Residents of the sprawling two-story warehouse at 1919 Market Street in West Oakland were given orders to vacate the property
today by City of Oakland building inspectors who have determined it is unsafe for habitation. Residents have until 11:59 p.m. on January 31 to vacate the property. The building's closure is forcing dozens of residents onto the street, including some who say they have nowhere to go.
Joy Newhart, a dancer who moved into the building in 2013, said that her spacious loft was the perfect live-work environment for her creative profession. Newhart currently has two roommates who sublet from her and several cats.
"I don't have anywhere else to go," said Newhart. "This building used to house over one-hundred low-income artists. We’re down to thirty or forty now. It’s devastating an artists community."
The building's numerous code violations, some of them serious, became the subject of controversy last year after one of the building's residents, Will Urbina, began posting Youtube.com videos of water leaking through the roof, tangled electrical wires, and other problems. An article
in the April 15, 2015 edition of the Express
highlighted these problems, and the city subsequently sent building inspectors to examine the warehouse. According to current residents, all the bad publicity was the beginning of the end.
In November, Timothy Low, an inspections manager for Oakland, sent the owner of the warehouse, Seth Jacobson, a notice declaring 1919 Market Street a public nuisance. The city also revoked the building's certificate of occupancy. Although 1919 Market Street was an unpermitted residential building, several current residents told me that for years the city looked the other way while residents made additions to their lofts.
The building was previously managed by Madison Park Financial, a real estate company owned by John Protopappas, a close friend of Mayor Libby Schaaf. Madison Park Financial withdrew from managing 1919 Market Street last year and was replaced by a company called 1919 Bayside, which is run by San Francisco real estate entrepreneur Danny Haber. According to several building residents, Haber held meetings last November in the parking lot of 1919 Market to inform them that the city was going to make them all to move out, but that his company would provide them with relocation assistance.
Some of the remaining residents have been skeptical of Haber's offers, however, because last year another company run by Haber, The Negev, was sued
in San Francisco over alleged wrongful evictions to push out rent-controlled tenants and use their apartments for tech bunk houses. Haber did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the situation at 1919 Market Street.
"They claimed that they will re-offer our units to us, that we can move back eventually," said Sam Coad, a current resident of the building. "They have been offering us move out packages, and they’re ostensibly following the laws, but people are certainly of the opinion that they might try to make it so we can’t move back in the end."
Newhart puts some of the blame on the city. She said that the city failed to communicate directly with the tenants about the impending closure of the building, communicating instead with the landlord. Newhart said she contacted officials in the Fire Department and Department of Planning and Building on multiple occassions seeking a "straight answer" about the status of the building, but that no one from the city ever provided her with a copy of the public nuisance declaration.
"I’ve been trying to get a straight answer for months, and this is it, the day they red tag the building, just days before I have to move out," said Newhart.