our own communities. For people to be truly empowered, we need to organize and put up a fight against capitalism.

Saying the community is being torn apart by evictions and sky-high rents, James Van told the Oakland City Council on April 5: “We came up with a request for a moratorium to say, Stop! Pause! Take a breather! Let’s stop this madness for a while.” Finally, after midnight, following hours of testimony, the council unanimously approved a 90-day moratorium on evictions and rent increases, based on a resolution drafted by activists. – Photo: Michael Short, SF Chronicle
Saying the community is being torn apart by evictions and sky-high rents, James Van told the Oakland City Council on April 5: “We came up with a request for a moratorium to say, Stop! Pause! Take a breather! Let’s stop this madness for a while.” Finally, after midnight, following hours of testimony, the council unanimously approved a 90-day moratorium on evictions and rent increases, based on a resolution drafted by activists. – Photo: Michael Short, SF Chronicle

M.O.I. JR: What is the importance of people being organized in a community fight like this?

Timothy Killings: The importance of organizing in a community fight like this is to remind us all that we have something more valuable than the money accumulated by the power structure; we have the power of the people. When we collectively organize within our communities, we realize that we have all the skills, abilities and resources around us.

The most successful tactic of the system is to keep us divided, but when we organize together collectively, we can see our common struggles and begin to work together for our self-determination, empowerment and well-being. For the housing struggle in particular, we believe that forming a union is a necessary way to build a mass base of people to organize from within our local communities and to create concrete solutions that bring the control over housing and land back into the hands of the people.

M.O.I. JR: What is it that your collective believes?

Timothy Killings: We believe that housing is a human right. All human beings, regardless of socio-economic status, race or gender should be provided with housing. If a human being only has one penny to spend a month on rent, there should be a place for that human being to live.

We believe that oppressed people have the right to organize themselves into collective bodies to secure our housing rights. We should not be dealing with the system as individuals, nor accepting gains that only benefit individuals.

The system should answer to collective, organized, mass people power. We believe that the key to mass organizing around the battle for housing is mass raising of consciousness.

We believe that the struggle will only be successful if politically educated people carry it out. We are dedicated to the political education of our members and all masses we can reach.

We believe that our material interests stand in absolute contradiction to the material interests of the ruling class and the power structures they wield. Our gain is their loss. Our loss is their gain.

Qilombo Community Center - Photo: Oakland Socialist
Qilombo Community Center – Photo: Oakland Socialist

We are committed to struggle and will make no compromise on our demands. We back up our demands with organized people’s power and do not look for benevolence or common sense from the system.

We believe that the struggle for housing is connected to all of our struggles against oppression, be it brutality at the hands of police, economic exploitation, inferior health and education institutions, and the racist, patriarchal culture that permeates media and culture. Removing us from our homes is just one of the many crimes against us that add up to genocide.

M.O.I. JR: What are the demands that y’all are putting forth?

Timothy Killings: We demand citywide rent caps so that no one has to pay more than 25 percent of their income in rent. We demand housing subsidy programs with enough funds to guarantee that every poor person and person of color can secure housing in any city where they choose to live.

We demand that poor people and people of color be given absolute priority in all subsidy programs. No more subsidies for people who make three, four times the poverty line wage.

We demand the return of ALL previous public housing residents to the new homes built on the sites of torn down public housing complexes. We demand free housing for anyone who does not have income.

We demand a policy that all evictions are illegal. We demand an immediate ban on all developments of luxury homes in our cities.

We demand a Right of Return program that will restore housing for any person who has been forced out of their city within the past 30 years. These are just some of the things we identified as essential to life and the dignity of all people, and they need to be recognized by all.

Members of the Oakland East Bay Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta resolutely wait their turn to be among the 200 who testified for a moratorium on evictions and rent increases at the April 5 Oakland City Council meeting. Another 200 were forced to wait outside the doors of the packed council chambers. – Photo: Michael Short, SF Chronicle
Members of the Oakland East Bay Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta resolutely wait their turn to be among the 200 who testified for a moratorium on evictions and rent increases at the April 5 Oakland City Council meeting. Another 200 were forced to wait outside the doors of the packed council chambers. – Photo: Michael Short, SF Chronicle

While many of our demands are more reformist, we see them as just a step forward towards self-determination and liberation. Our demands around housing are a way to open the door for the larger struggle, and to create a situation where people are able to take control over their lives and communities.

M.O.I. JR: Who does your collective consist of?

Timothy Killings: We are people who are concerned, impacted and supporting all those who are being oppressed, displaced and facing struggles around housing. We are people from around the Bay Area and the world who are determined to organize to create meaningful alternatives to the social, political and economic issues facing marginalized and oppressed people.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us about your event on April 9? What are you planning to do? How can people become a part?

Timothy Killings: Our event on the 9th of April at the Qilombo Community Center at 2313 San Pablo, Oakland, is the first general membership meeting for the Northern California People’s Housing Union. We will be rolling out our constitution, which includes our principles, beliefs and demands, and then breaking out into three committees: Outreach, Action and Political Education.

This will be an opportunity to come together to strategize with others and to plug in to a committee based on your diverse experiences, skills and interests. There will also be free food and child care provided at the event.

This will be the first of many monthly general body meetings, and we encourage all those who are interested in participating to come through on the 9th, or to contact us for more information regarding the following meetings and events!

M.O.I. JR: How can people stay on line with the collective?

Timothy Killings: You can contact us by email at norcalpeopleshousingunion@gmail.com.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.