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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.

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