Usually when someone asks me where I live, I've answered with "I live in San Francisco but sleep in Oakland".
Okay. I'm done with that. Its been a long time coming, but after a year of rebooting Noisebridge and having nearly ruined a great friendship, I'm taking an extended hiatus. I'll be moving out of the space, taking all my projects, tools, supplies, and whatnot. It just isn't sustainable for me anymore to spend so much time in a city I dislike.
Money is king in SF right now. As a civic hacker, I am drawn to these sort of problems. I've wanted to break into local politics in The City since before moving here. Its too much for me now; all the folks who could potentially help nme effect positive change either don't feel that politics is the answer or have been gentrified into Oakland.
Oakland has its own kind of identity crisis starting to brew, with the recent news of Uber moving in downtown. By the numbers, Oakland is hardly a "tech" city. The biggest employers are medical, government, and education. Uber moving in would make them the largest employer outside of those three categories, and possibly one of the largest employers in Oakland.
Jobs! Hooray jobs!
My concern though is about Uber's tendency to exploit every avenue of profit available to them. The city of Oakland didn't have an opportunity to request any explicit tax increases, or even the development of a community improvement plan. 3,000 people working at this new building will need housing, though a chunk of that number already live in Oakland but work in San Francisco. A number of other civic hackers feel that there isn't yet consensus around the idea of building new housing in Oakland, and that things are still "affordable".
When I moved to Oakland last year, I moved into a small one bedroom apartment that costs ~$1800/mo. I do not feel that my apartment is worth that much, given that I have no reasonable access to sunlight, its on the top of a hill, and the sheer size of the space. Previously I've lived in my house in Akron for a number of years. My monthly expenses of keeping up that house were around $500/mo, which is crazy cheap for a small house with a furnished basement. Market price for renting it out would be about $1800/mo. It has good access to public transit, is directly across the street from the Cuyahoga river and Gorge Metropark, and is no longer in a food desert since recently. In other words, a highly desirable location.
The nearest grocery store to my Oakland apartment is a good ~15min bike ride. I live right between two BART stations, each of which are a good ~15min bike ride themselves. A new CVS opened up downstairs, which is a good thing for my medical needs, along with the close proximity to Kaiser's Oakland Medical Center. But still, $1800/mo is roughly 30% of my monthly income - just barely meeting the definition of affordable housing where one pays no more than 1/3 of their monthly income for rent.
I should not need to make $125,000/yr to afford to live in my apartment. A married couple should not need to make $62,000/yr each to live in my apartment. I have no idea what my unit's previous tenant paid for rent, and I have no idea what others in my building pay though my neighbor just got evicted on short notice earlier this year.
Its stupid and doesn't need to happen. This particular situation that has developed has kicked my civic hacking senses back into gear. They're no longer pointed at a city that I can't afford to live in, and especially not at a city where I can't even vote. I've got the right to vote in Oakland, and a responsibility to be involved in the community I've long ignored.
I'm taking a break from Noisebridge for a few months while I sort out how I can best be involved in Oakland. I'm not interested in protesting. I'm not interested in going to city council meetings and yelling at my government like so many other activists.
I'm going to actively build the structures that my city needs to affect radical change in housing policy and provide the tools for others to afford what we have now.
I feel that we'll need to target these new tech workers moving into Oakland to support Uber's move. Uber moving to Oakland might be the start of a trend of more startups appearing in Oakland, drawing more technically minded people to the area who don't fully understand how to get involved in the city. They need some space that isn't all about their capitalistic day jobs, and at the same time isn't all about the sort of angry activism I see from others in the area.
I started SYNHAK back in Akron to bring about some sort of low-key economic revolution in that city. I wanted to create a hub for the technical-creative types in the city; to empower them to start their own thing by taking advantage of all that the city has to offer. We worked closely with the city government and other locals to enact a lot of positive change in terms of helping those without the ability to recoup the gains of their labor. In the end, things fell apart before we could get to where we wanted to go. Its been a learning lesson and now I'm ready to apply the new knowledge I've acquired.
Does anyone want to help start a hackerspace in Oakland?