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Displacement and the Pitfalls of the Sharing Economy

Uber unfair - Oakland displacementSome cheer, some hiss, but one thing is for sure: Uber will transform Oakland, and our city will become ground zero for not only a discussion of growth and displacement, but of the pitfalls of the “sharing” economy.”

This year, my partner and I needed to move out of our one-bedroom place to make room for our growing family. We were priced out of our neighborhood. It was hard to say goodbye to the home that we decided to get married in, and bring our newborn son into.

A few months later, the nonprofit I work for got the notice that our building was sold, and we’d be forced to move because of a dramatic rent increase. Ironically, our mission is to ensure that low-income people of color make enough money so that they can stay in their homes. It will be sad to say goodbye to the home in which we’ve gathered hundreds of community members; shared stories, struggles, and victories; and raised wages for tens of thousands of workers.

Nonprofits, like the low-income people of color we support, are being pushed out of Oakland. And with the announcement of companies like Uber moving in, this will accelerate and continue to exacerbate income inequality. Not only will there be an influx of new wealth, but also an influx of poverty-wage jobs.

As the “sharing economy” has rapidly expanded, Bay Area consumers have rejoiced with how app-based companies are revolutionizing the marketplace, creating more choice for consumers and flexibility for workers. But as we welcome innovation, let’s also address new challenges.

Uber and other “on demand” companies classify their workers as independent contractors instead of employees. The companies do not have to pay minimum wage or provide benefits, which leaves many drivers struggling to pay the bills.

So in one fell swoop, as Uber moves in, the cost of housing and offices for nonprofits will skyrocket, while at the same time the number of people who cannot afford to live here will grow.

Oakland has a deeply rooted sense of community and a legacy of institutions that care for those who are struggling. With more companies that use this independent contracting model, I fear we will shift from a culture that supports each other to a culture of “you’re on your own.”

As we forge ahead in the sharing economy and shed the confines of traditional corporate culture, we must also innovate policies that ensure our communities truly benefit and receive our fair share. Let’s follow the lead of places like Seattle, which is crafting legislation to allow “on demand” workers to bargain collectively, or Oregon, where regulators ruled that Uber drivers are employees.

Oakland’s elected leaders, businesses, nonprofits, unions, and community members need to come together and harness our ingenuity to make this exciting new sharing economy an economy that benefits us ALL.

We call on our city leaders to follow through on their commitment to ensure Uber and similar companies help make Oakland a more equitable city by creating new rules for the housing and job market, so that the sharing economy provides a fair share to Oakland’s workers and residents.
By Jennifer Lin, EBASE Deputy Director
Read a condensed version of this oped-ed in the East Bay Express.