Potentially 40 people died in a massive fire at an Oakland, California warehouse Friday night. The warehouse, which serves as a DIY music venue and art space, was known as Oakland Ghost Ship. It had just two exits, a few fire extinguishers, and was cited by city building inspectors earlier this year for blight, as many people on social media have pointed out.
However, critics accusing those who died in the fire and artists who lived in the space of being the root cause of the tragedy miss an important point: the Bay Area’s housing crisis.
It’s unreal how corrupt commercial real estate is. This isn’t the fault of (mostly) marginalized people just trying to be joyous for 1 night
— jes skolnik (@modernistwitch) December 4, 2016
As tech-inflated housing costs have increased to untenable amounts in Bay Area cities like Oakland and San Francisco, those unable to keep up—including artists, musicians, and queer people, like those who frequented Oakland Ghost Ship—have been either shoved out entirely or forced to live and work in increasingly informal (and not up-to-code) structures.
As Oakland artist Jonah Strauss, who was in a similar fire himself last year, told the East Bay Times, “Artists have gone from living in fairly safe conditions to being edged into sketchier and sketchier conditions because that’s what we can afford. We’re all feeling the crunch.”
Local musician Russell Butler told the East Bay Express that he had heard rumors from “several people” that Ghost Ship was not up to fire code but speculated that “they bit their tongues because we desperately need places to gather.”
“We need spaces that are open to folks who are beaten down and oppressed by living daily under patriarchy and white supremacy,” he continued. The housing shortage is working to ensure that those spaces can’t exist, or are forced into unsafe areas.