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OAKLAND INFESTATION: Tenants Sucked Dry by Bedbugs and Landlords
by Lynda Carson ( tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com )
Friday Oct 7th, 2005 2:56 PM
“Sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite” is an old saying, as far as sayings go, but some Oakland tenants have learned that this is more than just a cute rhyme that has been passed down through the years.
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“Sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite” is an old saying, as far as sayings go, but some Oakland tenants have learned that this is more than just a cute rhyme that has been passed down through the years.

“I've heard the old saying about bed bugs since I was a child, but I never knew they were real until moving here,” said 47-year-old Frank Benavidez, resident of North Oakland’s California Hotel. “The bed bugs are drinking my blood and eating me alive.”

On Tuesday August 2, 2005, 43 residential tenants of the historic landmark California Hotel on San Pablo Ave. in Oakland filed a lawsuit at the Alameda County Superior Court House against Oakland Community Housing Inc. (OCHI), a non-profit housing developer.

Mostly occupied by elderly, disabled African-Americans, each of the 43 tenants listed in the lawsuit are seeking $50,000 in damages over rat infestations, bed bugs, cockroaches and other health and safety issues.

Backing the horrific claims of the tenants is a letter sent on July 22, 2005 from the Alameda County Health Services(ACHS), stating that the procedures being utilized by OCHI to control the bed bugs are inadequate. In the letter, ACHS biologist David K. James wrote, “A severe Norway rat infestation exists within these premises, and it appears that it's a long-established and large population.”

Frank Benavidez said, “I can hear the rats scratching around in my ceiling at night and the noise keeps me from sleeping.”

Built in 1929 and presently valued at $4,853,722, OCHI bought the historic 150 unit California Hotel in 1990 for $1,910,000.The tenants reside in Single Room Occupancy units (SROs), and pay their rent by the month. “We are charged either $395.00 for a basic room per month or as much as $466.00 a month for a small kitchenette,” said three-year tenant Lisa Grisolia. “They charge us an extra $7.50 a night if we have a guest stay over.”

According to Grisolia, after the lawsuit was filed OCHI management moved quickly to clean up the building. “I never seen them move so fast to clean up this mess since moving here,” Grisolia said.

The filed complaint/lawsuit also detailed such problems as inadequate and defective electrical systems and outlets, including exposed wiring, defective plumbing, infestation of vermin, roaches and insects, in addition to other dangerous, inhospitable conditions.

“I believe that OCHI and this property is being run by slumlords, and they are sucking the system dry,” said tenant activist Linda Stephens, who started the tenant rebellion at the property after contacting local attorney John Murcko
for assistance.

“It's a terrible situation with fleas, rats, bed bugs, and bad odors coming from the vents and the floors,” Murcko said. “It's the worst infestation I have seen in the last 20 years as an attorney. OCHI received a notice last November from vector control and nothing was done.”

According to Stephens, OCHI is still making big profits, despite the deplorable conditions. She said, “These guys are really raking in the dough from plenty of HUD funding, because tenants normally pay $395.00 a month, but when they move in tenants from the Shelter Plus Program which is subsidized by local housing authorities using HUD funding, OCHI then charges $795.00 a month for the same unit.”

According to Rashid Mohammed, the lead desk clerk at the California Hotel, they are currently accepting applications and are presently asking $622.00 per month for some units and $645.00 a month for larger units.

Eleanor Piez, director of community relations for OCHI said, “We know there are some serious problems with rats and bed bugs, and we have faced some difficult repairs lately while installing a new sprinkler system.”

“If the tenants had communicated closer with management about these problems instead of going to the courts or the media, our problems would not be as severe as they currently are. Now it's totally adversarial and very tense,” said Piez. “We have 120 tenants and 150 units, and believe that the infestations became worse due to moving the tenants around to different rooms while the repairs have been
going on lately.”

Indeed, bed bugs have made a big comeback in recent years and are increasingly found in shelters, apartments, and hotels. Bed bugs are active at night while sucking the blood of sleeping humans and they like to hide during the daylight hours close to where people usually sleep at night. Once they pierce the skin of their victim with an elongated beak through which they can suck the blood of their prey, they feed for around three to ten minutes until full.

Repeated efforts to reach Dwight Dickerson, executive director of OCHI, have not been successful, but records show that while his tenants at the California Hotel have been plagued by rats and bed bugs, Dickerson himself is raking in well over $80,000 a year from his salary, plus extras.

Recent records indicate that it would be difficult for OCHI to blame budget woes on its failure to rid the California Hotel of its dangerous infestation. With nearly 1,000 rental units under their control, records show that from 2002 through 2003, OCHI profited by as much as $2,203,920 for services performed, merchandise, gifts, and other related activities of the non-profit housing organization. According to its website, OCHI has developed over 1,000 units of affordable housing since the organization was formed in 1973, and it currently manages over 900 units.

However, despite the multi-million dollar profits of their landlord, OCHI’s SRO tenants are forced to live in truly nightmarish conditions. “A few months back, we had a dead man here for 12 days in his room before the body was discovered, and the smell of dead rats in the walls were so strong that we could not make the distinction between the dead man's body and the dead rats in the walls,” said Linda Stephens.

“Now they are spreading lime around the building to kill the stench of all the dead rats in the walls,” Stephens added. “This is a national historic building with Black Heritage, and it really angers me to see how OCHI has exploited and sucked up every last dime they can get out of this building. Many of us residing here are the working class poor, but Dwight Dickerson and the management staff of OCHI are trying to paint most of us as being mentally challenged, in an effort to divert attention away from the slum-like conditions that they have had us residing in.”

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com
§Spider Bite
by Lynda Carson ( tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com ) Friday Oct 7th, 2005 2:56 PM
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Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Carl Rose
Saturday Jul 28th, 2007 1:29 AM
Little did I know, about the past problems Oakland Housing has had with pest such as, Roaches and bedbugs. I have live here in oakland,Ca since 1969. However, I moved to Richmond,California for several years and I recently moved back to Oakland, CA in 2006, I have experienced nothing but hardships with housing. Paying more than one-half of my SSI income on living quarters not designed for long term living. Problems with bedbugs and roaches are a very real problem. No one appears to be concerned, especially our rule making segments of Oakland government.
by Carl Rose
Saturday Jul 28th, 2007 1:49 AM
I am finding, that many of the Tenants who live in these facilities, lack the proper education on their Human Rights. I was a Member of the United Seniors Of Oakland and Alameda County, developed by Supervisor Nate Miley,2006-2007, this program was well organized, but needed more time to completely develope.

It lacked proper funding, to actually benefit the Community it was designed to help. I, Carl Rose, is now 58 years old, has worked as a Respiratory Therapist, for 34 years, never in my wildest dream, thought that I would ever live in such bad conditions. I consider myself fairly well educated; I am a Graduate from Merritt College 1974,a Graduate from Laney College 1986 and a Graduate of Patten University, 2007. My BS degree, has taught me many things about Humanities. My plans are now to enter the Master Of Science Degree in Public Health.
Unless we properly inform our older generation, we are doomed for future failures big-time. Many of our older generation are indeed having many troubles living in these conditions, but are fearful to step up to the plate and complain. Fearful to complain, because of the fear of being homeless. We should not have to live with bedbugs and roaches, no cooking facilities. Living in a space designed for short term living. What a major problem we face.
by Carl Rose
( carlrose_4 [at] yahoo.com ) Friday Jul 16th, 2010 12:32 AM
Once again I am expericieng bed bugs and the management does very little about this problem. If we were to withhold rent we would be considered abad tenant. What should we do about the constant bedbud problems. Carl Rose 1955 San Pablo Ave #414A Oakland,CA 94612 510-302-8937
by kenneth r phelps
Thursday Jun 16th, 2011 7:10 AM
I live @1955 San Pablo ave #208A, bedbugs since 11/3/2006. Please help me.
by kenneth r phelps
Thursday Jun 16th, 2011 7:16 AM
I am on a fixed income 64 years old, paying more than half my income(SSDI)on rent. I have a bedbug problem since the day I moved in on November 3rd 2006. I cant afford to move do you have any suggestions? I need help now.