People live in substandard housing in Oakland because they probably had to leave San Francisco due to nosebleed housing costs, then found they couldn’t afford anything legit in Oakland either. So they live in unsafe housing like the Ghost Ship.
Johnny at Granola Shotgun started buying rental properties in San Francisco and elsewhere years ago and blogs eloquently about housing shortages, costs of housing, and more. He lives in an apartment in a building he and friends jointly bought. He said the word is out among young people, don’t even bother with San Francisco. It’s just too expensive. A friend of his with rental property in Stockton says it used to rent to people who worked in Stockton. but now is mainly people who work in Oakland, which is a two hour drive each way. That means you work, drive, and sleep. Not much time for anything else.
There are engineers at Google making $150,000 who sleep in campers in the parking lot because why pay $3,000 a month for a one bedroom dump when Google has free meals and showers.
The Ghost Ship in Oakland was beyond substandard, and it burned, killing dozens. But upgrading buildings like it to code would be hugely expensive and then those currently living in them would certainly no longer be able to afford it.
The landlord in this case was absent and unresponsive to complaints of a faulty electrical system and a general lack of safety. The tenants cobbled together all manner of make shift solutions for heating and cooking involving propane tanks and extension cords. Improvised stairs, sleeping lofts, and interior partitions resulted in a maze of dangerous spaces. The city of Oakland, which is perpetually low on funds and personnel, hadn’t inspected this building for decades. (Ironically there’s a fire station directly around the corner.) And finally, a dance was held at the Ghost Ship which filled the building with even more people, many of whom weren’t familiar with the property’s unusual twists and quirks.
If the landlord had applied for official permission to convert the building to a residential use it’s not clear that city bureaucracies would have allowed it under the current zoning and planning regime. If permission was somehow granted the cost of electrical and plumbing upgrades, earthquake retrofits, fire sprinklers, handicapped accessibility provisions like an elevator, off street parking minimums (the list goes on and on – we’re talking a couple of million dollars minimum) would mean that only very high rents could justify the up front investment.
And finally, it may be time for many people to reluctantly find a new city in another state to colonize. The Bay Area is toast. It really has become your money or your life.