NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

Documentary Review: “You A Nomad”

While attend­ing Net­roots Nation in New Orleans last month, I heard about the short film “You A Nomad: Decon­struct­ing Urban Dis­place­ment” from pro­duc­er and direc­tor Shi­rah Ded­man. The film was being screened there and she also shared details about the project in the Film­mak­er’s Cau­cus.

She hopes even­tu­al­ly to trans­form the film into a fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary. Cur­rent­ly, it can be viewed in five install­ments on the pro­jec­t’s web­site or YouTube.

You A Nomad poster

You A Nomad
Direc­tor: Shi­rah Ded­man
Release Year: 2018
Run­ning time: 23 min­utes
Watch trail­er

The film is about gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and dis­place­ment in Oak­land, a top­ic that I am espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in as some­one who has worked on issues of hous­ing and home­less­ness in King Coun­ty for the last decade.

Many issues relat­ed to hous­ing in the Bay Area are very sim­i­lar to those hap­pen­ing in the Puget Sound, espe­cial­ly King County.

Dis­place­ment and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in par­tic­u­lar are issues that have great­ly impact­ed Emer­ald City neigh­bor­hoods like the Cen­tral Dis­trict and Colum­bia City, which his­tor­i­cal­ly have had very large black pop­u­la­tions, but which over the last few decades have become almost as white as the rest of the city.

I was eager to watch “You A Nomad” to learn more about how these issues were play­ing out in Oak­land and how com­pa­ra­ble con­di­tions are to King County.

Track 1 is titled “What Hap­pened to the Black Peo­ple in Oak­land” and opens with onscreen text not­ing that Oak­land has lost almost 40% of its African Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion in the last gen­er­a­tion. It then fea­tures real estate devel­op­er and Oak­land native John Guillory.

He dis­cuss­es how his­tor­i­cal­ly, West Oak­land had a pre­dom­i­nant­ly black pop­u­la­tion, and East Oak­land was most­ly white, with black peo­ple unable to rent or buy homes there due to racial discrimination.

Guil­lo­ry also explains that most afford­able hous­ing uses the Low Income Hous­ing Tax Cred­it to get investors to fund the project.

Text at the end of the episode notes that Don­ald Trump’s mas­sive cor­po­rate tax cuts (which at the time of the film’s cre­ation had been pro­posed but not yet passed into law) were reduc­ing pri­vate invest­ment in afford­able hous­ing developments.

Track 2, “Unhoused Because of their Skin Col­or,” fea­tures fair hous­ing advo­cate Ang­ie Wat­son-Haj­jem, who high­lights dis­place­ment and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion in hous­ing. She also talks about preda­to­ry lend­ing that tar­get­ed peo­ple of col­or and led to many peo­ple los­ing their homes dur­ing the Great Reces­sion. This stripped wealth, and the abil­i­ty to build future wealth, from the black com­mu­ni­ty, she said.

Wat­son-Haj­jem also brings up the Fed­er­al Hous­ing Choice Vouch­er pro­gram, com­mon­ly referred to as Sec­tion 8, in which house­holds have a portable sub­sidy that helps pay a por­tion of their rent in mar­ket rate housing.

She notes how land­lords will some­times not take the vouch­ers, often because of bias. They think that peo­ple with Sec­tion 8 “won’t take care of my prop­er­ty” or have oth­er harm­ful stereo­types about peo­ple liv­ing on low incomes.

She points out that vouch­er hold­ers are not a pro­tect­ed class in Oak­land or Cal­i­for­nia law, so it is not ille­gal to deny peo­ple hous­ing based on their sta­tus as a vouch­er hold­er (where­as attrib­ut­es like race or sex are pro­tect­ed class­es and to deny some­one based sole­ly on one of these things would be illegal).

This has been an issue in the Pacif­ic North­west as well. For­tu­nate­ly, the City of Seat­tle and oth­er near­by cities have laws nam­ing Sec­tion 8 vouch­er hold­ers as a pro­tect­ed class and pro­hibit­ing land­lords from deny­ing their hous­ing appli­ca­tions based on their use of a vouch­er, but until now, the major­i­ty of juris­dic­tions in Wash­ing­ton State did not pro­vide this pro­tec­tion to renters.

Thank­ful­ly, after many years of orga­niz­ing and advo­ca­cy by afford­able hous­ing and ten­ant advo­cates, Source of Income Dis­crim­i­na­tion leg­is­la­tion was final­ly able to be enact­ed thanks to the new Demo­c­ra­t­ic major­i­ty in the State Senate.

Under the new law, going into effect Sep­tem­ber 30th, land­lords in Wash­ing­ton State can­not deny a poten­tial ten­an­t’s appli­ca­tion based on the fact that all or some of their rent may be paid with a sub­sidy such as Sec­tion 8 or anoth­er type of vouch­er or with assis­tance from a non-prof­it agency, or because a per­son­’s income comes from pub­lic ben­e­fits like Social Secu­ri­ty or Tem­po­rary Assis­tance to Needy Fam­i­lies as opposed to income from employment.

Wat­som-Haj­jem also explains that vouch­ers have rent lim­its, so vouch­er hold­ers can only live in rental units with a price under this lim­it, thus lim­it­ing the pool of poten­tial hous­ing for vouch­er holders.

Accord­ing to the film, the aver­age rent for a one bed­room apart­ment in Oak­land is $2,300, and the aver­age month­ly income of a Black house­hold is $2,700, mak­ing it clear why some black fam­i­lies are hav­ing to move out of the city.

Peo­ple with Sec­tion 8 vouch­ers in Oak­land sure­ly face very sim­i­lar prob­lems to vouch­er hold­ers in the Seat­tle area where rents are also rather high: only a few apart­ments are avail­able with­in the vouch­er rent lim­its, and there is a lot of com­pe­ti­tion for these units from oth­er vouch­er hold­ers and oth­er peo­ple with low­er incomes who are look­ing for afford­able rent.

This has been my expe­ri­ence over years of work­ing with low income house­holds strug­gling to find and main­tain sta­ble hous­ing in King County.

“The Black Pan­thers Held Back the Drug Trade” is the title of Track 3, which spot­lights urban­ist author Dr. Ben­jamin Bowser.

He recounts the his­to­ry of Oak­land and how the econ­o­my suf­fered when indus­try moved out of the area. The Black Pan­ther Par­ty, he says, would not allow the drug trade to become the new econ­o­my in Oak­land. He then explains how drug traf­fick­ing impacts the hous­ing pat­terns of a community.

Track 4, “We Migrat­ing from Spot to Spot,” fea­tures the voice of Nisa­iah Per­ry, (who is cur­rent­ly incar­cer­at­ed), talk­ing about grow­ing up in Oak­land and how it was nor­mal for peo­ple to move around a lot.

The name of the film is tak­en from his impact­ful testimony.

“Life hap­pens in rela­tion­ships,” he said. “We migrat­ing from rela­tion­ship to rela­tion­ship. Migrat­ing from spot to spot. You a nomad.”

The films con­cludes with Track 5: “That’s Why Black Home­own­er­ship Mat­ters.” It fea­tures clips from a pre­sen­ta­tion by real estate bro­ker Mark Alston.

He explains how home­own­er­ship sta­bi­lizes neigh­bor­hoods, and puts peo­ple in a posi­tion to start mov­ing for­ward with their lives. It allows peo­ple to sup­port local busi­ness­es, which hire local peo­ple. For the black com­mu­ni­ty, he says, “loss of home­own­er­ship has cre­at­ed a tran­sient community.”

All five episodes com­bined take just twen­ty-three min­utes to watch, so it’s a rel­a­tive­ly small invest­ment of time with a big impact. Espe­cial­ly if you are not high­ly famil­iar with issues relat­ed to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and afford­able hous­ing, this film will pro­vide you with some good basic infor­ma­tion and examples.

If you are inter­est­ed in help­ing make the vision of this project becom­ing a fea­ture-length film a real­i­ty, you can make a dona­tion here. To learn more about hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty issues in our region and how you can get involved, check out the Wash­ing­ton Low Income Hous­ing Alliance and some of their mem­ber orga­ni­za­tions.

Adjacent posts

  • Enjoyed what you just read? Make a donation

    Thank you for read­ing The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute’s jour­nal of world, nation­al, and local politics.

    Found­ed in March of 2004, The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate has been help­ing peo­ple through­out the Pacif­ic North­west and beyond make sense of cur­rent events with rig­or­ous analy­sis and thought-pro­vok­ing com­men­tary for more than fif­teen years. The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate is fund­ed by read­ers like you and trust­ed spon­sors. We don’t run ads or pub­lish con­tent in exchange for money.

    Help us keep The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate edi­to­ri­al­ly inde­pen­dent and freely avail­able to all by becom­ing a mem­ber of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute today. Or make a dona­tion to sus­tain our essen­tial research and advo­ca­cy journalism.

    Your con­tri­bu­tion will allow us to con­tin­ue bring­ing you fea­tures like Last Week In Con­gress, live cov­er­age of events like Net­roots Nation or the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion, and reviews of books and doc­u­men­tary films.

    Become an NPI mem­ber Make a one-time donation

One Ping

  1. […] Doc­u­men­tary Review: “You A Nomad” NPI’s Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate (blog) […]

    Ping from Documentary Review: "You A Nomad" :: September 16th, 2018 at 3:34 AM
  • NPI’s essential research and advocacy is sponsored by: