Underground arts scene threatened by widespread evictions after Oakland fire

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Guardian – By Sam Levin

Evictions of DIY spaces have soared in cities across the US, threatening to inflict long-term damage on an underground art scene still reeling from the devastating losses in the Oakland “Ghost Ship” fire.

The 2 December warehouse fire, which killed 36 people, has led to a wave of crackdowns on communal housing spaces and unpermitted music venues in more than a dozen cities, prompting accusations that officials and landlords are engaged in a “witch hunt” that will rapidly accelerate gentrification and displacement.

“They used the Oakland tragedy to start a war,” said Ryan Pelham, a 31-year-old Nashville musician who was forced to shut down his house shows at the Glass Menage after the Ghost Ship fire. “We had these little parties and shows to help struggling musicians … We had something special here.”

There have been similar reports of shutdowns, eviction threats and city investigations in California in Oakland, San Francisco, Richmond, Emeryville, Fresno and Los Angeles, along with Denver, Colorado Springs, Portland, Baltimore, New York and Dallas.

Punitive municipal inspections and surprise evictions have been particularly concerning for artist communities in cities already struggling with housing crises where a lack of affordable spaces have forced many to perform in unregulated venues and live in substandard conditions.

In some cases – such as the Bell Foundry in Baltimore, where artists and activists lived – city officials have “red tagged” buildings and directly evicted tenants, citing safety concerns.

Tenant activists have also alleged that profit-driven property owners are exploiting the Ghost Ship fire as an opportunity to redevelop old warehouses and attract higher-paying residents.

“Every landlord in the area has an incentive to evict their tenants so they can increase rent, sell it for more money or turn it into condos,” said Braz Shabrell, housing attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center, who is assisting Oakland tenants facing evictions after Ghost Ship. Oakland, San Francisco and the surrounding Silicon Valley region have seen rapidly rising rents in recent years, in part due to the booming tech industry.

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