Mass evictions from Oakland's public housing
Monday, May 15, 2006
Due to an Oakland housing official's acts of fraud, 34 poor families face eviction from Lockwood Gardens, by order of the Oakland Housing Authority.
Fear and panic have set in at some of East Oakland's public housing units, as police agents from the Oakland Housing Authority have been making late-night visits to tenants, and demanding that the families pack up and move within a five-day period.
After refusing to pack up and run, more than 30 families are facing mass eviction by the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) from their public housing units at Lockwood Gardens, a Hope VI Project on 65th Avenue in East Oakland.
The OHA is claiming that at least 34 families currently facing eviction from Lockwood Gardens are unlawful occupants (squatters) who have illegally gained possession of the housing units. OHA officials have served them 30-day, forcible-detainer eviction notices in an effort to remove them.
On April 28, the first three cases out of 34 families facing eviction were headed for Alameda County Superior Court, but the court hearings have been delayed repeatedly as Judge Winifred Smith moves to consolidate all the cases.
In defense of some of the evictees, Oakland's Eviction Defense Center has teamed up with attorney Bob Salinas, of Sundeen Salinas & Pyle, to file a demurrer seeking dismissal of evictions on behalf of the first three families that were served forcible-detainer eviction notices. Lockwood Gardens has 372 units; and it is part of a revitalization project of East Oakland's public housing properties, and a partial recipient of $26,510,020 in grant funding from the Hope Vl program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The revitalization funds were divided between three public housing projects in 1994 and 1996, and renovations have since taken place to demolish and rebuild the three locations into modern housing units in Oakland's eastside neighborhoods.
Laura Lane, an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center, is also representing a number of the families facing eviction at Lockwood Gardens and those cases will head to court at a later date.
Currently, out of the 34 families facing eviction, the Eviction Defense Center (EDC) is representing nine families in court, and the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) is representing 12 families. One family has already been frightened into moving away from their public housing unit by the OHA; no one seems to know if the remaining seven families facing eviction have moved away or are seeking legal representation elsewhere.
Jennifer Bell of Goldfarb and Lipman is the General Counsel for the Oakland Housing Authority, and is leading the charge in court to evict the 34 families from their housing units in East Oakland.
During an April 24th interview with David Lipsetz, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Oakland Housing Authority, he blamed the tenants for what is occurring and accused all the families of committing fraud to move into public housing. At first, 29 families faced eviction, although that number has slowly risen to 34 as new families are served with eviction notices.
"The OHA has served eviction notices to 29 families at Lockwood Gardens because none of the families applied for, or got onto the waiting list to move into their public housing units," said Lipsetc. "The tenants worked with a former clerk to gain access to the units. The OHA does not have any files on the families, and the OHA does not believe that any of the families signed a lease before moving into those units. Forcible detainers are standard procedure for those that have illegally moved into the OHA's public housing units."
Lipsetz said that the OHA just recently discovered that the 29 families who are now living in those housing units did not match the names of the clients on the OHA list waiting to move into those units.
"As far as we can tell," said Lipsetz, "there were no signed leases, no files established for these families, no security deposits have been paid before moving in, and those families got ahead of all the other families on the waiting list to move in."
Contrary to what Lipsetz stated on behalf of the Oakland Housing Authority, the facts reveal that the families have all signed Leases, Tenant Agreements To Maintain A Drug-Free Environment, Occupant's Responsibility statements, Lease Compliance forms and a host of other documents before moving in otheir public housing units. Those documents were all counter-signed by a host of clerks and managers working for the OHA. The soon-to-be-evicted tenants' Billing Summaries, Tenant Leases and Notices have a host of names on them, such as Kim Boyd, an OHA Supervisor; Donald McShane, an OHA Manager; and Alice Ferguson, another OHA Manager.
In addition, as important as it may be that low-income tenants should not jump in line ahead of one another to move into this much-needed subsidized housing, most housing authorities across the nation recently have said the hell with their waiting lists, and allowed Hurricane Katrina's victims to jump in ahead of all of those already waiting in line for housing.
A web page called "HUD's Public Housing Program" has a section titled "WHEN WILL I BE NOTIFIED?" HUD's website states: "If the HA determines that you are eligible, your name will be put on a waiting list, unless the HA is able to assist you immediately." The web page may be found at http://www.hud.gov/renting/phprog.cfm
After discovering that the families facing eviction did indeed sign leases and other documents before moving into Lockwood Gardens, suddenly no one at the OHA would go on record to comment about the signed documents that contradicted the accusations of OHA spokesman David Lipsetz.
The documents clearly reveal that the 34 families facing eviction at Lockwood Gardens have all beenchecked out, and qualified as being eligible to move into those units, regardless of what the OHA may say at this point.
The entire controversy appears to have been triggered by acts of deception and fraud on the part of an official of the Oakland Housing Authority, Carolyn Wilson. "The police have been looking for Carolyn Wilson of the Oakland Housing Authority ever since she disappeared recently," said Ms. Kelly, a resident of Lockwood Gardens who prefers to use only her last name for this story.
"I moved into Lockwood Gardens on October 27, and Carolyn Wilson's name is on my lease," said Kelly. "I first received a message from the OHA at my mother's home, telling me that a unit was available at Lockwood Gardens, and I went to their office location on 65th Avenue to fill out the necessary forms to move in. I supplied birth certificates, photo IDs, Social Security numbers, income statements and everything else asked of me to qualify for moving in. There's no way that I committed fraud by following through with everything being asked of me by the Housing Authority."
Kelley said she and her young child were disturbed by an unexpected, late-night arrival of OHA police at her door.
"I am a 41-year-old woman with an 11-year-old child, and I am very frightened by the way the OHA has been treating me," she said. "I was terrified recently when the OHA Police showed up at my door around 10 p.m. at night, accusing my family of committing fraud to move into this townhouse; and they served me a five-day notice to surrender my home to the OHA, or else."
Officer Jerold Coates, a 13-year employee of the OHA Police Department, and Officer Malcolm Williams are involved in the investigation taking place at Lockwood Gardens. According to Ms. Kelly, "Officer Coates told me that Carolyn Wilson was demanding that everyone must pay her $500 to $1,000 to move in, and he wanted to know how much I paid her before moving in. I denied paying Ms. Wilson anything extra to move into Lockwood Gardens."
Kelly added, "From what I am being told by others is that Carolyn Wilson of the OHA skipped town with everyone's security deposits of $500 to $1,000 for each family involved in the scam, and that the OHA will not receive a subsidy from HUD for the families facing eviction in those units, because the OHA believes that the wrong families are residing in those housing units."
One of the families that moved into Lockwood Gardens, and is now facing eviction, moved away from another public housing location in Oakland in order to move into the Hope Vl project on 65th Avenue. It takes permission to move from one location to another in public housing, and managers or staff at the OHA had to give their blessings before this family was allowed to relocate to Lockwood Gardens.
Jorge Aguilar, an attorney for the Eviction Defense Center, has his own understanding of what is going on. "An agent of the Oakland Housing Authority defrauded nearly 30 families of the most vulnerable segment of the community," he said. "They are now trying to cover their wrongful act by evicting those families. The OHA is trying to circumvent Measure EE [Oakland's Just Cause for eviction measure]. The irony is that the OHA is using forcible detainers to evict, which have traditionally been used to defend tenants from landlords using self-help evictions."
Aguilar recently witnessed the human suffering already caused by the OHA's eviction threats and rough handling of the families involved. He said, "During a recent interview with one of the families facing eviction, a little boy started crying and stated that the police came by and tried to take my bedroom away from me."
Another Lockwood Gardens tenant named Winou Wakeyo said, "I'm from Jimma, Ethiopa, and I moved into Lockwood Gardens on November 22, 2005. I work 12 hours a day on Sundays for a pastor who told me to come here to find housing, and I did everything the Housing Authority asked of me before moving in. A big policeman came by recently late at night with a five-day notice telling me that I must surrender my home to the Housing Authority. There were two policemen. It scared me very much, and someone later told me to find a defender to save my housing, and I contacted the Eviction Defense Center for help.
"I do not understand the customs of this country, and I asked my defender what I did wrong, and I was told that someone stole some money. The Housing Authority stopped accepting my rent for April, and about two weeks ago, they suddenly sent back the rent that I paid for March, and I do not understand why they are doing this to me."
Laura Lane, an attorney for the EBCLC, said, "The Oakland Housing Authority seems to be in a complete disarray. The management has failed to adequately screen, train or supervise its employees. But when the employees make mistakes or fail to follow the law, the Oakland Housing Authority's response is to blame the tenants, blame the attorneys, blame the federal government -- blame anyone but the Oakland Housing Authority. There is an utter failure to accept personal responsibility."
After it became apparent that many families were seeking legal help to fight the evictions, a meeting was held on March 20 at the East Bay Community Law Center for the victims of the housing scam. When the tenants started sharing what had occurred to them, most of the families involved suddenly realized that Carolyn Wilson of the OHA had stolen their security deposits, and skipped out of town.
Tenants at Lockwood Gardens believe that there may be another 40 families or more to face eviction, since they learned that OHA police are also investigating other public housing properties in Oakland that may be caught up in the housing scam.
As recently as April 22, OHA police were back at Lockwood Gardens pounding on the tenants' doors, and demanding to know if the families have moved yet.
"This time the police were not satisfied to know if my family had moved yet," said Kelly, "but they wanted to know if any of us noticed any other families moving out of here lately. Considering the way they have been treating us, I don't think we have to tell them anything at this point, and they need to talk to my attorney if they have any further questions."
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