Oakland Warehouse Fire Brings Up Issues Of Affordable, Safe Housing For Local Artists
In the aftermath of the recent fire in Oakland that killed at least 36 people, many questions have cropped up about the safety and affordability of artist live-work spaces throughout Oakland and the Bay Area.
Local officials previously inspected the warehouse, known as the Ghost Ship, but no action was taken to correct problems. There were at least 10 warning signs about the dangers at the live-work warehouse, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
Outside of general complaints about unsafe conditions, there have been tenant disputes, accusations of possession of stolen property and child custody fights.
An electrician named Jake Jacobitz told the Mercury News when he first got to the warehouse, it had only one power outlet and one exit until he cut a fire door. He said, “everything in there was illegal.”
The interior included small first-floor dwellings, a makeshift staircase of cluttered wood known literally as a “deathtrap,” and very few entrances and exists.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports the building was permitted for industrial use only and was full of unsafe conditions. Electrical wires were dangling from the ceiling and illegal generators were being used after a transformer fire.
A city inspector tried and failed to enter the facility last month after receiving complaints, but the inspector never came back.
Lack Of Affordable Housing Leading To Illegal Conversions?
Illegal conversions aren’t new to Oakland. An NBC Bay Area report found about 6,000 complaints since 2014 about poor living conditions throughout the city. Nine hundred investigations are pending, including violations that commercial buildings have been illegally converted to housing, don’t have electricity and lack the proper number of emergency exists.
One live-work space under scrutiny includes the Deathtrap at 28th Street in West Oakland. The 6,600 SF warehouse is similarly cluttered and has several complaints on record, reports the Chronicle. There could be a dozen more spaces like this throughout Oakland.
Artists now worry a flurry of inspections and code enforcement following the fire could lead to evictions and other live-work spaces being shut down, but there aren’t many other options for them.
Artists say living in unsafe conditions in crowded live-work spaces like Ghost Ship and Deathtrap are their only options to stay in Oakland with rising rents and a lack of affordable options.
Many artists can’t afford first and last month’s rent and a security deposit in the Bay Area, reports USA Today. Many would rather live in substandard situations and not report the conditions for fear of being booted onto the street.
Average rent in Oakland this year is about $2,778/month while San Francisco is about $3,373. Artists also have started to move to San Leandro since it’s cheaper, according to USA Today.
Musician and artist Bruce Bjerke told NBC Bay Area he and his friends have had to move out of city centers due to high housing costs and new developments. Artists are calling for more resources to help the arts community work and live in safe spaces.