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Organizations Ask Oakland Rent Board to Strengthen Tenant Protection Regulations

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Tenants living in The Vulcan Lofts, an artist live/work building near Fruitvale that has over 200 rental units, say that many who live there are not recognized by their landlord as tenants, which makes needed repairs and maintenance difficult or impossible to secure. New amendments to proposed regulations to the Tenant Protection Ordinance could help them if passed. Photo by Zack Haber.

A coalition of 10 different organizations have asked Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Program (RAP) to amend proposed regulations to the Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO) in an effort to make replacing vacating roommates and filling extra space in rental units easier for tenants.

“In Oakland, tenants already have one-to-one replacement rights,” said Jackie Zaneri, a tenant attorney with ACCE Action, a grassroots organization that is leading the push to amend current proposed TPO regulations. “So if you have three roommates, and one of them moves out, you already have the right to bring in someone else. In practice, this right was difficult to enforce because there were not very good rules about when your landlord could just reject a new person.” But City Council has amended the TPO recently. On July 14, 2020, they approved additional language in the Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance that made it easier for tenants to accept new housemates or roommates.

The new language states that “a landlord shall not endeavor to recover possession of a rental unit if the landlord has unreasonably refused a written request by the tenant to add such occupant(s) to the unit.”

Other language the Council added specified that landlords cannot reject the written request to add occupants based on “the proposed additional occupant’s lack of creditworthiness, if that person will not be legally obligated to pay some or all of the rent to the landlord.”

The language helps most tenants in their ability to take in new roommates without those roommates having to prove creditworthiness to their landlord. It protects tenants

who want to pool money together and have one tenant pay rent as well as people who want to take in family members or friends who are unemployed.

There are some exceptions, such as units not covered under Just Cause and tenants who have already signed on to lease terms that prevent adding new roommates.

For many Oakland tenants, newly added language also allows them to add tenants beyond just replacing roommates, allowing for adding roommates to the total already living in a rental unit as long as that total does not exceed capacity limits set by the Council. These capacity limits are: “two persons in a studio unit, three persons in a one-bedroom unit, four persons in a two-bedroom unit, six persons in a three-bedroom unit, eight persons in a four-bedroom unit; or, the maximum number permitted under state law and/or local codes.” Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Program has created proposed regulations to determine how the newly added language will be enforced, but ACCE, along with tenant unions and organizations that advocate for tenant rights, are calling for the proposed regulations to be changed to protect tenants more.

“We believe that the current proposed criteria still leave ample legal room for landlords to retaliate against tenants by refusing to accept new roommates,” states a letter written by ACCE wrote, signed by Oakland Tenants Union, SMC Tenants Council, Bay Area Legal Aid and six other organizations and then sent to RAP on November 12. The letter also included proposed changes to RAP’s regulations.

The coalition’s proposed changes call for more specific reasons that a landlord would be barred from denying a tenant space, including inability to pay rent during the local emergency related to the pandemic, refusing to provide information that is outside the reasonable scope of an application process, participation in a lawsuit as plaintiff, past participation in tenant organizing, contesting rent increases or filing complaints against landlords.

In situations where a new tenant would be signing onto a lease and agreeing to pay the landlord directly in a rental unit already being rented by others, a credit check could be allowed. But the coalition has suggested a provision where a new tenant could not be subject to stricter credit requirements than other tenants living in the unit.

The coalition is also requesting that additional language be added to a section that gives landlords the right to deny a unit or evict a tenant if it can be proven they have misrepresented significant facts on a housing application.

Their new language would prevent landlords from denying space to tenants who have used other names in the past or had minor discrepancies on credit reports.

In addition to protecting tenants who unintentionally make mistakes when filling out forms, Zaneri said the additional language protects trans and Latinx tenants.

“Tenant screenings can come back with different last names, but there’s a number of reasons why different names could come up,” she said. “They could be transitioning or gender non-conforming. They could be from a [culture] that uses multiple last names, and maybe only one of them comes up.”

The coalition has also asked RAP to eliminate a petition process in new proposed regulations that they say eases landlords’ ability to raise rents if landlords can prove that an original occupant no longer resides in a rental unit.

“We don’t believe that the Rent Adjustment Program should add a new process to allow landlords to raise rent where not required by state law,” reads the letter the coalition sent to RAP on November 12. “We also object to a new petition process that encourages landlords to spy on tenants. We have seen tenants whose landlords catalogued everyone who went into and out of their units or used security cameras to track their movements.”

If a petition process exists that allows landlords to evict tenants if they can prove original tenants no longer reside in a rental unit, the coalition worries such behavior could become more prevalent among landlords who act in bad faith but claim “that they are only collecting evidence for their petition.”

RAP heard public comments from the coalition and their supporters about the proposed amendments to proposed TPO regulations during their last meeting and is also considering the issue during their next meeting on December 10, at 5:00 p.m., when public comments can again be heard.

No regulations to the TPO have yet been codified and the RAP is still considering proposed amendments. Tenants can contact RAP for free help navigating tenant protections that have already been approved. Please call, (510) 238-3721, or on the web at: www.oaklandca.gov/topics/rent-adjustment-program

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Coronavirus

SEN. TIM SCOTT SOLVES ASIAN AMERICANS’ MODEL MINORITY PROBLEM

In the official GOP response to President Joe Biden’s Joint Speech to Congress last week, Scott offered up his childhood growing up with a single mother in a one-room apartment, and then looked America in the eye and said, unequivocally, “America is not a racist country.”

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Asian Americans have long been  hampered at times by the “Model Minority” stereotype. What’s that about? You know, how Asian Americans’ success has been used against them in that “look how good they are” way. It’s an excuse to ignore them.  Here’s the thinking: as model minorities, we can all  ignore them. They don’t need any government help, affirmative action, or any such handouts. They are model minorities, ergo, the subtext–Why can’t you all be like them! 

But not this year! 

Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) has made a gift to all Asian Americans.

We aren’t the model minority anymore.

He is.

In the official GOP response to President Joe Biden’s Joint Speech to Congress last week, Scott offered up his childhood growing up with a single mother in a one-room apartment, and then looked America in the eye and said, unequivocally, “America is not a racist country.”

He was taking away our crown of “model minority” and placing it on his own head. And tying it on with his own bootstraps. 

Got to hand it to Scott. He likes to brag: “I get called Uncle Tom and the N-word by progressives, liberals.” But honestly, to say America is not a racist country is possibly a bigger lie than “Trump won last November.”

A Biden margin of victory of nearly 7 million voters debunks that lie.

It would take just one chapter  of Asian American history—just the Filipino part– to refute Scott.

In an historical context, taking away Asian Americans’  “model minority” burden is quite significant. 

Dropping the stereotype is important as America, after the Atlanta mass murders , finally begins to understand that we Asian Americans are beyond stereotypes. All together, Asian Americans are  23 million strong and diverse, from more than 20 countries. And we’re growing, destined to overtake the Hispanic population as the No.1 ethnic minority by 2060, according to the Pew analysis of Census data.

It’s especially important as the government looks to engage with all of its people in a new inclusive way.

It is the New America many of us in the ethnic media have been talking about for the last 20 years.

And that’s what Scott and the GOP are trying to negate that positive uplifting message of President Biden’s national address to a new America. 

We’re getting a lot of history in the first hundred days of Joe Biden. In that speech, we got the precious first image of a U.S. president speaking to a joint session of Congress, flanked by a female speaker of the house, and a female vice president—a multi-racial woman of Black and Asian descent.

It’s the good history of an evolving democracy.

When Biden talked about “real opportunities in the lives of Americans,” he didn’t any of us leave us out.

“Black, white, Latino, Asian American, Native American,” Biden said, then he segued into a thank you. “Look, I also want to thank the United States Senate for voting 94-1 to pass the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act to protect Asian American Pacific Islanders.”

Seven seconds of applause. And then to top it off, he transitioned to a mention of the Equality Act to protect transgender youth.

These were the specific and necessary moments when many of us could see ourselves. They were signs that government hasn’t forgotten who it’s governing—all Americans, of all stripes, collars, and colors. Biden’s all-encompassing economic plan covering infrastructure and families would cost anywhere up to $4 trillion.

Worth it? It is if we still want to be an America that’s of the people, by the people and for the people.

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Art

Student Work – Nayzeth Vargas

There is freedom with the Zentangle; there is no expected visual outcome and students are less prone to creative blocks and self-criticism. 

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This piece was created by Nayzeth Vargas, a senior at Oakland Technical High School. The Zentangle Method is a therapeutic technique which uses combinations of contrasting patterns and values to create an image. Students were introduced to the Zentangle Method to offset the mental stress they were experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation.  

There is freedom with the Zentangle; there is no expected visual outcome and students are less prone to creative blocks and self-criticism. 

Nayzeth is enrolled in the West Oakland Legacy and Leadership Project, an integrated arts program that supports youth in developing thoughtful, educated voices for their communities. Though art, youth practice mindfulness and boundless creativity. Enrollment for the West Oakland Legacy and Leadership Project is open to youth ages 13-18 through AHC, for more information visit ahc-oakland.org/legacy.

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Community

Edna Lewis: Humanizing the Black Chef

In 1948, female chefs were few and far between; black female chefs were almost nonexistent. But that didn’t stop Lewis from partnering with John Nicholson, an “antique dealer and bohemian with a taste for high society,” to open her own restaurant. It was called Café Nicholson. Located on East 57th Street in Manhattan, the café quickly became legendary.

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For decades, chefs, food critics, and writers neglected Southern cooking. Stereotypes dehumanizing chefs remain an echo in black culture today, from Aunt Jemima, the so-called happy servant on the syrup bottle to the promise of black servitude flooding TV commercials targeted at white American travelers to the fictional character Uncle Ben, created to sell rice to those in black communities. But Edna Lewis (1916–2006) was real and a giant in the culinary world.
Lewis was born on her grandfather’s farm in the rural community of Freetown, Va., a town founded in the late 19th century by three formerly enslaved people. One was Lewis’ grandfather. He also started the first school in Freetown, holding classes in his living room.
Despite not having modern conveniences, Lewis learned to cook early on. Most of her cooking lessons were taught by her aunt, Jenny. The two would prepare food using a wood-fire stove. Without fancy spoons or scales, they used coins and measured seasonings the old-fashioned Southern way: piling baking powder on pennies, salt on dimes, and baking soda on nickels. It has been said that Lewis could tell when a cake was done “just by listening to the sound it was making.”
Lewis left home after the death of her father; she was 16 at the time. She first relocated to Washington, D.C. and later to New York City. There she took on jobs as a presser in a Laundromat and at the Daily Worker, a local newspaper. She took part in political demonstrations and campaigned for Franklin D. Roosevelt. But what Lewis didn’t know was that her cooking was about to make her a local legend in The Big Apple.
In 1948, female chefs were few and far between; black female chefs were almost nonexistent. But that didn’t stop Lewis from partnering with John Nicholson, an “antique dealer and bohemian with a taste for high society,” to open her own restaurant. It was called Café Nicholson. Located on East 57th Street in Manhattan, the café quickly became legendary.
Lewis did all the cooking. Her simple Southern dishes, the ones she learned to prepare on a wood-fire stove, attracted a crowd of famous faces: Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Gloria Vanderbilt, Marlene Dietrich, and Diana Vreeland. Business was great and Lewis was making a name in the culinary world.
Lewis stayed with the restaurant until 1954. Café Nicholson was sold years later to Chef Patrick Woodside.
In the late sixties, Lewis broke her leg and took a hiatus from cooking professionally. It was then that she began to compile some of her recipes. The result: the Edna Lewis Cookbook. In 1976 she wrote The Taste of Country Cooking, which became was one of the first cookbooks penned by an African-American woman to reach a nationwide audience.
Lewis’ teaching and cookbooks have influenced and inspired countless young chefs. She retired as a chef in 1992.

Source: https://www.thespruceeats.com/edna-lewis-1664995
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edna_Lewis
https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/edna-lewis
Image: https://www.eater.com/2017/1/7/14200170/edna-lewis-cookbook-bestseller-top-chef

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