Category: Housing/Foreclosures

Big Win in Sacramento for Anti Rent-Gouging and Eviction Protections

Tenant leaders of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and other organizing groups fill the California State Capitol, Wednesday, Sept. 11, to back the Tenant Protection Act, AB 1482. Photo courtesy of ACCE.

By Post Staff

After years of escalating and brutal displacement driving millions of Californians into poverty or homelessness, today, the California legislature this week passed Assembly Bill 1482 (Chiu) which is now headed to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.
If approved by the governor, this could become the strongest anti rent-gouging and just-cause eviction law in the nation.

AB 1482, also known as the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, has been driven in large part by the advocacy of tenant leaders of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and other organizing groups. The bill gives protections to 7 million tenants, covering more tenants than any single tenant protection bill in recent US history. It will cap rent increases statewide at 5 percent plus the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as well as stop unfair evictions by requiring landlords to have a “just cause” for evicting their tenants.

“This victory proves that California’s renters are a force to be reckoned with, and we aren’t done yet. Led by people of color and seniors, the renters most likely to become homeless without these types of protections, ACCE members will keep fighting and keep winning until every single Californian is guaranteed a safe and affordable home,” said Christina Livingston, the executive director of ACCE.

Since April of this year, ACCE leaders have made over one hundred in-district visits to key legislators, generated 1,646 calls across 18 assembly & senate districts, and brought hundreds of tenants from across the state to the capitol in Sacramento nearly a dozen times to lobby. In April, two ACCE members staged a sit-in overnight inside the Governor’s office to urge him to step up for the bill and take a leadership role in its passage.

Sasha Graham, the state board chair of ACCE, who was homeless for three years after receiving a 200 percent rent increase and no-cause eviction, says she is incredibly grateful that families will never have to go through what she and her son went through. “This is an incredible victory for families. It demonstrates what people power can do. It is inhumane what my son and I went through, and I am incredibly grateful and take so much comfort in knowing that there is a safety net for my family,” said Graham. “ACCE is the backbone to this movement, and without them I wouldn’t have found my voice and the tenants’ rights movement in California wouldn’t be where it is today.”

Cecilia Reyna, an ACCE member based in Compton and a tenant of Invitation Homes, a subsidiary of the private equity giant the Blackstone Group, says she is elated. The corporation, which bought up tens of thousands of single-family homes in the wake of the foreclosure crisis and turned them to rentals, is known for predatory practices of excessive rent increases, uninhabitable living conditions, arbitrary evictions and fee gouging.

Because of the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, AB 1482 will be the first time that single family rentals owned by corporate landlords will have any form of renter protections.
“Despite our complaints, my landlord has been so incredibly negligent with maintaining our home that the city of Compton has condemned it and I now face a no-cause eviction. Invitation Homes has offered me zero support in moving. With AB 1482 passing, I now am due relocation assistance. This is huge for our family and huge for all tenants of corporate landlords,” said Reyna.

Published September 11, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Black Workers Call for City Council Summit on Discrimination in Hiring on City Projects

Community meeting at the San Antonio Senior Center in the Fruitvale District to dis- cuss racial disparities in hiring African American workers and contractors on City of Oakland building projects, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. Photo by Ken Epstein

 

By Ken Epstein

African American contractors and construction workers  are opposing a proposal that has been presented to the City Council requiring that all jobs on city projects should be awarded to building trades unions that discriminate against Black workers.

“It’s a pure power play right now,” said one speaker, who is a member of four unions.  “The (unions) are not designed to grow their membership. They are only designed to make the strong stronger.  If anything, the unions are a detriment to anyone starting off (in construction).”

In response to charges that unions want to control the hiring on all city projects while excluding African American members, the City Council had previously asked the building trades to submit reports on the race and gender of their membership.

So far, only six of 28 union locals have submitted that information, according to city staff.

Reports by construction workers on the job indicate that African Americans are denied membership in almost all of these unions, while Latinos only find work in the laborers’ and to some extent in the carpenters’ unions. The higher paid trades, such as electricians, plumbers   and heavy equipment operators are almost all white.

Speakers at the Monday meeting, where Councilmembers Noel Gallo, District 5; and Loren Taylor, District 6, were in attendance, want the City Council to hear their concerns, not to be steamrolled by powerful interests into an agreement without a full discussion of the issues.

They are asking the council to hold a work session or a community summit rather than voting on the labor proposal at a council meeting, where speakers would only receive one minute to talk, and important issues about persistent discrimination in the building trades might be buried.

The meeting was the third and final community engagement session called by the City Council to examine ways to mitigate inequities in a potential Project Labor Agreement, backed by local building trade unions and their supporters, requiring developers on city projects to exclusively hire union workers for labor, while non-union contractors would be limited in their use of their non-union workers for projects that are built on city-owned land and or involve city funding.

Speakers also expressed concern that the building trades only sent people to the first community meeting several weeks ago at Castlemont High School but did not come back to second or third meetings, apparently not interested in engaging with Black Oaklanders about the issues they are raising.

Published Aug. 22, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School District Prepares for Second Round of School Closures

The district also is beginning the process of selling or leasing school properties.

Megan Bumpus speaks on bullhorn during this year’s Oakland teachers strike. Photo courtesy of Megan Bumpus.

By Ken Epstein

The Board of Education is moving ahead with a second set of school closures, mergers and consolidations,  called “Cohort 2,”which is scheduled to be approved in August.

The plan,  called the “Blueprint for Quality Schools Update,” was presented to the community at the June 19 school board meeting by Supt. Kyla Johnson Trammell and Yvette Renteria, Deputy Chief of Innovation, who promoted the district’s decision to reduce the number of Oakland schools as a way to save money and improve the quality of the remaining schools.

Opposing the administrators’ approach were Oakland Education Association (OEA) members who participated  in the district’s Ad Hoc Committee on school closure, which was established to provide community involvement in the process.

OEA members on the committee criticized the district for lack of transparency and engagement with the community, saying that except for the teacher union representatives on the committee, all of the 15-20 participants in the closed-door meetings were selected by the district.

The OEA teachers’ counter report,  presented at the board meeting by OEA member and Reach Academy teacher Megan Bumpus, said there is no evidence or research from the wave of school closures across the country that indicates that shutting down public schools saves money or improves the remaining schools and particularly harms Black and Brown students, who overwhelmingly are those who are most impacted.

Asked by the Oakland Post for a list of school closings for next year that are scheduled to be approved in a little over a month, the district produced  a PowerPoint slide called “Cohort 2 Scenarios,” which indicated it was “applying recommendations from the Ad Hoc Committee” but was more murky than transparent about what the district is planning to do.

Listed on the PowerPoint slide were possible mergers of Kaiser Elementary School with Sankofa on the Sankofa campus, which might also include Peralta and the “soon-to-be-vacant” Santa Fe Elementary.  Also mentioned were a merger of Manzanita SEED, Manzanita Community School, Oakland SOL and Fruitvale Elementary, which might be redesigned. A proposed expansion of Melrose Leadership Academy and a new location for Oakland SOL “may impact nearby schools,” the slide said.

The goal of these changes, according to the administrators’ presentation, is to “concentrate resources in fewer schools,” based on the idea that “with fewer schools, central office supports and services will be more efficient and leaner.”

According to the plan, the campuses of schools that will be closed can be leased or sold to generate income. With more money and fewer schools, the plan says optimistically, the district will recruit and retain better school leaders. In addition, “larger schools provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate and support one another.”

The OEA  teachers’ rebuttal was blunt. “If the goal is saving money, closing schools won’t do that. If the goal is expanding access to quality schools, closing school won’t do it,” the report said.

“As the district has been unable to provide any research-based rational for closing, consolidating or merging schools…OEA members of the Ad Hoc Committee could not participate in the misleading survey the district staff used to develop the committee’s recommendations or sign onto (those) recommendations,” said Bumpus, speaking at the board meeting.

When OEA members pressed administrator Renteria about how much money the district saved when it closed five schools in 2011-2012, she replied “We don’t have information on what money was saved,” the report said.

“Fourteen of the 18 OUSD schools closed since 2002 now house charter schools, which we know are leeching $57 million annually from students in Oakland,” Bumpus said, citing the OEA report.

“Given the realities of the OUSD’s highly class- and race-segregated schools and an enrollment process that disproportionately concentrates need, it is no mistake that schools targeted for closure and consolidation have student populations in which African American, Latinx, special education students and students with trauma are highly represented,” she said, adding that 17 of the 18 schools closed since 2001 were majority African American.

Looking at the closure of Cohort 1 school Roots International Academy, a neighborhood middle school in East Oakland, Bumpus said teachers “rebuke  the district for the irreparable harm done to the Roots community in this past school year” and called on the district to “take the path of improvement,” rather than the path of closures.

The district’s 7-11 Committee, charged with approving “surplus properties for sale or lease, was scheduled Wednesday evening to be approved by the school board to begin considering the sale or lease of “First Phase Properties.”

The four vacant properties are: Edward Shands Adult School, Tilden CDC, Piedmont CDC, Webster CDC and Sankofa CDC.

The district currently has 86 schools. The Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT),  a state-funded nonprofit that has been driving school closures in Oakland since 2003, has said publicly that the district should not have more than about 50 schools.

The full report on school closings by OEA members is available at http://bit.ly/OEAAdHocReport

Published June 28, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Council Adopts Kaplan’s $3.2 Billion Budget

Bas wins $12 million for Community Land Trust affordable housing fund

 

Hundreds of supporters of the City Council’s modifications to Mayor Schaaf’s proposed budget filled City Hall during the council’s budget deliberations over the past month. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Voting Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council adopted a two-year, $3.2 billion budget, partially resolving the ongoing political fight with Mayor Libby Schaaf’s administration over how much of the city’s income will be directed toward services for residents  and wages for the city workers who deliver many of those services.

The new budget, named the “Oakland Together” budget, directs $87 million to priorities identified by council members and supported by community members and groups, including the ReFund Coalition, which represents a number of community organizations and city worker unions.

Rebecca Kaplan

Council President Rebecca Kaplan, who had faced attacks from Mayor Libby Schaaf and the media for her leadership in producing the Oakland Together budget, told the Oakland Post she was pleased with what was in the new spending package but that several key issues were still unresolved.

“Even though many, many great items were  included in the budget we passed (Tuesday) night, I’m not celebrating yet because we are still working to finish up some very important final items, specifically, resolving the (funding) situation with our workforce development funding and issues of our own city workers.”

In a statement to the Post, Mayor Schaaf said, “I’m grateful our City Council kept the administration’s proposal as the framework for the budget it unanimously adopted last night. The last-minute augmentations still warrant close review, yet I’m pleased the Council’s unified action will allow us to make unprecedented investments in homelessness and affordable housing and to start a historic road-paving plan on July 1.”

The City Council’s changes in the Schaaf administration budget included:

• A study of Cahoots, a program that would utilize mental  health workers to respond to mental health crises instead of police;

• Remove the Mayor’s proposal to cut parks maintenance workers, which would have primarily impacted parks in flatland neighborhoods;

• Conduct an audit of the Oakland Police Department, which would examine police overtime costs;

• Substantial increase of homeless services;

• Some additional funding for the Private Industry Council and other workforce development;

• East Oakland healthy corner store conversions;

• Public bathrooms;

• Evening hours for permits at Planning and Building so small property owners can get timely approval of projects.

Nikki Fortunato Bas

Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas said in a statement that she was pleased the council passed her proposal, the Preservation of Affordable Housing Fund (PAHF), to allocate $12 million to create a municipal fund for community land trusts and limited equity housing cooperatives to take housing off of the speculative market by acquiring and preserving rental properties with 25 or fewer units.

“This fund is a bold investment in a visionary solution that…puts (properties) permanently in the hands of Oaklanders,” said Fortunato Bas, who developed the proposal with local grassroots organizations Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action and Oakland Community Land Trust (OakCLT).

She emphasized that the new budget also includes programs to address Oakland’s housing, displacement, and homelessness crises, including hiring a mobile outreach team and full-time administrator focused on homelessness, creating homeless navigation centers, and expanding direct legal and emergency rent assistance for tenants.

“Our longtime neighbors are being pushed out while thousands of luxury housing units are being developed. This budget is a huge systemic opportunity to fix a crisis that is everywhere we look and only getting worse,” said Fortunato Bas. “We can’t solve it by tinkering at the margins, dedicating resources only a fraction the size of the challenges we face.”

Carroll Fife, director of Oakland ACCE and part  of the Refund Oakland Community and Labor Coalition, told the Post that the coalition had realized many of the demands they had sought to achieve this year, “from funds for affordable housing and anti-displacement to additional resources to address the city’s illegal dumping epidemic.”

However, she said “There is a great deal of work to do. One budget cycle will not rectify the years of disinvestment that have impacted our most disenfranchised residents.”

Fife also called on people to support city workers in their fight for a pay raise and the filling of vacant jobs. “Vacancies in Housing and Community Development, Public Works and the Sewer department, to name a few, have direct and immediate repercussions on the entire city,” she said.

Former mayoral candidate Cat Brooks told the Post, “This is the most progressive budget Oakland has ever passed. It’s a big step in the right direction.”

But “It still does not go far enough in terms of divesting some monies from the bloated police budget and redirecting those dollars to critical needs for Oakland that actually keep us safe,” she said.

Published June 28, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Opinion: We Need to Stand for Leonard Powell

 Court Hearing Jan. 29 for Veteran Fighting to Keep City from Taking His Home

Leonard Powell stands on the front porch of his home.

By Gene Turitz

Mr. Leonard Powell is going to Alameda County Superior Court on Tuesday, Jan. 29 to fight to  keep the home where he and his family have lived for over 40 years, which is being taken by the City of Berkeley.

The hearing will be held at 10:30 a.m. at the superior court at 24405 Amador St. in Hayward.

The court has ordered the receiver, Gerard Keener, and the City of Berkeley to provide the documents to Mr. Powell that show how the cost for bringing his house up to code  increased from between $150,000 and $200,000 to over $700,000, which he is now being forced to pay.

We still do not know who in the City of Berkeley decided to go after Mr. Powell by “Red Tagging” his home.  Was it the Police who wanted to “punish” a member of Mr. Powell’s family?  Was it the inspection services, which were responding to concerns over Mr. Powell’s well-being?

While we have been asking these questions, the City of Berkeley, whose assistant City Attorney is appearing in court with the receiver, claims that the city is really not involved in this situation.

While the City of Berkeley and its City Council express concerns about its low and extremely low-income residents, the actions of the city administration speak differently.

Walking around South Berkeley we can see multi-unit buildings posted with signs saying that buildings are not earth-quake safe.  While a program has been in effect since about 2005 to have these “Soft-Story” buildings brought up to code, landlords are still collecting rents from the tenants living in unsafe conditions.

Have any of these properties been assigned “receivers”?  Have any of these property owners paid huge amounts to get their property back?  Who in the City of Berkeley makes the decisions to protect the owners of these properties rather than ensuring the safety of the residents?

Can the City Council explain how a home, lived in by a low-income resident in South Berkeley for over 40 years now, through actions carried out by the City, becomes a place where only a high-income person can live?

This must be the same City Council that approves the construction of buildings that will only house people from high-income backgrounds or who are earning high incomes.

Join us in asking the City Council these questions.  Write to your councilmember about Mr. Powell and what the City of Berkeley is doing to him.  Write to ask what affect the housing policies of the City will have on those of us whose lives and families are here?  Ask why the only people for whom they seem to have concerns are the profit-making developers of high cost, market rate units.

Get together with Friends of Adeline to talk about these questions and to stand with Mr. Powell and other families being forced out of our community.  Meet with us on Saturday, Jan. 26, 11 a.m.-1p.m., at Harriet Tubman Terrace Apartments, 2870 Adeline St., Berkeley (between Oregon and Russell streets) .

Attend the court hearing Tuesday, Jan. 29 in Hayward.

Contact the Friends of Adeline at (510) 338-7843 or friendsofadeline@gmail.com

Gene Turitz is a member of Friends of Adeline.

Published January 20, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

New Year, New Leadership, New Oakland?

 Rebecca Kaplan unanimously elected City Council President

Oakland swears in new City Council members (L to R): Nikki Fortunato Bas, District 2; Sheng Thao, Disrict 4: and Loren Taylor, District 6. Photo by Howard Dyckoff.

By Ken Epstein

Oakland honored its newly elected city leaders this week at a swearing-in ceremony held in the City Council Chambers of Oakland City Hall.

Sworn in were Mayor Libby Schaaf, who elected to a second term: Nikki For­tunato Bas, the city’s first Filipina-American council member, representing Dis­trict 2. Sheng Thao, the first Hmong-American council member in the state of Cali­fornia, representing District 4; and Loren Taylor, a third generation Oakland resident, representing District 6.

Making the increased strength of local progres­sives, Councilmember-at- Large Rebecca Kaplan was unanimously elected council president by her colleagues. , The council’s most powerful position, the president pre­sides over City Council meet­ings, influences the council’s agenda and makes appoint­ments to council committees and some outside agencies.

Newly Elected Council President Rebecca Kaplan (left) stands with Cat Brooks, a progressive runner-up in the Oakland mayoral race and co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project. Photo by Howard Dyckoff.

Kaplan, the first openly LGBT+ Council President in Oakland’s history, distanced herself from some of the city government’s past practices, pledging that her leadership would be based on a commit­ment to social justice, inclu­sivity and working closely in coalition with the local com­munity.

“We must acknowledge injustice and prejudice exist and we need leaders to assure we work together to move our city forward,” Kaplan said in a prepared statement.

“I believe in giving all Councilmembers the oppor­tunity to affect change, and all council members will have an opportunity to chair a commit­tee.,” she said. “I look forward to working together in coalition with community to advance Oakland’s vital needs.”

Her priorities include reor­ganizing council meetings so community members do not have to wait until past mid­night talk about major issues, strengthening the city’s com­mitment to providing afford­able housing and to responding more effectively to homeless­ness and displacement of resi­dents, as well as providing ac­cess to job training and taking aggressive steps to reduce il­legal dumping.

In her remarks after she was sworn-in, Councilmember Bas said laid out an agenda focused on “equity, inclusion and community participa­tion.”

“More and more (working and middle class families) are feeling left out, feeling the impact of gentrification, rac­ism and income inequality,” she said. “Decisions (will) not made for you but with you. These are all problems that we can solve together.”

“We want developers and corporation that are part of our city but not to tear our city apart,” said Bas, emphasizing that the Black community is “disproportionately impacted by homelessness, joblessness and over-policing.”

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees, said, thanked Councilmember Ka­plan for hiring her as an intern as later as a staff member and her family and the community for backing her.

“I want to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice, because I understand what that looks like,” she said. “I under­stand what it looks like to have to work multiple different jobs just to make rent.”

Acknowledging the efforts of outgoing District 6 Council­member Desley Brooks, Tay­lor said:

“I look forward to serving and delivering greater eco­nomic opportunity, especially for those who have been left out, underserved and under­represented in our communi­ty. We are fully committed to stopping the pushing out and pricing out of the residents of our city.”

Mayor Schaaf, celebrating her 20 years in city govern­ment, said her priorities re­main the same.

She said, “We are ready to bring even more dramat­ic changes in the next four years,” including “an even greater reduction” in homi­cides and violence, support for her favored nonprofit – Oak­land Promise, road repair “in the neighborhoods,” as well as building more units of housing and increasing ways to make “headway on homelessness.”

The council elected District 7 Councilmember Larry Reid to serve as vice mayor and Dis­trict 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb as mayor pro tem. Reid (a reappointment) and Taylor were picked to represent the city on the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority board of commissioners.

Published January 10, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Displaced Residents Seek Compensation After City Evicts Them, Tows Their RVs

Dayton Andrews, Kelly Thompson and Gary Rosenquist speak about the mass towing at a press conference for the United Front Against Displacement outside the County of Alameda Administrative Building at noon on Dec. 20.

By Zack Haber

At 8 a.m., Oct. 23, Auto Plus Towing & Auto Body and the Oakland Police De­partment collaborated to tow over 15 vehicles near 20th and Willow streets in West Oakland.

The vehicles were mostly homes to long-term Oakland residents who could no lon­ger afford to pay rent.

Emma Chum, an immi­grant from Guatemala who has lived in Oakland for 16 years, says that as police of­ficers towed her RV, “They were laughing like it was funny.”

Chum’s RV had a kitch­en, bed, solar power and a closet. She now lives in a tent and has trouble sleep­ing. Though she works six days a week at a beauty sup­ply store, she hasn’t found a room in Oakland she can af­ford to rent.

Chum’s missing papers relating to citizenship and employment have served as an additional roadblock to her securing indoor housing. Since these papers were in her vehicle when it got towed, she lost them.

Kelly Thompson and Gary Rosenquist, two Vietnam veterans who have lived in Oakland for decades, insist that the Police Department worked strategically to seize their vehicles and intimidate them. Both claim that after police towed their vehicles, officers tracked them down later in the day and told them to “get out of Oakland.”

Though police had given residents at 20th and Willow streets a three-day eviction notice, Rosenquist claims that in the past police would allow vehicular residents time to move during the day of an eviction. This time, there was no leniency. If a vehicle couldn’t be moved immediately, it was towed.

“It was heart-wrenching. They were acting like we were second-class people,” said Rosenquist.

Thompson thinks he was targeted. “They know my truck and what I’ve done in the past so they snagged mine first,” he said. Though his truck ran, it was past registration and he arrived a few minutes too late to move it. It was towed.

In the past, Thompson had used his truck to tow displaced people’s ve­hicles to new locations so that they could avoid hav­ing them seized by towing companies. He had planned to help people on the morn­ing of Oct. 23, but with his truck gone, his neighbors who couldn’t immediately start their vehicles were left helpless.

Thompson and Rosen­quist feel the City of Oakland has treated them unjustly and have connected with hous­ing activists like Dayton Andrews to form the United Front Against Displacement (UFAD).

UFAD meets at Raimondi Park every Friday at 4:30 p.m. and works to stop evic­tions, house all Bay Area res­idents, and hold city agen­cies financially accountable to the people they displace.

In the days immediately following Oct. 23, Thomp­son, Rosenquist, Andrews and other UFAD members attempted to talk with the city government about the mass towing and were di­rected to Michael Hunt, an aide to Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Hunt told them the police shouldn’t have towed their vehicles and that the city would help to retrieve them.

But the former 20th and Willow streets residents claim the city hasn’t helped as police have informed them that their vehicles would not be returned.

Hunt hasn’t responded to an Oakland Post email ask­ing him to comment.

The former residents agree with Andrews, who says “the City of Oakland owes people compensation for their lost property, their lost vehicles and ultimately should be held accountable for not pro­ducing spaces in Oakland for people to live in.”

Published January 2, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Opinion: Black Veteran Wins Temporary Reprieve in Fight to Save His Home

Supporters attend superior court hearing Monday, Dec. 17 to back veteran Leonard Powell’s fight to stay in his home of 44 years.

By Gene Turitz

Backed by friends, neighbors and members of the Berkeley community, Leonard Powell – a 76-year-old African American veteran – won a temporary reprieve in Superior Court this week as he struggles to find a way to stay in the home that is fully paid for and where he has lived for 44 years.

Leonard Powell (right) with relative.

At the Monday morning hearing in Alameda County Superior in Hayward, the court was scheduled to hand the house over to a city- and court-appointed receiver who had run up nearly $700,000 in renovations after the city descended on the house with a building code inspection.

Mr. Powell, who lives at 911 Harmon St. in south Berkeley, and his neighbors were joined by Friends of Adeline, the Probate Court Reform Movement and Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett

The court decided that receiver Gerard Keena and Mr. Powell’s attorney should meet and come to an agreement about how much is owed.  Keena is saying that Mr. Powell owes $600,000 or $700,000.

Mr. Powell’s attorney argued that there has to be a justification for the inflated expenses, such as a $2,000 shower door, granite countertops in both kitchens, new hardwood floors throughout the house, and Italian tile in the two kitchens.

“Obviously, this wasn’t done for my benefit,” said Mr. Powell. “He wants me gone.”

He continued, “How can it cost $35,000 for lead and asbestos abatement?  How can it cost $6,000 to take out a fireplace?”

According to Mr. Powell, he felt the reason the judge asked Keena and Mr. Powell’s attorney to come to an agreement was because of the turnout organized by the Friends of Adeline.

The judge also ruled that Mr. Powell could not move back into his own home until this matter is cleared up, perhaps at the next hearing on Jan. 29.

Mr. Powell’s supporters showed up to let the court and the City of Berkeley know that the community cares about this Berkeley resident. They asked: If Mr. Powell has committed no crime, why is the City trying to force him out of his own home?

Keena originally was appointed as a receiver to oversee the correction of the Substandard Conditions on Mr. Powell’s property.  The Berkeley City Attorney, sitting with the receiver and his attorney in court, told the judge that the City “doesn’t have a dog in this fight.”

Although the judge did not respond directly to that statement, he did urge the city to do whatever it could to expedite the approval of a no interest $100,000 loan to Mr. Powell (routinely given to low-income seniors for home repairs), which would reduce Mr. Powell’s financial burden.

 Community members are raising questions they say need to be answered: Why did the cost go from an estimated $150,000 to $200,000, to correct substandard conditions, to a final cost of about $700,000?  Who gave the receiver the authority to completely renovate the house?

 Over the years, many rental properties in Berkeley were found to be not earth-quake safe, “Soft-story” buildings, but landlords often took years and years to carry out required repairs.

While leaving many tenants lived in unsafe conditions, the city did not try to take the property from any of these landlords. Receivers were not assigned, and no one lost their property.

Concerned Berkeley residents want the City of Berkeley to end these actions, committed by the city and greedy property owners, which result in removing more African-Americans from the city. They say there must be a right of return for those who have been driven out by gentrification and the unequal application of zoning codes.

Contacted by the Post for a response, Keena said, “My intention is to have Mr. Powell back in the house. It’s a challenging situation. I don’t usually comment on active cases.”

By Post deadline, the Berkeley City Attorney’s Office had not replied.

To contact the Friends of Adeline, contact  friendsofadeline@gmail.com or 510-338-7843.

To contract Probate Court Reform Movement (PCRM), call (510) 287-8200 or (831) 238-0096.  The PCRM meets every Wednesday at 6 p.m. at 360 14th St. in downtown Oakland.

Gene Turitz is a member of Friends of Adeline. Oakland Post staff contributed to this article.

 Published December 22, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Opinion: City Agency Set to Seize Black Veteran’s Home

Leonard Powell is facing “an unconscionable and unwarranted debt”

Leonard Powell (right) with relative.

By Steve Martinot

The City of Berkeley is campaigning right now to drive Leonard Powell, a 76-year-old Black veteran, and his family out of their home at 1911 Harmon St. in south Berkeley.

This family has lived there for 44 years and owned the house free and clear. By a legal process called receivership, the city has succeeded in placing Mr. Powell in a financial position beyond his means, in order for him to lose the house to foreclosure or sale.

Receivership means that the house, after it is found to be in violation of the city’s housing code, is placed under the control of a “receiver,” who then he takes over the job of repairing the house.

Where initial estimates of repair expenses were around $200,000, the receiver has racked up expenses of $700,000, a debt which ultimately falls on Mr. Powell’s shoulders.

Right now, the case is in Superior Court, and the judge has demanded that Mr. Powell come up with the full amount right away. Clearly, he is acting to protect the interest of the receiver, who is white.

This writer would ask that the legal system be as diligent in protecting the interests of the Black family, who are now faced with an unconscionable and unwarranted debt.

This kind of thing has happened to other families. It has also been accomplished through Probate Court, as well as through receivership. But Mr. Powell’s case is instructive.

It occurred through three stages. And it is important to note that at no time did Mr. Powell object to doing the repairs on his house. He simply asked the city for assistance and negotiation, which the city subtly declined.

First, there was a police raid on the house, ostensibly to arrest a person who didn’t live there. The entire raid was fake, reporting fabricated evidence, and no charges were ever filed. But it gave city officials a chance to inspect the house without prior notice.

The city knew Mr. Powell’s financial situation, and that he had family members in the house in ill health who depended on the house.

Second, though inspection found some 23 code violations, all were of housing maintenance. Mr. Powell was given deadlines, negotiation on those deadlines were refused, and missed deadlines allowed the city to label the house a public “nuisance.”

The label made the city’s desire for receivership much stronger (though without evidence of any specific danger to the neighborhood). Without material foundation, this essentially admitted that for the white power structure, black people are just a nuisance.

Third, there is the receivership process. Mr. Powell opposed the house being placed under receivership in court declarations, but his objections were ignored.

The city’s petition was granted, and a white man appointed as receiver to repair the violations. The receiver then violated his mandate by having his contractor reconstruct the house rather than simply repair the code violations.

This is what tripled his expenses, and tripled the debt placed on Mr. Powell. The receiver admitted, in a later report to the court, that in shifting the work on the house from repairs to reconstruction, he was following city directions in doing so.

The receiver must have sensed a vulnerability, because he has asked the judge to get full payment from Mr. Powell immediately, and the judge has done so.

 

Leonard Powell’s case is scheduled to be heard Monday, Dec. 17, 10:30 a.m., at Alameda County Superior Court, Second Floor, Room 511, 24405 Amador St., Hayward. For more information or to support Mr. Powell, contact Friends of Adeline at (510) 338-7843 or friendsofadeline@gmail.com

Published December 12, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

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Oakland Pays Tribute to Outgoing Councilmember Desley Brooks

“Desley was the lightning rod who took all the bad energy (and stood) up for us in this city,” said Carroll Fife.

Community activist Carroll Fife spoke Tuesday evening, Dec. 11, at the City Council meeting, backed by Oaklanders who joined her in paying tribute to outgoing Councilmember Desley Brooks. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Oaklanders crowded into City Council chambers this week – the last meeting of the year – -to pay tribute to outgoing Councilmember Desley Brooks, who represented District 6 in East Oakland for 16 years.

Brooks, who was excused due to illness in her family, did not attend the meeting.

Almost 40 people signed up to speak about the issues Councilmember Brooks championed – including homelessness and construction jobs for Black and Latino workers – and praise her for courageous stands on behalf of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Two drummers beat a solemn, celebratory rhythm, and the crowded chambers reverberated with clapping, cheering and chants of “Desley! Desley! Desley!”

Those who appreciated the work of Councilmember Brooks, especially her outspoken demands for equity for Black Oaklanders, crowded around the podium as Oakland activist Carroll Fife spoke of the “scars and battle wounds that Brooks took for standing up for us in this city.”

“Desley was the lightning rod that took all of the bad energy from the press, from you all (on the council), from the gentrifying agents of the city. She took it, and she wore it. She is African. That is what we do…

“Desley was unapologetically Black. (She) unapologetically stood with the people who are most in need.”

Over her years in office, Brooks helped create the landmark Race and Equity Department, fought for Black neighborhoods stigmatized by the War on Drugs to have equitable opportunities to engage in the legalized cannabis industry and stood up to the police chief and mayor when they violated Oakland’s Sanctuary City ordinance.

Earning the anger of state construction trade unions, she recently had been questioning the proposal for a Project Labor Agreement that would give all the construction jobs on city projects to segregated unions that have few Black members.

Though members of the council praise ‘bad sistas,’ said Fife, “We have to talk about the difference and the disparity. She cannot be bad on that seat (on the council), but Libby gets to be ‘Oakland Tough’ (referring to one of the Mayor Schaaf’s recent campaign slogans).”

“You did not lose your seat Desley Brooks – it was stolen from you by the mayor, by independent expenditures, by the half a million dollars (they raised) to put out of office so you couldn’t represent us,” Fife continued.

“We see, and we are united.  We are coming together. This is bigger than Desley, but Desley was our drum.”

Published December 13, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post