State champions: Scott Hugo MPP/JD 2015 protects tenants’ rights as a housing-justice attorney in Oakland

“I can’t tell you how much it means to know that government is fighting for us.”

More than the cases he has won as an attorney with the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, Hugo remembers the people whose lives have been transformed. He can still hear the joy in Wei Bin Ma’s voice, for example, when Hugo’s office won a victory for Ma and other residents of a single-occupancy hotel, often considered the housing of last resort in the vanishing affordable housing of Oakland’s Chinatown. Ma was distressed when the hotel’s new investor-owners reduced the number of bathrooms available to tenants and removed their Chinese New Year decorations, among other changes. Hugo recognized those actions as attempts to evict the tenants, “to make their life incredibly miserable.” Seeing Ma as a powerful independent advocate, Hugo and the city attorney’s office partnered with a private civil rights firm and the Asian Law Caucus, a legal and civil rights organization serving Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, and the three parties brought a successful suit against the building’s owners.

“The tenants immediately assumed that if the government was going to get involved, it would get involved on the side of the wealthy,” Hugo recalls. He remembers how moved Ma was that Hugo was on his side. “I can’t tell you how much it means,” Ma told Hugo, “to know that government is fighting for us.”

Barbara Johnson and Chantal Dyer are also on Hugo’s mind when he thinks about the struggles facing hardworking Oakland residents—so much so that he keeps a photograph of Johnson and her grandchildren on his desk. Hugo’s team was notified of a demolition company that was coating a neighborhood in construction dust and debris. “This company chose a mixed-use commercial/residential West Oakland neighborhood,” Hugo explains. “Because of the neighborhood’s

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