We Tenants Have the Power to Change Things

Dec 2021-Jan 2022
By Debra Ross

Debra Ross is a resident and organizer in an Oakland Housing Authority development in East Oakland. She has lived there for six years and has been organizing against OHA’s harassment of tenants and neglect of the units.

My name is Debra Ross. I am 64 years old. I am a mother of seven, grandmother of 31, and great grandmother of two. I was raised in San Francisco and had a couple of my children in Oakland, so I am a Bay area resident here in Oakland.

I was called by God to help in the community and to help others who are hurting and need help with their situation. Housing has always been my baby because so many people needed a place to live.

I started my own non profit organization helping many people with back rent, school supplies, toys for children. And housing was always number one in my heart. I looked for housing for many families and had found housing for my clients as time passed. I had helped over my 34 years many people with landlord problems, going door to door, empowering and educating tenants of their rights and to stand up for their rights. Many of these tenants was getting evicted just because of standing up for their rights to live in a habitable unit.

Some tenants fear and move out because there wasn’t any one to help them. When you don’t know your rights or stand up for your rights they will evict you, retaliate against you, and harass you.

Living in one of Oakland Housing Authority’s units I never knew that I would have to experience the same problems I was talking to so many people about. It hit me so hard, I was so hurt and stressed. How can this happen to me, what did I do to deserve this treatment after I helped so many people? I prayed and I organized and things changed. My neighbors and I have pressured OHA to make improvements to our units.

Here in Oakland and San Francisco we all are going through the same problem with landlords and the Housing Authority. We are now seeing it is not just private landlords, but also Housing Authorities all over the State, our housing getting taken from under us. We are to continue standing up for our rights.

Termites and termite damage in an apartment in Debra’s development

Oakland Housing Authority has continued to jeopardize our lives and retaliate against us because we complain about these issues on the property. I have been harassed, retaliated against, almost evicted, but I continue to fight. If I wasn’t aware of my rights and fought for them I would have been evicted and homeless with my grandchildren.

Groups like the United Front Against Displacement stands for the people and with the people and can help us to stand up for our rights and I have empowered many people to be strong for their rights.

If we don’t stand up now so many more people will be evicted, we stand together in unity and power. We can stop them. We can stand together and fight this. You are not alone.

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