On my birthday last month, I had to vacate the home where I’d been for about a year. I wasn’t evicted, but my lease ran out, and I was given five weeks’ notice that the month-to-month arrangement was over. During the search for a home, I saw some nice people with scary places and scary people living in nice places. As with many in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m willing to make lifestyle sacrifices to share housing with others to get by. It’s become a necessity, particularly in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco where residential rental rates have practically doubled in the past two years.

Last year, I found myself paying double rent for three months because my landlords, Mike Lin and Lee Huong, declared a “Costa-Hawkins” event on my unit and elected to double the rent. Though Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda County have some very strong tenants’ rights protection laws, they are trumped by draconian California state laws, including Costa-Hawkins and Proposition 13.

Costa-Hawkins allows a landlord to “re-set the rent to market rate” when a master tenant moves out, and a new lease is in place, even if the tenant is already in residence. “Market rate” is defined as whatever the landlord thinks he can get. Lin and Huong also took gratuitous pleasure to disrupt and interfere with my search for another housemate to split the rent, including willfully NOT following up on the references and credit app for two candidates I presented. The potential housemates couldn’t wait any longer and found other places to live. No county or state law prevents this type of manipulation by a landlord.

Four years ago, I was staying in a temporary situation while waiting to move into a place when a major fire displaced everyone from the dreadful Nash Hotel, including me. For the only time in my life, I was a Red Cross “victim”, and they placed me in a hotel in a nice part of Oakland. The San Francisco Chronicle had a picture of me in the despair of the aftermath.

This odyssey has become tiresome. But as painful as this has been, I have a lot of company with other working people and professionals, whose livelihoods and “self-actualization” is disrupted by these pesky survival issues. The huge time expenditure devoted to housing searches has taken valuable time away from servicing “billables” and generating new ones.

During my odyssey, I also explored possibilities in Santa Cruz, where I have friends and family. I found the same dynamic as Berkeley with fewer options and greater scarcity. Santa Cruz and Berkeley are beset by parallel housing crises for some of the same reasons; namely, the tendency of the University of California to rip off its students in every way possible, including housing. They have young people conditioned to believe it’s OK to spend up to $900/month to share a bedroom with a person they don’t know. Subsequently, this dynamic spreads off campus and into the towns.

Berkeley has created a proverbial “perfect storm” of a housing nightmare, driven by Mayor Tom Bates, whose 12 years in office have been devoted to tearing down affordable housing, parking lots and serviceable businesses, in order to create more “luxury” and “exclusive” apartment buildings, where you can get a one-bedroom for $1,500 or a two-bedroom for $3,500.

A popular grocery store in West Berkeley is slated for demolition to make way for yet another expensive, luxury apartment building, in a neighborhood that has seen at least six similar “developments” over the past two years. This is what happens in a one-party town, where smart people are stupid enough to believe that all Democrats are good. A discussion of the destructiveness of “phony liberalism” is for another day. However, it’s worth noting that the downside of liberalism is 1.) Protecting the wrong people for the wrong reasons, and 2.) Misplaced vigilantism. In this case, unscrupulous property owners are being protected by elected and appointed officials.

I recently moved into a two-month sublet. So I’m catching my breath and taking inventory of my possessions and mental health for the first time in over three weeks. My search is still on, because two months is hardly forever. I had something else available for the longer term, but not for another two weeks, and I couldn’t wait any longer. I was resourceful during that time, taking a road trip, visiting friends in other parts of Nor Cal, getting soaked by a motel in Santa Cruz for a few nights, a B&B in Alameda for a few nights, and staying with generous friends for up to a week at a time. Thank God for them and others who contributed to my cause.

So I was technically homeless for the third time in five years. But rather than camp out, I lived out of my car while I traveled and imposed myself on friends. Thankfully, I had resources to do that. Even though I wasn’t “out on the street,” the ongoing tasks of managing my stuff from day to day and place to place became extremely tiresome. And demoralizing. It’s given me a new perspective on the rough-looking men and women pushing their livelihoods around in a shopping cart, or putting everything under a tarp with the hope it will be undisturbed.

My pain wasn’t lessened by seeing a HUGE preponderance of people “living” under bridges and over-passes, or sleeping behind structures on construction sites for a windbreak. Indeed it was part of the painful soul-searching. My usual inclination to give a dollar or two to someone who pulled at my heartstrings had to stop in recognition of my own need.

I was told to “look in the mirror.” I was told, “You create your own reality.” To an extent that is true. But let’s not pretend that there are not perverse forces contributing to this situation for many. I asked myself what horrible thing I’ve done in this life to create such awful housing “karma” for myself. Someone told me to explore a past life. So, does that mean I was a crooked politician like Tom Bates, or a deeply cruel landlord like Mike Lin in a past life? Can’t invest in that.

The political forces in this “liberal” bastion have become quite cavalier and cruel. Politicians such as Bates and Councilmember Linda Maio grandstand about the housing crisis, while signing off on numerous “development” projects that displace long-tenured tenants and longstanding small businesses.

“Gentrification” is a popular euphemism to describe the process of bleeding people of resources, and evicting them from their homes to make way for tenants and businesses for whom money is no object. Oakland recently enacted a 90-day moratorium on raising residential rents. Ah, so they’ve placed a band-aid on a gushing wound, and act like a box of Kleenex will wipe up the ocean.

Alameda County, and Berkeley in particular, need a two-year moratorium on new “luxury” apartment developments. That would be a real start. Maybe Oakland and SF could follow suit. Costa-Hawkins needs to be re-visited by the State Assembly and re-written or discarded. Proposition 13 created nightmares when enacted in 1979, and continues to create new ones with every new lease. It MUST be repealed. Hasn’t this anti-tax, anti-government movement gotten a little old? Isn’t economic diversity necessary to sustain a functioning economy, or is Alameda County to become an enclave exclusively for the wealthy?

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H. Scott Prosterman has lived in the East Bay since 2004. He is a professional editor and language specialist, who was born in the 50s, raised in the 60s, thrived in the 70s, barely survived the 80s and regrouped in the 90s. He still blames himself for helping to elect Reagan by voting for Barry Commoner in 1980.
H. Scott Prosterman has lived in the East Bay since 2004. He is a professional editor and language specialist, who was born in the 50s, raised in the 60s, thrived in the 70s, barely survived the 80s and regrouped in the 90s. He still blames himself for helping to elect Reagan by voting for Barry Commoner in 1980.

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