While the real criminal is getting off Scot-free, the campaign is on to find a scapegoat for the Ghost Ship fire disaster, in which at least 36 people died. So far, the winner by acclamation is Derick Almeda, the sleaze ball landlord who leased the place. “I’m incredibly sorry,” he says, but that won’t bring those 36 dead back. Despite all sorts of warnings, he apparently kept all sorts of code violations, including electrical wiring code violations.
Consider the alternatives, though: Almeda rented out artist space for $500 to $1500 per month. This is cheap rent in Oakland, nowadays. Had he fixed up the former warehouse, he’d have jacked up the rent so high that none of these artists would have been able to afford to live there.
In fact, that’s what’s happening all over Oakland. Houses that sold for $300 or 400,000 just a few years ago are now going for close to a million dollars. Rents in general have skyrocketed. As the New York Times reports: “Over the past few years, as prices have surged across the Bay Area, Oakland’s pricing advantages have mostly eroded. Rents have increased 70 percent in five years, more than in any other big city in the nation, according to Zillow, the online real estate pricing service. The city’s $2,899 median rent is now among the highest, and just short of median rents in Manhattan.”
This disaster for the moment serves to dwarf the disaster that rising rents has meant for tens of thousands of former Oakland residents, mostly black and Latino, who have been driven out of the city. Gentrification and white whitification are the order of the day here.
It has long been obvious that the “free market” health care system – profit off of sickness – is unable to provide the health care that people really need. Obama & Co. – the Democrats – tried to square that particular circle through the Affordable Care Act. And its inability to resolve the problem has been one of the factors that has brought us Donald Trump. To this we now have to add housing-for-profit, the “free” market in housing.
That’s the real criminal.
update: Since this article was written, there has been more that’s come to light on this event. Among other things, the building evidently has never been inspected by either the fire department or the building department of the City of Oakland. In part, it seems due to simple bureaucratism on the part of the tops of these departments. In part, it’s also due to budget cuts. So, to the “free” market, for profit housing factor, we can add city budget cuts and cronyism/bureaucratism.
This fire is sure to be replicated on a much larger scale in one form or another over the coming years.