Middle class priced out of Oakland, too

Courtesy of Shutterstock
Courtesy of Shutterstock
Courtesy of Shutterstock

When I first moved to Oakland in 2006, I thought I made a special discovery. I remember pulling out the road atlas and turning to the Bay Area map. “Right here,” I said to my husband, putting my finger down in Oakland. It had east access to transportation, it turned out to be thick with history, and—keep it quiet—it was affordable, even on our combined income of well under six figures.
Shortly after President Barack Obama was elected, the housing market crashed, and his administration offered a $7,000 rebate for first-time home buyers. We found a place and moved to East Oakland, never expecting our property value to skyrocket in a handful of years. Nor did we expect that the rent on the small one-bedroom apartment we left would nearly double.
But as we settled in and started our family, many others were moving out. The family of five across the street moved to San Leandro after facing a rent increase and a cockroach infestation. Maria Garcia, the mother of the family, claimed the place was haunted too, but I wonder if the ghost was more a manifestation of their landlord’s neglect than one of the spirit world.
We’ve seen a near-mass exodus of people like the Garcias, and it feels like their stories are just thrown on a pile and carted out at city council meetings, only to be met with clucking tongues and heavy sighs. But this exodus is gaining momentum and sweeping up people who may fall under the concept of “key personnel,” people like teachers, public employees, nurses, and other skilled workers with moderate pay grades. Now the middle class is being priced-out of Oakland.
It is often a combination of forces that push people out. Take, for example, a parent from my child’s preschool and an East Oakland neighbor. Tamar Kirschner is a library employee who has lived in Oakland for 20 years, and is facing the tough choices that come with raising a family. She landed here after college, attracted to the city’s diversity and creative atmosphere. “I really basked in the actual cultural diversity.,” she said. “Oakland seemed like the best kept secret- beautiful, temperate.”
Kirschner has three young children, and the schooling issue took center stage in her family’s decision making.
“Philosophically, I have always been a public education proponent, and I know that middle class families pulling out of the community and diverting resources to private and charter schools just exacerbates the problem of underfunded, under supported, and low achieving schools,” she said.
“But I have spent time professionally collaborating with OUSD and, in spite of the fact that I have met so many passionate and brilliant educators, and seen schools with thriving programs in place, the district is just so broken, and teachers and parents are in this constant battle to advocate for students. And those worthy individuals who work in it (the district) seem to get crushed under the thankless grind of it all.”
Her family opted to send their eldest son to a private school that offered a generous tuition assistance package. But with two other school-age children, they reached the maximum assistance their private school could allow.
Even though they live with a drastically reduced rent – thanks to Kirschner’s in-laws – the safety of the area left something to be desired. A neighbor on their shared property left after being mugged at gunpoint. The streets did not feel safe for her children to play in.
Kirschner began to look for other homes that she and her husband- a contractor who works mainly in Oakland- could buy on the cheap and fix up.
“At the time, I was still thinking along the lines of a sweet little cottage in Glenview, but even starter cottages and dilapidated shells of homes were several hundred thousand dollars out of our budget,” she said. “Over the years we bid on several fixer homes that were snapped up at well over asking price, full cash on the table, by flippers.”
With a growing family and a need for a slower-paced life, Kirschner found herself in the position of deciding between the city she loved and very practical concerns. A home in Benecia that her relatives owned became available, and with some reluctance, she and her family decided to move there. She said she won’t miss some things, like the clouds of marijuana smoke around Lake Merritt, and she’s looking forward to living in a place where her kids can ride their bikes in the street.
But she said their decision to leave remains bittersweet.
“Now that we are moving away, I think all the time about what my children will miss by not being raised here, like Mexican corn on the cob, firecrackers on Lunar New Year, dudes riding past on unicycles, Fairyland, Huckleberry trail, Classic Friday Movies at the Paramount… I think we who live here all know that, for better or worse, there is no place like it in the world.”

Author Profile

Sara is a proud resident of the Clinton/East Lake area of Oakland, where she enjoys her current gig as a stay-at-home mom. She grew up in Minnesota and Colorado before moving to the Bay Area in 2006. She has a background in art and worked as a graphic designer for many years. She feels her connection to the community is best held by exploring new places, asking people about their stories, and bearing witness to the changes surrounding us all.

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