Oakland offers emergency loans to those affected by Ghost Ship fire

City of Oakland Economic Development Manager Aliza Gallo explains the Small Business Administration's emergency loan program to John McLeod of Acme Fire Extinguishers Company. Photograph by Abner Hauge

City of Oakland Economic Development Manager Aliza Gallo explains the Small Business Administration's emergency loan program to John McLeod of Acme Fire Extinguishers Company. Photograph by Abner Hauge

A team of Oakland city staffers lead by Economic Development Manager Aliza Gallo conducted door-to-door outreach on Tuesday afternoon in the Fruitvale neighborhood near the former Ghost Ship warehouse, urging people to learn about an emergency loan program for those affected by the fire.

The rain from the previous night had let up, but there were large puddles on every corner. Gallo stood in front of Reed Supply Company with co-owner Al Garcia. Garcia pointed to the remains of the Ghost Ship warehouse, which burned down December 2, 2016, killing 36 people during a dance party held by the art collective headquartered in the building.

“The media, the police, the fire department, the federal Alcohol Tobacco Firearms guys were here. Helicopters, drones—I mean it was just like a circus,” Garcia recounted.

The city and the Federal Small Business Administration (SBA) are offering low-interest loans and technical assistance to business owners, nonprofits, homeowners and tenants in the vicinity of the fire. According to Gallo, anyone can apply but must show proof that the fire negatively impacted them physically or economically. She said the goal is to ‘keep business and people afloat’ while they recover from the effects of the fire.

These loans are mainly intended for owners and tenants of uninsured or insufficiently-insured properties. Loans are available as well for economic injury­–such as lost foot-traffic due to traffic congestion during the fire and its aftermath.

“Our goal for this project really is to demonstrate and inform businesses about the program and assure them we’re trying to bring resources to assist them,” Gallo said.

Loan interest rates for nonprofits, according to the SBA, will be 2.5 percent, while it will be 3.125 percent for businesses. Two other lenders, Working Solutions and Main Street Launch, are available should applicants prefer not to work with the SBA, Gallo said.

The SBA will set up a temporary “Disaster Loan Outreach Center” that will be open from February 8 to 10. The office, located in room 209 of the Native American Health Center on International Boulevard, will be open those days from 8:30 am to 12 pm.

Applications for loans to cover physical damage are due on April 3. Ones for economic injury aren’t due until November 1, so that businesses can have more time to compare their ledgers from previous years and determine their losses.

According to SBA public information officer Kevin Wynne, the applications are open to everyone in Alameda County. Wynne said it was important to give the whole county access, because residents and businesses formerly based on the block the Ghost Ship warehouse shared were hard to find.

“All of these people were scattered far and wide, and we don’t know were they all went,” Wynne said, adding that businesses that weren’t based in the neighborhood but did business there were likely affected as well.

While the primary financial help on offer are the loans, SBA and the city are offering other forms of assistance such as financial counseling. “We don’t have a grant program to offer, but we do have technical assistance which may be just as beneficial to them, so they can plug the holes of where they might be leaking money,” Gallo said.

Some nearby business owners said they weren’t economically affected by the fire enough to want to apply for the loans.

“It hurt parking, but it didn’t hurt us,” said Garcia, whose company specializes in appliances, plumbing and cabinets, adding that sales have been particularly good for him lately.

“It was an inconvenience, but I wouldn’t say it was enough of a financial hardship” said John MacLeod of Acme Fire Extinguisher company located on Fruitvale Avenue, a block from the warehouse. “If my customers couldn’t park on Wednesday, they’d come back Thursday.”

Still other owners were cautious when Gallo introduced the program to them and handed them SBA informational flyers.

Deejay Jawanda, manager of Liberty Tax Service on Fruitvale Avenue, said he was in the process of evaluating whether his business should apply for a loan or not. “Not too many people have been through the doors, but it’s too early to say,” he said.

Representatives from A Better Way, Inc, whose offices are on International Boulevard near the warehouse, declined to comment on whether they’re considering participating in the program.

Gallo said that businesses she’s interacted with are “cautious” about loans because “they already feel like they’re in a weak position and they don’t want to further hurt their businesses.”

“Sometimes a loan may not be appropriate, or they might not qualify, or the owner might be reluctant. That’s when our technical services assistance can help them,” she said. “We want to help the community as a whole have a better feeling.”

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