[This represents my opinion and is not in any way an official statement from my organization.]
Today my team held a press conference and launched a new report examining the role of private investors/speculators in post-foreclosure Oakland. Check it all here. We started this research project as a result of some data mining we were doing with foreclosure data- trying to develop better strategies to help stop, prevent or recover foreclosures. We noticed some names coming up over and over- not the names of banks, the names of new investment corporations. So we dug, and found enough interesting content to justify a full report: Investors have acquired two of every five foreclosed properties in Oakland- with 93% being located in the poorer flatlands. The same neighborhoods hit hardest by predatory lending of subprime loans that kicked off this here housing crisis.
The first article to drop in the press today stunned me, this article from Aaron Glantz of the Bay Citizen tells a great story of an Oakland homeowner who loses his home as a result of an injury and subsequent job loss. An investor buys it,then flips it shortly after for a substantial profit. Instead of the bank adjusting the guy’s mortgage, it forecloses, losing serious value in the long term but getting a huge cash injection on the spot- very important given how little profit our banks are making? The investor, or speculator, in this case receives the equity gain- the same equity gains our parents have built up in their homes over decades- although in this case the gains are not enriching our middle class nor working families, but corporations, equity firms and hedge funds. We call that wealth transfer, or #WealthTransfer.
What stunned me was the response of the representative from Sullivan (connected to REO Homes- one of the two biggest speculators):
“We want to bring in good, productive people and really change the area”
In a city with such protracted battles over gentrification, both planned and organic, this is a profound statement. For these “investors”, cash gets them cheap housing and easy profits, and their greed prevents local families from competing to acquire homes of their own- the great American dream. When someone will tell a journalist in Oakland that they want to “bring in” – “good, productive people” the message is clear to Oakland’s historically diverse residents-
if you’re poor or working class, if you’re black or brown, then you’re lazy and we don’t want you in this neighborhood- get out so we can make some money.
I’m really stunned that this rep would make such a clearly racist statement. There’s no grounds upon which you can claim that is not a clearly racist, anti-poor statement. If we need to “bring in” good people from SF, we clearly don’t have good people here already do we now, noone good or noone trying to buy a home to own and grow old in and hopefully see some equity and wealth growth of their own, some basis of stability to hand down to their children when they get old. This is once again how wealth is stripped from poor and working class communities across the USA, especially communities of color. Our society and our formerly strong middle class have been strengthened by families paying off their homes and retiring with modest wealth- and eventually these families pass on this wealth to their children. When this sustains and grows we call it “old money” and this clearly helps to sustain and strengthen communities. There are no good motives for trying to deny the chance to build wealth amongst communities of color, but this is clearly a result of such practices.
Topping this off, on the way home from the press conference, I pulled up at a traffic light across from my office, next to a property developer in his truck, to overhear two white guys conversing about this issue, the stand out:
“we’ve got to find someone who can help us deal with these negroes.”
I kid you not. Racism is alive and well in Oakland, no doubt about it. This is why I won’t be out of a job anytime soon.
Here’s my interview on KPFA this morning about this also: MP3.