Photo of the Month: December 2016

Residents mourn the victims of Oakland's Ghost Ship warehouse fire as the nation continues to grapple with rising rent costs and precarious living situations.

2017-01-05 09_31_09-Photo of the Month_ December 2016 _ Heron Foundation

December 2nd fire killed 36 young people at the "Ghost Ship" warehousethe deadliest building fire in the United States in over a decade. The causes of the mass casualty event are no mystery. The converted bohemian living and cooperative space for artists and musicians contained an unpermitted "warren of wooden structures" including apartments, art studios and event venues, all well understood to be fire traps.

Since the fire, officials across the country are scrambling to close down similar unpermitted living spaces, prompting debates about the role of such spaces which have been springing up as cities grow more expensive. Artists and musicians claim they're being pushed out of cities like Oakland—where rents have doubled in the last five years—and that underground DIY spaces are the only way for creative communities in those cities to persist. Secretarty of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, on a visit to Oakland after the fire, agreed, stating that:

[T]he incident in a very intense way has highlighted the need to create more housing opportunities here in Oakland and really in many places in the United States.

According to research from the Urban Institute, only 28 percent of low-income families across the country are able to access affordable housing, a figure that has declined steadily since 2000 as the number of affordable housing units in cities fell. Nationwide, UI reports "not a single county in the United States has enough affordable housing for all its extremely low-income renters". As rents rise at their fastest rate in three decades, the waitlists for affordable housing programs are filling up, with wait times getting even longer.

As the crisis worsens, some cities are taking matters into their own hands. Cities such as Cincinnati and Chicago are considering large investments in affordable developments, while Pittsburg voted to set up a new trust for affordable housing, and Seattle voted to put a cap move-in fees for tenants. 


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