by Ruben Kimmelman
An Enigmatic Politician Dealing With a Polarizing Issue
Gentrification is fast becoming an important issue here in Reno and might be something you and your friends are discussing over a latte or craft beer. Often used as a loaded term, gentrification is both provocative and polarizing, and widely misunderstood as well.
The city of Oakland has a long history with gentrification, and Oakland’s former mayor Jean Quan’s public reputation is almost as enigmatic as the term itself. As mayor, serving from January 2011 to January 2015, she once had a 2-1 approval rating among her city’s residents that dropped to 28% only half a year later, according to a local CBS poll. However, she is famous for ‘out-hustling’ her opponents and, even after losing the election in 2014, she remains a visible and active part of the city’s politics, advocating for issues she finds important.
A Q and A with Jean Quan, Any Advice for Reno?
Kimmelman: I actually live in Reno, where gentrification issues and stuff like that have kind of been brought to the forefront lately. Here in Oakland it seems like it has been an issue for quite a while now, what kind of advice would you have to cities that feel like their cities are being taken away to issues like that?
Quan: “Well you know, we've been working on affordable housing for a while, and so the politics they swing left they swing right. I worked very hard on fighting the governor when he removed the redevelopment which was the funding for affordable housing, worked very hard to get other affordable housing, but I did a lot of affordable housing when I was mayor particularly to protect our more elderly citizens."
"We built a lot of senior housing and we left behind some plans and we've been trying to get the city council to charge fees and develop some areas so that 25% of all the new housing is what we call affordable for working class families."
"Basically, if you're a hotel worker [with a family and you’re] both working you don’t make enough money to buy a house in Oakland so we're working really hard to get with nonprofits to get good decent rental properties and to get some of the climate change funding to build housing along major corridors like this so that people can afford to still live in a city like Oakland."
Neighborhood to Neighborhood Battles
"We’re very diverse, and, you know, I think, unlike San Francisco, we’re really fighting it neighborhood by neighborhood. People are really actually organizing and they’re fighting and we’re trying to put pressure on city government to come up with that money, and we’re not there yet, but we've won some victories, and so one of the things I'm campaigning for today is this renter protection. We want to protect the current renters a lot because (...) a lot of people don’t know their rights. Landlords will sometimes walk by a building and tell everyone to get out and not knowing that they actually have rights to stay and that they can't just add 1000 dollars to their rent. So this is actually a pretty important ordinance. It protects people against unjust evictions and also would require the city to let every renter know what their rent should be and what the rules are.”
Kimmelman: [Who should the burden be on?]
Quan : “It should be on the landlord and it should be on the city. I am famous for walking door to door and talking a lot and I would run into so often seniors and others who just their landlord told them to leave and they just leave. They don’t understand that they have rights.”
Kimmelman: [Yeah, well because they don’t have the time or the money to look into the legal stuff or hire a lawyer, obviously, because they can’t afford that]
Quan: “Or even you think that they can, but I think that more and more it’s starting to happen because there's no place to move. It used to be ok I'll move farther east or I’ll move whatever but now the whole Bay Area is becoming way too expensive.”