While Oakland grieves for the diverse and talented people who died in the warehouse fire, the majority Latino neighborhood surrounding the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse is facing similar housing pressures plus anxiety about immigration enforcement under the incoming Trump administration.
Fruitvale is a hub for shopping and services catering to immigrant families, including La Clinica de la Raza, which served more than 90,000 patients last year.
From the third floor balcony of La Clinica’s administrative offices, executive director Jane Garcia can see a growing memorial of flowers and candles beside the Wendy’s across the street from the burned warehouse. But Garcia said she didn’t even know that people were living in the warehouse that burned down.
“Now that we know the story, it’s really not that surprising. We’re hearing from our patients and even from our employees that the cost of housing is at a crisis level,” she said.
Garcia said even medical doctors employed at the clinics feel the pinch, with some getting pushed out and commuting farther to get to work.
Even with gentrifying forces, especially near the Fruitvale BART station, the neighborhood is still 55 percent Latino. La Clinica patients have a median income of $36,000 per year.
La Clinica’s model is based on providing care in neighborhoods where families can walk or take a bus to a clinic. But more and more, she hears about patients coming from as far away as Vallejo for routine medical visits.
“Healthcare itself is a very small sliver of the total picture when you look at what affects one’s health, and housing is probably the number one issue that affects one’s health. The more compromising your housing situation is, you’re going to see health outcomes,” Garcia said.
Some of La Clinica’s patients live in crowded conditions. Sometimes, several young men might share the same room or garage to make ends meet, she said. Roommates might live in a unpermitted or underheated room, or deal with fire hazards like space heaters and jerry-rigged electrical wires.
“There’s definitely a parallel between the artists and the young people that we lost and the Latino community and the families that we see here. First of all, Latinos are a very young population and are often pursuing the American dream, right?” she said.
Garcia says substandard housing can exacerbate health conditions, especially asthma, which is a common diagnosis among the clinic’s pediatric patients. Their attacks are triggered by mold or old carpeting in their homes, but their parents can’t afford to move and are afraid to complain to landlords.
Because of tradition and necessity, many immigrant families live in intergenerational households. Colds and flus travel faster in crowded conditions. Garcia said families might be reluctant to complain about substandard conditions if more people are living in a home or apartment than is specified on the lease.
“The fear of losing your house or housing because you’re complaining is first and foremost in people’s minds,” Garcia said. When the budget is too tight, they skimp on medicine, which complicates treatment at the clinic.
Ruben Juarez, 71, a former recycling plant worker who lives with his sister and her family, said he’s watched rents rise while landlords don’t fix anything.
“Rent, food, medicine – everything keeps going up here in Oakland, and the salaries stay the same,” he said, after a visit with one of La Clinica’s Fruitvale Village family medicine practicioners to monitor his diabetes. “The city should inspect these places so people can live better. Not like that place that burned down and killed all those poor, innocent people. It’s awful what happened but there’s nothing to be done about it now. But there are other people living elsewhere where they should inspect.”
But building inspections and code enforcement is exactly what other immigrants fear. With worries about a new wave of immigration raids under President Donald Trump, Garcia said that inspections handled badly would breed even more mistrust of authorities.
Garcia said the city should certainly protect vulnerable communities from hazardous conditions, but officials need a plan to fix problems quickly, so violations don’t push families into homelessness.