Category: Probate court reform

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

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

.