Johnny Burks, who had a long career as a youth educator in Oakland, has straightforward advice for parents who want to set their children up to succeed.
“The best thing a parent can ever do for their children is give them a peaceful night’s sleep where they can dream,” Burks said.
But Burks, a former guidance counselor at Castlemont High School and the founder of Project Reconnect, a juvenile intervention program in Alameda County, understands that ensuring a peaceful night’s sleep is hard for parents who struggle to keep a roof over their heads.
The city of Oakland wants to give those families a break, but it needs help from people like Burks.
In January, Oakland began a program that gives financial incentives to landlords renting Section 8 apartments to low-income families, and Burks was one of 64 owners who joined the new program through June.
Burks is doing his part to curb displacement. He owns two four-unit buildings in East Oakland, and five of the eight apartments he owns now have Section 8 tenants.
Section 8, run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, gives housing vouchers to low-income families, the elderly, the disabled and veterans. The average annual income of a Section 8 tenant in Oakland is $19,370, which doesn’t go far in a city where the average rent for an apartment is $2,527, according to RentCafe, a real estate tracking website.
For many low-income Oakland residents, Section 8 is the last hope to stave off homelessness.
Section 8 landlords are the largest provider of affordable housing in Oakland, according to Mayor Libby Schaaf. But from 2012 to 2016, the number of landlords accepting Section 8 fell from 5,374 to 4,254, according to data from the Oakland Housing Authority, which administers the HUD program.