Roberto Costa has worked for the City of Oakland for 10 years, the last 8 of which were with the Rent Adjustment Program (RAP) in the Housing Department. Over the course of 2019, he has been organizing in our union to ensure that RAP is properly staffed.
Roberto knows the importance of the work he and his colleagues do because when landlords and tenants have disputes, they come to us. We answer their questions, help them understand regulations, and figure out how to resolve disagreements. When landlords don’t provide promised services or illegally raise the rent, we enforce the rules. This can result in much-needed rent reductions for tenants and helps mitigate the stress of arguments. As a Program Analyst II, Roberto handles public contact, hearings, and case management.
OAKLAND’S VACANCY CRISIS
Roberto is active in Local 21 because he understands the need to defend public services, such as RAP. “Housing is a basic necessity. When we resolve issues — by answering questions, by meeting with people in person, by providing hearings — we are helping them deal with that basic necessity. You don’t want people to go homeless, you don’t want people to be pushed out from where they’re living.”
Our budget comes from assessed fees, which were increased from $68 to $101 in the past year. As a result, our budget nearly doubled. But so did our caseload and the hours dedicated to talking to the public. With this new scale came nine vacancies that needed to be filled. Roberto knew this was unacceptable. “If you’re going to make decisions that affect the program or the unit, we should have input in it.”
It was important not just that vacancies be filled, but that they be filled with full-time employees. “When a temporary employee comes, sometimes it’s exactly that. The help is here now but then we’re gonna have the same problem later.” Temporary workers are likely to come through the department, train up, and then take their experience somewhere more secure. This makes sense for those workers but leaves those of us still here to pick up the slack.
WHEN WE FIGHT, WE WIN
So, Roberto and his coworkers got organized, and worked with other members of the Oakland chapter in our contract campaign. We held rallies and lobbied the Oakland City Council, demanding that our elected officials address the vacancy crisis.
When Roberto gave his public comment, he made a powerful case for strengthening our city services: “We serve people in conditions that are sometimes inhumane. Our own Housing Department is 25% understaffed. City Council, invest in staffing our services or more residents will continue to get displaced.”
When we fight, we win. All nine vacancies have been filled with full-time employees, and the workload is being more reasonably distributed amongst our program. “We get to work more meaningfully work with the public because we get to spend more time with them. We are doing more outreach now to bring our information to the public and there is more specialization and attention to our cases.”
The fight is not over: we are always trying to improve the experience and meet the growing housing needs for Oakland residents. This is why Local 21 fights for the full funding of our public services. Our interests are the public’s interests. Residents of Oakland deserve a well-run city that retains and attracts skilled and experienced workers.
Champions For Our Community is an ongoing series by IFPTE Local 21 aimed at profiling our diverse members and the work they do to serve the public and protect the public sphere.