As gentrification finger-pointing reaches a fever pitch in the Bay Area, the Wall Street Journal has found a new culprit: real estate investors who are pumping money in spots like West Oakland in a not-at-all-altruistic effort to jack up home prices. These days, it's not enough to buy a house and fix it up: investors are playing the long game by fixing up sidewalks, repaving streets, landscaping and giving makeovers to Oakland neighborhoods in an effort to raise home values and cash in on their property portfolios.
The Wall Street Journal reports that in 2012, the absentee buyers were responsible for 30.5% of Oakland's housing purchases, and another 33.6% of houses purchased were bought with cash, a sign that investors are buying up property and hoping to ride a wave of gentrification that carries more white and Asian homeowners to the area. One study found that between 2007 and 2011, 42% of the 10,508 foreclosed homes were acquired by investors.
What does that mean for Oakland's longtime residents? For now, some are happy with the improvements. Koonal Parmar purchased his home in Oakland in 2004. "This neighborhood has turned around 180 degrees," he told the WSJ. "The people who were living here for 30 years were just letting the neighborhood rot." Trendy restaurants are one sign the tides are changing, but it's not all happy tidings for residents. Jo Anne Stamps lives in a house that's been in the family for 40 years:
She said the new renters who have come in over the past few years keep to themselves and don't participate in neighborhood traditions like the annual block party. "When mom moved in, people were more friendly," Ms. Stamps said. "Everybody knew everybody. It made me feel safer."
The Bold Italic (yes, of A Beginner's Guide to Oakland) thinks youth in tech might be the answer, and they've got a call out for #YouthTechOakland, a discussion and fundraiser tomorrow that will focus on getting more minority students access to the tech workforce in the Bay Area (if you're in tech and want to get involved, do so here). But the complex issue of gentrification in Oakland is not likely to get resolved by slow-moving community programs (although they can't hurt!). At the rate real estate investors are going, it's probably too late to prevent a tip in the balance that will see West Oakland play out as the next bastion of gentrification.