Elaine Brown is on a mission to create affordable housing in West Oakland!
Brown, the former chair of the Black Panther Party, is now leading an $80 million affordable housing project in West Oakland. She is the creator of the project, an activist, a writer, and also a singer. In 1974, she became the only woman ever to lead the Black Panther Party. Now, at age 80, she is focused on providing jobs and low-cost housing to those in need.
“Don’t misunderstand me,” she told the Guardian, sitting in the office of the multimillion-dollar project. “I’m still the same person I was in the Black Panther party – though maybe more ruthless.”
The name of the housing project is the Black Panther. When it opens in May, that name will hang in 3-foot-high letters above the main entrance. Brown told the outlet that what had moved her to build the 32,000-sq-ft project in West Oakland was precisely the same motivation that propelled her leadership of the Black Panthers in the 1970s. “My goal then and my goal now is to create a model and an idea that will raise consciousness and give people something to fight for,” she said.
“I want us, Black people, to have economic power,” she continued. “We live in an environment where we have nothing. Black people don’t own anything in America… We are still an oppressed people, but we won’t recognize it.”
Seventh Street used to be a thriving African-American neighborhood that was considered the Harlem of the West. But, over time, the neighborhood changed and was labeled “undesirable,” like many Black neighborhoods throughout the country. Brown wants to help the area’s economic vitality by opening spaces for new Black-owned businesses. On the building’s ground floor, there’s going to be a restaurant, fitness and tech centers, and a grocery store, which is a crucial part of ending the current food desert. The businesses will run as co-ops, with every worker offered an ownership interest and with jobs reserved for poor or formerly incarcerated people.
Black Panther will also have 79 units of affordable housing that will fill the upper stories of the building. It will offer studios, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments to very low and extremely low-income people, with a maximum limit on their earnings set at 30 percent of the area’s median income, about $30,000 a year.
“Nobody else in West Oakland or anywhere else in this city has 100% affordable housing. Can you believe that?” Brown exclaimed. She says that the Black Panther project will stand as a statement that everybody has a right to a place to live.
Cover photo: First Woman Chair of Black Panther Party, Is Now Leading $80M Affordable Housing Project in Oakland/Photo by Marissa Leshnov/The Observer