The Oakland City Council allocated $700,000 on Tuesday to assist dozens of tenants displaced by a fire that killed four at a transitional housing facility on March 27.
The money will come from the city’s code enforcement relocation program, which created a fund in 1993 to help tenants who were displaced due to code compliance repairs. After December’s Ghost Ship fire, the council voted to increase the required payments and gave the city the option of paying tenants directly before seeking reimbursement from landlords.
Of at least 70 households displaced from 2551 San Pablo Ave., 54 have qualified so far for relocation benefits. City staff estimated that at least $700,000 was necessary to assist all displaced families, but as of Tuesday, there was only $118,275 available, requiring the City Council to allocate the funds.
If building owner Keith Kim doesn’t pay the money back, the ordinance gives the city the power to put a lien on his property to recover the funds.
City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who authored the amendments passed last month, said it was “completely unacceptable” that displaced tenants have not gotten any help three weeks after the fire.
Several tenants who spoke to the council Tuesday said they were still struggling to rebuild their lives. Richard Myers, a former resident of the building, said he lost everything in the fire and is struggling to find work.
"I have to go every day just wondering if we're going to get some kind of help before I can get some kind of work again with bills just piling up endlessly," he said. Although he's set up a GoFundMe fundraiser, Myers has only raised $90 toward his $3000 goal as of this writing.
Another fire victim who identified himself as Eric said he had been sleeping on a stranger’s couch and was turned down for assistance by the Red Cross, who accused him of trying to game the system. Eric added that he'd lost two friends to gun violence this year, and that he barely escaped the fire.
Other fundraisers have provided some assistance, but efforts have been slow. The Oakland Warehouse Coalition, an advocacy organization founded after the Ghost Ship fire, had raised $34,255 as of this morning. The group handed out 65 checks for $228.11 last week to 111 people they determined had been displaced.
Mayor Libby Schaaf has endorsed another fundraiser by the First Presbyterian Church of Oakland; no word yet on how many donations have been received so far.
City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney said material items, particularly hygienic items, are still being accepted at the American Steel building at 1916 Mandela Parkway from 11 am to 1 pm daily.
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