OAKLAND — Eleven months ago, Pat King was a successful loan officer making about $10,000 a month. Today, the economic crisis has left the unemployed single mother living on pennies to raise her 17-year-old son in West Oakland.

"I saw it coming," said King, 45. "Loans were flying out the air, and people could put anything on paper. Then slowly loans that I was trying to get approved started to be more difficult, and the industry began to put in more restrictions."

King is among scores of Oakland residents who are struggling, out of work or in serious financial trouble. She said she is "just hanging on day by day" and not living out the American dream.

Through the CalWorks program, King receives temporary financial assistance and employment-focused services based on state guidelines for her income, property and family size.

So far this year, nearly 2 million Americans have lost their jobs. Unemployment is at 7.1 percent in Alameda County and 8 percent statewide.

In the shadow of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, city officials and community leaders have banded together. They say it will take a strong local effort to support President-elect Barack Obama's plan for a major economic recovery and jobs-creation package.


"We need a game-changing strategy," Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums said Thursday at City Hall. He was joined by Councilmember Desley Brooks (Eastmont-Seminary), Councilmember-elect Rebecca Kaplan, the Urban Strategies Council and ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

They gathered as a part of a national coalition to launch the "Jobs and Economic Recovery Now!" campaign. The economic recovery plan is the largest U.S. public works program since the interstate highway system and includes projects to repair bridges, roads, as well as create green-collar jobs to reduce energy and global warming emissions.

"The Green Jobs Core was pioneered in Oakland to fight poverty and pollution," Dellums said. "We can help lead the country in a new direction and open up a level of employment that's extraordinary."

The group agreed that saving the economy and the environment are equally important and urged residents to create the "change they want to see locally."

Dellums, who was appointed Thursday to serve on the United States Conference of Mayors' Working Group on the MainStreet Economic Recovery Plan, said the panel will be meeting with Obama's economic team to discuss how to rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure.

In addition, grass-roots groups, including the Alameda County Community Asset Network, are working in conjunction with "Bank on California," a new initiative by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former President Bill Clinton to help low-income families build savings.

The goal is to help the "unbanked," many of whom are poor or immigrants, gain access to banking services including prepaid debit cards, penalty-free fee accounts, credit repair services and financial coaching and counseling.

According to the Brookings Institution, 11 percent of California's 25 million residents do not have checking or savings accounts. About 21 percent of African-American households and 24 percent of Latino households do not have a bank account. The goal of the program is to create 100,000 accounts in two years among residents in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and Fresno.

John Brauer is a founding member of the asset network and executive director of the Workforce Collaborative. The Oakland-based nonprofit provides job readiness and placement services to people with little work history or who face barriers to employment, including homelessness or records of incarceration.

"In this economy, the folks we serve are the last hired and the first fired," Brauer said. "I think people now more so than ever are looking for training as a necessity to compete better."

Community and city leaders say addressing the economic recession and neighborhoods impacted by the foreclosure crisis will take a multilayered strategy. ACORN has teamed with the Urban Strategies Council, a nonprofit community building and advocacy agency, to restore blighted neighborhoods and redevelop vacant residential properties.

Through a community land trust, they plan to purchase and rehabilitate 200 bank-owned properties in Oakland and sell the houses — but not the land — at low-interest loans to residents. By maintaining ownership of the land, the land trust could keep the prices of the homes affordable and gain income as a trust from the appreciation of the land.

Andy Nelsen, director of Economic Opportunity Programs at the Urban Strategies Council, said the public-private partnership will help create so-called "green-collar" construction jobs and neighborhood stability and stimulate the local economy.

"Banks and lenders have left us with a real mess to be cleaned up in urban areas,'' he said. "But a stimulus package gives us a chance to turn this into a real opportunity.''

Reach Kamika Dunlap at 510-208-6448 or kdunlap@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Short on cash
  • About one in four Bay Area households, or
    24.7 percent, has incomes too low to meet basic needs.
  • One in four people older than age 15 in Alameda County don't have bank accounts or rely on check-cashing services.
  • In Alameda County in 2006, 30 percent of tax filers at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites had no checking account and 59 percent had no savings account. In 2007, 20 percent to 28 percent did not have a checking account, and 56 percent did not have a savings account.
    Sources: "The Bottom Line: Setting the Real Standard for Bay Area Working Families (2004)"; United Way of the Bay Area; National Economic Developmment and Law Center; Community Financial Resources; 2007 and 2008 reports on the Earn It! Keep It! Save It! Earned Income Tax Credit Campaign of the Alameda County Asset Development Partnership, written by Urban Strategies Council.