Sale of Oakland housing complex to non-profit 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’s history. 

The owner of a 14-unit building has sold to a non-profit, in a deal that will keep it affordable housing and give long-time renters their chance at the American Dream of home ownership.  

It started six years ago with a dispute over the condition of the apartments at 1534 29th Avenue, in Oakland’s Fruitvale District. 

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

“I’m going to have to go somewhere under the freeway or a bridge,” he said in a 2019 interview.  “And there is no more place for us.  All those places are already full of people.”

So, out of frustration, the tenants staged a rent strike that lasted nearly 2 1/2 years.

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

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

“What that has opened up is discussion, communications and really challenging the landlord — should you even own this property?” she said. “The tenants are fighting, they’re taking care of their own property at this point and you’re just taking our rent, right?”

There is a growing movement toward laws that give tenants or non-profits the first right to buy rental properties when they’re put up for sale. They’re called “opportunity to purchase” acts and are being considered in San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley.

That may sound good but Krista Gulbransen, with the Berkeley Property Owners Association, warned that non-profits have a poor record of maintaining their properties. She said their buildings often fall into disrepair when rents are locked into a low level.

“They find they’re not getting enough income because they’ve got lower rents and affordable housing, yet they have to still put back into the building to maintain and improve it,” Gulbransen said.  “So, at the end of the day, they have very little money to put into the maintenance and upgrades of the building.”

That doesn’t worry Francisco Perez. With the money he’s saved from the 2-year rent strike he said he plans to fix up 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 feel now secure, completely secure,” he said. “Because now we know, we’re sure that we have a roof over our heads.”

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

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