Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Sources & Notes

Chapter II: Effects of Gentrification

While the process of gentrification has begun in West Oakland, its effects are visible more in changes in cost and in anecdotal evidence than it is in quantitative figures and trends of change. This section combines qualitative and quantitative approaches to begin to describe the effects of gentrification in West Oakland. This section proceeds as follows. First, we describe historic demographic changes in West Oakland. Second, we present our key findings. Third, we describe our methodology. Fourth, we identify what the general effects of gentrification are in a community. Fifth, we discuss examples of the neighborhood's response to neighborhood change. Sixth, we identify West Oakland's vulnerabilities to gentrification. Finally, we discuss the neighborhood's potential strengths as it confronts gentrification.

West Oakland has long had a history of ethnic diversity throughout its lower income areas.

Although today, African-Americans comprise a majority of West Oakland residents, gentrification will displace lower income families across all ethnic lines, including many Latino and South East Asian house holds. Since the 1970s, West Oakland has been undergoing a period of ethnic transformation as low-income residents from diverse backgrounds seeking affordable housing settle in West Oakland. In 1980, the African American population in West Oakland was 89.7% of the neighborhood. In 1990, the African American percentage had declined to 80.4% (1980 and 1990 U.S. Census). Still, despite the change of more than 9%, the overall population decline of African Americans was a decrease of only 1.9%. However, the increase in the population of all the remaining groups indicates that West Oakland has been undergoing an overall shift in its demographic base for at least 20 years. Between 1980 and 1990, Asian/Pacific Islander showed the greatest population change with a growth of 286.0%. The Latino population also increased significantly, a growth of 123.7%. White and Other populations increased in population by 61.9% and 23% respectively. While these trends may have contributed to the displacement of some residents of West Oakland, this process cannot be characterized as gentrification because the new residents were often of low incomes and thus were not part of the process of rising rental rates.

Key Findings

The key findings of this report are that:

· Gentrification in West Oakland is in its early stages and evidence is sporadic

· Some West Oakland residents embrace gentrification while many are not yet fully aware of its impact

· More data is needed both to document the gentrification which has already occurred and on an ongoing basis to monitor the effects of gentrification

· The biggest issue for the neighborhood are its vulnerabilities to gentrification

General Effects of Gentrification

The process of gentrification disrupts both a community's economic and social fabric. The disruption of the economic fabric occurs as there is a revitalization of the ability to realize a significant profit. Property owners, landlords in particular, in gentrifying neighborhoods understand that there is a large discrepancy between what current low- income residents pay and what they can expect from higher income residents now willing to move into the neighborhood. Neil Smith and others have referred to this process as the "rent gap" (Smith, 1996). Recognizing the ability to raise rents and still meet the market demand for housing, landlords have the incentive to evict low-income residents in favor of more affluent tenants who can afford higher rent. Hence, as housing costs rise, the neighborhood demographics change.

From the perspective of the city, there may be a benefit to the rising costs. Thus, one positive effect of economic transformation in gentrification is an increase in the municipal tax base. This economic benefit to the city occurs as new higher-income residents buy property which rises in value and pay higher income taxes due to higher incomes yet happens at the expense of low income residents who are displaced.

The disruption of the social fabric occurs on three levels. First, there is a process of displacement whereby lower income residents are forced to relocate to other housing or other neighborhoods. Second, there is a change in the demographics of the community as the displaced residents are replaced by higher income, often white, residents. Third, new cleavages emerge between the different groups in the neighborhood. For example, cleavages may form between renters and owners as renters face displacement and owners try to maximize their property values. Additional cleavages may form between old residents and new residents.

Understanding the effects of gentrification requires establishing indicators to measure the process of gentrification. Because gentrification is a long-term process, some effects may not be detected until an area has already gentrified. The following list of indicators is meant to identify what data will need to be collected in order to adequately monitor the process of gentrification.

General indicators of gentrification are measurements to observe short-term physical renovations, and long term shifts in the socio- economic demographics. Immediate neighborhood revitalization may be apparent in the restoration of parks, municipal facilities, and housing projects while longer term changes are ones that occur in the population demographics. There are five main areas where measured changes are indicators of gentrification. These areas include changes in services, employment, schools, public safety, welfare assistance and public housing.

Changes in services include the opening of new businesses which cater to a higher wage clientele. Symbols of gentrification often include chain coffee shops and new restaurants. The presence of such new businesses represents a decrease in the market risk of investment in the community due to a market of higher income residents. This reduction in market risk and greater capital investment in businesses is another implication of the Neil Smith "rent gap" concept as the profit potential from investment grows.

Changes in the job market after the progress of gentrification create a shift in the type of employment available. In many gentrifying neighborhoods (or threatened neighborhoods such as West Oakland), there has been a shift during the past two to three decades from job opportunities in factories, shipyards, and military bases to employment in a primarily service-oriented job market. This shift results in an overall drop in household income of former residents. New residents are often more likely to work in higher end management, technical, and computer oriented positions as residents who work in the low wage service and retail sectors are forced to relocate due to the rising cost of living. This change will be followed by an overall rise in household income, property value, and widespread displacement of current residents. In addition, relocation of computer-based companies, and corporate buildings to downtown Oakland will further indicate of gentrification on the basis of employment.

The condition of schools is another indicator of social change characteristic of gentrification. Schools in the gentrifying area are usually run down and dilapidated and lack the funds to hire personnel with the training or experience necessary to compensate for the school's disadvantages. Specific examples of changes in the schools which may be indicators of gentrification include: average reading and math scores, SAT scores, adult literacy rates, attendance to occupancy ratio(18), student per staff member ratio, teacher salaries, and the age and renovation of infrastructure. These changes are however very unlikely to occur in West Oakland in the near future.

The public safety and justice of a residential community is one of the most pertinent factors in evaluating its attractiveness and property value. Since the early 1980's West Oakland has had the reputation of being one of the most dangerous areas of Oakland. Although, drug sales, homicides and overall crime have decreased dramatically over the past decade, many negative images still prevail as a stigma on the area. In order for homes in West Oakland to be sold to suburban higher income families, the area must drop its crime rate and increase the police presence. Substantial, measures of increased public safety may include: Police personnel per 1000 residents, Serious Crimes Solved by Police, Youth Incarcerated or on Parole per 1000 minors, and the Equipment and Vehicle age and maintenance.

Public Assistance of residence in the forms of public housing facilities, section eight housing vouchers, cash benefits, food stamps, and health care, will also be significant indicators of gentrification in West Oakland. People in need of public assistance are most likely those who will be displaced by gentrification processes because of their low incomes. As property values increase, renters in particular will be unable to compete with higher income households who buy properties, as well as single artists, and couples who can afford higher rents. Projects such as Hope VI will also lead to the displacement of lower income households as high density housing projects are demolished and rebuilt as lower density housing facilities with fewer affordable units. The shift from high to low density housing developments will additionally create an overall loss of housing units that will lead to the displacement of additional lower income families. Thus, the decrease in the amount of residents receiving some form of public assistance is an indicator of gentrification.


Because many of the indicators presented above will occur in the future, our study in describing the conditions of gentrification within West Oakland today used other indicators. Our analysis contains information from both qualitative and quantitative sources. For example, the Alameda County Assessors Data from April 1999, Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) data, and U.S. Census Department information were aggregated and presented in GIS maps and statistical information. The qualitative sources used for this analysis include interviews with West Oakland community members, local brokers, and city officials. A small survey on rental rates was also conducted for this analysis.

The property holders that were studied were residential property owners. This is important to distinguish because otherwise all property holders would include property that is used for businesses and public uses. Residential property owners are important because they are the main players in this process. They are the players who provide the access to West Oakland. Other players like policy makers are only secondary players.

Residents' views of gentrification

Interviews with West Oaklanders reveal two ends of a spectrum of opinions on gentrification. Some residents fear displacement and radical changes in the cost of living while other residents welcome what they see as neighborhood revitalization and renovations to their once dilapidated section of Oakland. Individual perspectives on neighborhood revitalization and gentrification are usually based on financial status, experience with the housing market in West Oakland, and whether or not someone has a family.

There is not the wholesale sense that the community is transforming immediately. There has yet to be mass displacement of the historic community. In some instances, homes have been sold by white families and bought back by black families or sold by Chinese families and bought by black families.

Some residents identify changes in the neighborhood due to gentrification as positive. These changes include a reduction in violence and drug use, and an increase in safety and property values. Displacement is of less of a concern for residents who own their homes and are concerned with raising their children.

One elderly resident noted that she feels more comfortable walking to the corner store now that there are fewer prostitutes and drug users in the nearby parks. Upon hearing that outsiders are starting to buy homes in the neighborhood, she felt it was a good change and that she would wait for "the top dollar" before she would sell her home.

Chris grew up in West Oakland and now lives in a working class neighborhood in San Leandro. He returns periodically to the community to barbecue with his family. We asked Chris

his feelings on West Oakland. He replied that it has substantially changed since he left. When crime rates were high and his children could not play outside, Chris decided to move his family to San Leandro. Today, Chris said with a big smile on his face, West Oakland is the place to live. Chris mentioned that everyone who lives in the suburbs wants to live in West Oakland because it is five minutes from Downtown, the new federal building is downtown, and most important, crime is down. The park where Chris was barbecuing, he says, was cleaned up. Some of Chris' final words were that he would love to come back to West Oakland but he cannot afford to. Chris brought up the financial restraints preventing from moving back to his former place of residence..

Another resident voiced his disapproval of the city government's concept of neighborhood revitalization, and felt it was detrimental to the cultural integrity within the neighborhoods. Rasheed is a resident and homeowner in West Oakland whose family has been in the community for over thirty years. He has observed the ethnic and cultural changes of the community, as well as the economic and demographic shifts over the past twenty years. He emphasized that although his neighborhood is multicultural, a strong sense of community has developed beyond ethnicity that is unique to that area in West Oakland. He pointed out that the park across the street from his home has been earmarked by Oakland mayor Jerry Brown to become an Oakland historical monument with gates, fences, and heightened police patrols to deter undesirables and derelicts. He commented on how youth and others viewed by police as loiterers and thugs were also residents and part of the community. He claimed that the city was attempting to convert his community into a tourist site, attractive to outsiders, tourists, and speculators. Rasheed pointed out that crime--primarily drug sales, have declined dramatically due to increased police presence. Rasheed concluded that because of the decrease in crime in conjunction with the city's renovations, gentrification and displacement are imminent.

Many of Rasheed's frustrations were related to a sense of powerlessness he felt as an informed homeowner in the midst of displacement of residents who did not understand eviction or foreclosure procedures. Frankie had been evicted from her apartment several weeks ago. Since then, she has been staying with a friend, Denise, who is also a West Oakland resident, and Frankie's next door neighbor. Frankie was evicted because her landlord recognized the potential of his property in West Oakland. Both Denise and Frankie understood that many residents are going to be displaced once Gentrification is in full swing. They insisted that a legal renter's assistance program should be instituted because the local legal programs have proven inadequate for the residents in need of advocacy.

Many residents feel the pressures of income restraints and see the renovations as foreshadowing mass dislocation. Others interviewed brought up conflicting concerns. There is anecdotal evidence that elderly residents are beginning to sell their homes as they seek a return on their investment. In some instances, residents who own several homes are selling them as a bundle to speculators, thus pricing out current residents who could afford a single home. For example, on 5th street near the BART station, an elderly woman is selling her four homes as a group. She is moving to Palo Alto and is kicking her children out of the house. Delores sees the recent neighborhood revitalization as providing her a key to a successful retirement.

Homeowners are all benefiting from the recent boom in West Oakland's real estate market, especially those who were able to purchase homes, then capitalize on the rise in property value. Larry, a resident of West Oakland for 20 years, has noticed the trend that is hitting West Oakland. Larry bought sixty-year-old Victorian for under $100,000 less than three years ago. Over the past nine months Larry has been receiving offers for the property, which continue to rise the longer he refuses to sell. Landlords who previously rented out their properties have also been able to benefit from the rise in property value by evicting tenants in order to increase rents or selling to real estate firms and outside investors willing to buy homes above market value.

In an additional example, an elderly woman is selling her four homes as a group. She is moving to Palo Alto and kicking her children out of the homes. Around the corner, two young lawyers recently bought a Victorian for $140,000 near the BART station. They plan to fully rehabilitate building. This reconstruction will cost tens of thousands of dollars yet neighbors of the lawyers felt the house was only worth $40,000. Hence, their perception of value, although based on daily knowledge of the community, is far below the market level.

In general, West Oakland looks like a vibrant, thriving community that has not been affected by gentrification, yet. The stories that we heard were very interesting, but also gave us a sense of what the community is really like. The new federal building mentioned in several stories is a source for new jobs in the community while crime was also a big story subtopic. The crime rate has gone down and residents perceive as a safer place. The falling crime rate, along with more frequent police patrols, and the improvement of parks and play areas, could possibly foreshadow a change in area demographics. Indeed, West Oakland is a prime target for the process of gentrification to take place. In order to fight a battle one must know both their strengths and weaknesses. We will now outline West Oakland's vulnerabilities.


West Oakland's vulnerabilities to gentrification are numerous. Some are obvious and some deserve closer examination. It is no secret that West Oakland houses a disproportionate number of renters. In fact 80% of all occupied units in West Oakland are renter-occupied. By residents not owning the property that they reside in leaves the land in the hands of those who may not have a stake in the preservation of the community.
The location of West Oakland is another obvious attraction of West Oakland. The neighborhood lies directly across the bay from San Francisco and is centrally located in the East Bay community as well. Furthermore, the neighborhood BART station has four lines running through it, allowing one to travel virtually anywhere the subway goes at any time it runs without long delays. Not only is the West Oakland BART station the last before San Francisco, conversely, it is the first station one reaches when leaving San Francisco. This would significantly reduce the commuting time of many now living in suburbs further from the main business center.
Property values
Low property and housing values also leave West Oakland vulnerable to speculation and higher-income housing seekers. As seen in Figure 1, many of the single-family residential parcels in West Oakland are valued by the County Assessor's office as $70,000 or less. Although many of these parcels most likely will sell for more than their assessed value, land in West Oakland still remains well below comparable land in other regions of the Bay Area.
Low incomes
Related to the low property and housing values is the low median income of West Oakland residents, shown in the Median Household Income chart. When compared to Bay Area residents, those living in West Oakland are overwhelmingly overmatched. In 1990, West Oakland residents earned a median income of $11,529. By comparison, the median income for the Bay Area as a whole was $41,635. By 1998, West Oakland median income increased by 3.2% to $14,788 while Bay Area median incomes increased 3.8% to $56,276. The 1998 median income of $14,788 has further implications however. A resident making that amount could only purchase a home for $45,760(19). Many residents of West Oakland are unable to purchase homes in their neighborhood at the assessed value of homes, many of which are significantly below the asking price. One young resident said, "With our incomes, no one from here can afford to buy these homes."
Quality of housing stock
Further vulnerabilities include the quality and type of the housing stock of West Oakland. Many of the homes in the neighborhood are 100- year-old Victorians. These homes appeal greatly to middle- and upper- income homebuyers with families. Not only are they high quality, but also they are a tremendous value, selling for much less than smaller, or less spacious homes in San Francisco.
Land ownership
A look at the land use map of West Oakland illustrates another vulnerability of the neighborhood. The large amount of both industrial and public land is worrisome because it is land that is not in the hands of West Oakland residents and can be compromised and transferred wholesale to the private market for gentrifiers. For example, the federal government, with its HOPE VI program, is systematically demolishing public housing around the country and replacing it with privately-run, mixed income developments. Not only are public housing residents being dispersed, but also many of those once living in the public housing units will no longer be able to afford the rents of the replacement development. Although some of the units are earmarked for "affordable housing," these units are typically targeted for populations making 30-50% of area median income. Many in public housing projects make 0-20% of area median income.
Vacant property
Over 11% of the parcels in West Oakland lie vacant. Although this may not be a large amount in comparison to the rest of the city, it is a starting point for acquisition by non-profit developers and community residents. This vacant land represents a vulnerability to West Oakland because eager speculators too can purchase it or developers not tied to the community. Locking it up with community-based organizations can do much to fortify the position of current residents.
Of all the residents of West Oakland, renters are the most vulnerable to the effects of gentrification due to weak tenant eviction laws in Oakland and the lack of vacancy rent control. In the 1990 US Census, renters made up the vast majority of all West Oakland residents. Approximately 80% of West Oaklanders rent. An examination of rental rates from 1980 to the present reveals that the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment has increased significantly in the last two years.

As shown on the 1980-1999 Median Rent chart, average rent increased 15% from 1997 to 1998. Between 1998 and 1999, rents increased another 14%. Current average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $625 a month (Oakland Tribune and Homefinder Services, 1999). A West Oakland family which earns the median income of $14,784 per year, or $1,232 monthly, would have to pay 51% of their before tax income to afford this one bedroom apartment. If rent continues to increase at this rate, most, if not all of the current renters in West Oakland will be forced out.

Potential Strengths

Despite the above vulnerabilities, West Oakland has several strengths which must be recognized. These potential strengths are critical in order to understand what are the tools a community has when trying to sustain its authenticity during a process of gentrification. The three strengths are high owner-occupancy, existing relationships and networks, and the current affordability of housing.
Owner Occupancy
Although this has been a source of divisiveness, homeowners in this community can be seen as an asset. Figures 1-4 show GIS maps describing land use in the community. Of the 576 single-family homeowners in the West Oakland community, roughly half of these homes are owner occupied. West Oakland is traditionally known as a renter community. Although this may be true, the homeowners occupy many of the single-family homes that exist. The other renters that live in West Oakland do not only reside in the other half of single family units, but they also live in multi-family residential units. This indicates that there is a strong historical home ownership based community that needs to be leveraged when building coalitions. However, this can only be leveraged when these homeowners are not only seen as adversaries, but those that may also have the same interests of improving the quality of life in the community while maintaining the existing social fabric.
Relationships and networks
In conducting interviews in this community and those that have an interest in the changing nature of West Oakland, this is one strength that persistently arose. The relationships and networks that exist in this community are strong ones. They have a link to the rich history of West Oakland and understand by far what exactly the assets are that exist in this community. This creates a comparative advantage in terms of access to new information, access to local business people and brokers with local interests, and most importantly, a sense of trust exists which is key in organizing and controlling the power of this process.
Property is still affordable
The potential for West Oaklander's to take advantage of these opportunities exists in that gentrification is at a very early stage in this process. Renters and other property owners that have an interest in maintaining the social fabric of this community have to enter the discussions of how to acquire properties for the interests of the community. Access to key information like first time homebuyer programs is essential in taking advantage of the affordability in West Oakland.


In summary, gentrification is a gradual process. Our findings lead us to assert that gentrification is in its very early stages in West Oakland. Current evidence does not support the belief that property values are skyrocketing, nor of massive racial and economic migration into the neighborhood, or wholesale displacement of current residents. Anecdotal evidence states that the displacement of low- income residents and the purchasing of homes by affluent families from outside West Oakland is occurring sporadically. What we have found is that West Oakland is extremely vulnerable to gentrification due to numerous factors such as location, low median income of residents, and low property values. As mentioned above, West Oakland possesses a number of strengths that can slow and perhaps manage the process of gentrification that may occur. To gain insight as to how other communities around the nation have dealt with the threat and impact of gentrification, we will now examine other best practices.