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East Bay | Health, Housing, and Public Services

Nonprofit housing developer's rehab project threatens Berkeley's poor
by Lynda Carson ( tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com )
Sunday Aug 18th, 2013 9:55 PM
The poor, elderly, and disabled tenants residing at the University Avenue Cooperative Homes (UACH) in Berkeley are being terrorized, and threatened with displacement by a massive nearly $16 million rehab project being conducted by the nonprofit housing developer Resources for Community Development!

Nonprofit housing developer's rehab project threatens Berkeley's poor

By Lynda Carson - August 18, 2013

Berkeley - After recently being acquired by Resources for Community Development (RCD) for a massive rehabilitation project, the low-income tenants residing at University Avenue Cooperative Homes (UACH) are being pushed around and threatened with displacement from their housing by the profiteers at RCD, and their management agent the John Stewart Company.

The poor low-income residents at UACH are being terrorized and overwhelmed by a series of notices as part of a tactic RCD is using to enter the tenant's homes for one inspection, after another recently. RCD has also used notices recently to intimidate the residents into going to some meetings to hear from RCD, a relocation specialist, an architect, and a general contractor about a massive rehab project expected to displace many of the residents from their housing in the next few coming months.

One recent meeting was held in the community room of UACH on August 13, where RCD exerted their power and control over the tenants, while explaining the scope of the renovation plans. Around 40 UACH residents appeared at the meeting that included property manager Charles West of the John Stewart Company, and Alicia Klein of RCD. According to residents, the meeting was controlled in such a way that it was difficult for the tenants to have their questions answered, and when David Richman of Auto Temp arose to talk about plans to relocate the tenants from their housing, he had nothing to tell the residents.

UA Housing, Inc., a subsidiary/affiliate of RCD in Berkeley has recently gone before the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee and applied for tax credits for the massive rehab project that is estimated to cost around $15,745,508, or around $325,980 per unit at UACH. The project includes 13 buildings, with 47 residential units in total. The Senior Project Manager for RCD is Alicia F. Klein, who could not be reached for comment about this story.

Rotissa Davis is a long time resident of 7 years at UACH with a seven year old son, and said. "I feel like I am being terrorized by this process and by RCD into going along with the massive rehab project about to take place. I am starting to feel as if I am already being made homeless by this process. This all brings up memories of when my family was homeless, when I was a child. My mother was single and we had to sleep outside at times when three of us were just kids during that period."

"This all brings up memories of when we used to go to Mc Donalds early in the morning to wash up and brush our teeth. Everyone knew we were homeless when we spent so much time in the bathroom, and I will never forget how horrible this felt when I was a child. I do not want my seven year old son to ever experience what it is like to be homeless, and I am afraid that this rehab project is pushing us out of our home. Who cares about a new sink or counter top if it means that I will be displaced and made homeless in the process? Some of my neighbors are beautiful including some that are old and in such bad shape they need full time caregivers. This rehab project is too hard on my family, and the poor elderly people living next door to me."

"I am speaking out about this and am asking that my local Councilman Jesse Arreguin, the full Berkeley City Council including Mayor Tom Bates should step forward and protect the low-income residents at UACH from being displaced from their housing, during this massive rehab project. My son and I, including my neighbors need some solid guarantees in writing from RCD, that we will not be displaced from our housing. We all want to be allowed to move back into our homes when the rehab work is completed. RCD brings us pizza at their meetings while threatening to displace us with this rehab project, when they should be bringing us some solid contracts to sign that guarantees we will be able to move back into our homes when the rehab project is finished. I do not understand why they do not use the word homelessness, when they talk about pushing us out of our homes? Homelessness is what this is all about, and what may happen to us in the process of being displaced from our homes. They treat us as if we are in the way of their rehab project, after they used us poor people as a means to borrow all the funding that is needed for the rehab project. This is not fair, and we are being mistreated."

Indeed, to pay off the massive debt of $15,745,508 being used for the proposed massive rehab project, documentation reveals that RCD is already looking to fill 19 units at UACH with tenants earning as much as 50% of the local AMI. RCD wants to fill another 13 units with people earning as much as 45% of AMI, and an additional 6 units with low-income people earning as much as 30% of the local AMI. RCD also seeks federal Section 8 Project-Based funding for the project and it's 47 units, during a time of massive sequestration budget cuts that are already underfunding existing Section 8 Project-Based projects all across the nation. The tenants are also being pressured to sign new lease contracts that may have minimum income requirements, that would actually discriminate against many of the existing low-income residents trying to get back into their housing at a later date.

A vaguely worded notice dated July 25, 2013 states that RCD has received an allocation of low-income housing tax credits which will enable construction to begin at the end of 2013 at the occupied site. The notice further threatens that the tenants will have to be relocated while the rehab project takes place in phases, but the notice gets real slippery when it gets to the point where it mentions that the tenants will be able to lease an apartment somewhere in the complex at a later date, after the rehab work is completed. There is no guarantee that the residents can move back into the same apartment that their being displaced from, nor are there any guarantees that the displaced tenants would be able to move back into the complex, period.

Making matters even more frightening for the elderly, poor and disabled residents facing displacement from the massive rehab project being proposed, RCD claims that if temporary relocation lasts more than a year the displaced tenants would be contacted and offered all permanent relocation assistance as a displaced person under the Uniform Relocation Act. With housing tight and very expensive in the Bay Area, it is a great hardship for these tenants to be brutalized and pushed out of their housing by a so-called nonprofit housing developer's rehab scheme.

Other recent notices reveal that the residents are being harassed with one inspection notice after another demanding entry into their homes. The tenants at UACH are already being abused having lost their right to privacy and the quiet peaceful enjoyment of their homes by RCD, and their proposed rehab project. With so many people demanding entry into their homes on any given day, the tenant's lives are being upended, and shredded in the process.

"I feel like I have to wait until after 5 p.m., when management is supposed to get off of work before I feel it is safe to leave my home anymore, because they want to enter my home so often. I have lost my right to privacy in my own home, and it is not fair," said Rotissa Davis.

As an example, one notice dated August 9, demands entry into the units of UACH tenants on August 14 for a survey from RCD's construction team to inspect the tenant's homes, their yards, patio's and decks. This was one day after the tenants were pressured into going to an August 13 meeting telling them they are about to be being displaced by the massive rehab project being proposed by RCD.

Another notice dated July 19, demands entry into the residents homes for July 24 for another survey being done by RCD's construction team to inspect the tenant's homes, their yards, patio's and decks. This inspection included a search of the tenants closets, according to residents.

Another harassing notice dated July 11, demands entry into the tenants homes on July 16, and July 17 for RCD's construction team to do a hazmat survey commencing at 9:00 a.m, until 5:00 p.m.

Still another harassing notice dated July 1, demands another entry into the tenants homes at UACH on July 9 by RCD's construction team for a so-called Property Survey commencing from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

During July of 2012, Vivian Thorpe then a long-time resident of UACH wrote about RCD buying the entire complex of 47 units without the tenants being aware of the deal until after the transaction was completed, and how the more than 140 residents were ripped off of their ownership shares in the housing cooperative, including their security deposits when University Homes Incorporated went belly up, and RCD took over.

These brutal rehab projects being imposed upon the poor, elderly and disabled at properties owned by so-called nonprofit housing developers are happening at an alarming rate in Berkeley and Oakland. A few current rehab projects include a massive $35 million rehab project occurring at the occupied California Hotel in Oakland, plus a $2.5 million rehab project at Effie's House in Oakland. The developer East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation is skimming a hefty $5,000 per unit in what are known as developers fees from the $2.5 million loan from the City of Oakland, for doing a rehab project at the 21 unit building.

At times these rehab projects get down and dirty by forcing the tenants to remove all of their possessions from their closets as though the tenants are slave labor, leaving no place available to conceal their valuables in their homes when the contractors come through to do the rehab work. The tenants are then forced to place their possessions into storage, or they have to ask friends to hide their valuables until the work is finished. Meanwhile they are threatened with eviction to go along with the rehab scheme, and may be forced to stay in a hotel for weeks at a time while the rehab work is taking place. For those that are chronically ill, elderly and disabled, it is especially hard on them. It is frightening for them to lose control over their lives when forced to find the help they need to get out of the way of the rehab projects. Especially when they are low-income tenants with few disposable dollars at the end of the month.

Often the tenants homes are left in a shambles by the contractors during a rehab project, and their apartments are left dirty and full of toxic dust when the workers leave the site. At times, some of the more sleazy nonprofit developers even steal energy from the tenant's electrical out-lets for their rehab projects. Some developers may even go as far as to install new smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors that are tapping into the tenant's electrical energy with-out the permission of the tenants in advance, who are left stuck paying the added electrical bills in perpetuity. These sleazy types of developers should have charges filed against them for energy theft, and the building managers involved in the rehab projects should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Presently the low-income residents at Berkeley's 75 public housing units also face displacement from their homes because some out-of-state billionaires are in the process of buying and privatizing Berkeley's public housing units, and want to do a major rehab project in those units. This is occurring at a time when the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) has recently taken back fourteen Section 8 vouchers from the poor, and suspended 200 other Section 8 housing vouchers from poor households that were in the final stages of becoming eligible to receive federal housing assistance. The BHA estimates that it will have to take back an additional 74 Section 8 vouchers from the poor during FY 2014, due to the on-going sequestration budget cuts of $85 billion that took effect starting March 1, 2013.

Another round of sequestration budget cuts totaling around $110 billion is expected to take effect around the beginning of October, unless Congress steps forward and votes to reverse the massive budget cuts shredding the nation's federal housing programs.

As for the poor households at UACH, unless Berkeley's City Council and Mayor steps in to offer protection to Rotissa Davis and all the other poor, elderly and disabled households being threatened with displacement by the profiteers operating RCD's massive $16 million rehab project about to get underway, it appears that the residents will continue to be terrorized while facing more unstable housing, and displacement from their homes.

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com