HELP US SAVE THE VULCAN
The Vulcan Lofts are for sale and we, nearly 200 working-class artists in Oakland, are in danger of losing our home.
HISTORY AND FUTURE
The Vulcan Lofts have been an integral part of the Oakland arts community for over 30 years. Housed within a former steel foundry, the Vulcan is a central residential hub for nearly 200 low-income, working class artists and their communities. Full of visual artists, musicians, circus performers, and creatives of all stripes, the work produced at the Vulcan enriches the cultural fabric of the Bay Area and beyond on a daily basis, creating works of joy and beauty in the most rapidly gentrifying corner of America.
Now, one of the oldest, largest, and most visible live-work communities in Oakland is under threat.
In late 2018, the Vulcan was put up for sale for $16M by its current owner. Following the tragedy of the Ghost Ship fire, the city of Oakland has increased oversight on live-work spaces, putting new pressures on landlords and requirements involved when these buildings change hands. As a result, millions of dollars in upgrades to the building will be required when it is sold.
If the building is sold to a commercial developer, this expense will be passed on to its residents in the form of staggering rent increases, putting nearly 200 low-income artist residents at risk of mass displacement amidst California’s housing crisis.
In an effort to save our home, we have undertaken an unprecedented organizing effort to found the Vulcan Tenants Union (VTU) and secure legal representation to petition the city to place the building under rent control. The current owner claims the building is not subject to rent control, despite having been used for residential purposes prior to laws allowing landlords to claim rent control exemptions.
The VTU is fighting to officially put the building under rent control in order to avoid mass displacement, prevent the owner’s latest attempt to increase our rent, and stabilize a historic bastion of Oakland’s cultural heritage. A successful verdict may also open the door for an affordable housing developer to purchase the building, ensuring its long-term status as affordable artist housing. As the first major case of its kind following the Ghost Ship tragedy, the Vulcan will be a seminal case for other live/work spaces. Can we catalyze a ripple effect that affects hundreds of similar spaces in the city of Oakland and beyond?
We are in the process of rewriting live-work history.
In our fight for rent control, the VTU has enlisted the help of tenant’s rights attorneys, community organizers, and activists. Safer DIY Spaces, a local organization which arose after Ghost Ship to protect the city’s live-work residents from eviction and displacement, generously offered a stipend to support the case. Now, the money has run out.
An urgent situation has become an emergency. We need help if we are to save our homes, our community, and our way of life.
In order to properly pay for the legal and paralegal fees, private investigators, inspectors, and costs of service of subpoenas, witness fees and other cost related to our rent control case, the Vulcan needs to raise $50k by March 15th. This figure also includes funds to reduce the burden for an affordable housing developer to manage the paperwork and inspections necessary to formally evaluate the purchase of the building.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
This is about more than the Vulcan—this is about the folding of numerous artist and DIY spaces in Oakland, the Bay Area, and across the nation. If we win this case, we set an example for other live-work spaces, arming them with the legal strategy they need to ensure safe and habitable conditions while continuing to not just live, but thrive. We are asking our community at large for their support to save the vibrant Vulcan community that contributes so much to the cultural fabric of this city. With the support of many, we are ready to fight against the displacement of its low-income and vulnerable tenants.
HOW MUCH MONEY NEEDS TO BE RAISED? We immediately need to raise $50,000 to help secure the future of the Vulcan community.
WHAT DOES THE MONEY GO TOWARDS? This $50,000 pays for the two lawyers, two paralegals, and a licensed private investigator. The scope of the work includes case preparation, briefs, subpoenas, witnesses preparation, research, investigator costs, and likely lengthy hearing procedures.
VTU FAQ (May 1, 2018)
What’s the VTU?
The Vulcan Tenants Union: to amplify the power that we have as a vital and diverse community of artists in East Oakland. When we’re alone, we can do nothing to save our affordable housing—and we can’t save our studios where we make our art and our living. With each other, corporations can relentlessly raise our rents, force us out of our homes in the name of profits. They can ignore our requests to fix our leaky roofs, our moldy rooms, and still raise the rent. Together: we can research and affirm our rights; we can keep our housing; we can improve our housing. Working together, we can invent our dreams and revitalized art walks under non-profit funding! We can take control of our future.
What’s going on?
Some months ago we began seeing notices on our doors to exhibit units for sale. It is now known that the owner is selling three artist live-work properties in our neighborhood, including the Vulcan. We initially managed to pause the sale of the property through our coordinated efforts, making space for East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) and Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) to work together as a non-profit coalition to try to purchase and secure the Vulcan as affordable artist housing into the future. Those negotiations failed, putting the Vulcan back on the market and under imminent threat of profit-driven developers.
I’ve been living at the Vulcan for years. My rent is fine—what will happen if I don’t do anything?
Well we can’t predict the future—but we can glean from what we have seen. The asking price for the Vulcan is $16 million. A broker’s brochure to sell the Vulcan includes the phrase “Rent Control Exempt: A rare opportunity in Oakland”. In order for a $16 million dollar property (with massively increased property taxes) to be profitable for a new buyer, they would need to raise the rent to “market rates.” Rents would certainly go up drastically.
Ok—what can we possibly do?
There are many hopeful examples in our community of tenants purchasing their buildings and creating long-term affordable housing for themselves. Banding together, we could freeze rents and purchase the Vulcan. We could form our own nonprofit or partner with local nonprofits and/or landtrusts—or we could be our own managers or hire a management company, or a slew of other possibilities. We can create gardens and make capital improvements of our choice. Bring back the Free Zone! We could invest in ourselves, our community, our future—and the future of a sustainable, artistic Oakland. But, we have to do this together. Search “liberate 23rd avenue” or “cannery oakland curbed” to read more on inspiring projects.
What is the VTU doing now?
We are working together on a multi-faceted plan. We have already delayed the purchase of the Vulcan by working with politicians. However—right now—the Vulcan could be purchased at any moment, so we need to work quickly! We’re crafting demands and media campaigns and investigating rent control and the feasibility of a tenant-owned Vulcan. Political figures are getting involved to help leverage our case for securing affordable housing to Oakland artists. Some tenants are preparing lawsuits for those who have suffered harm under the MP management. We need your help.
How can I help?
Show up! There are many ways to show up. We are meeting regularly to discuss actions and strategy, we need more voices as well as more hands. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or talk to your neighbors!