Connect with us

Activism

Claiming Neglect, City Towers Tenants and Supporters Organize

City Towers tenants, have been outspoken in their complaints about VPM. In four interviews with tenants and 14 written statements shared with this reporter, 18 City Towers residents claimed mistreatment from the company. A dozen of these tenants complained of mold, 10 of broken appliances, seven of security mistreating residents and/or providing insufficient services, six of mice and/or roach infestations. Six tenants also complained of urine and/or feces in elevators and/or stairways, which they say occurs because security does not stop outsiders from entering their buildings. During onsite visits, this reporter walked through unlocked entrances in all three City Towers high-rises and was not asked by security to check in, or who they were visiting.

Published

on

Katie Latimer (left) of The United Front Against Displacement and City Towers' tenant Ali Boutte (right) in Boutte's apartment in West Oakland on May 6. Photo by Zack Haber.
Katie Latimer (left) of The United Front Against Displacement and City Towers' tenant Ali Boutte (right) in Boutte's apartment in West Oakland on May 6. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Tenants living in City Towers Apartments, a 231-unit affordable housing project located in three high-rises in West Oakland, are organizing for healthier and more secure living conditions with the help of local supporters. They claim that neglect from VPM Management Inc, the Irvine-based company in charge of providing services to the units, has caused their homes to fall into disrepair and become unsanitary and unsafe.

“I’m scared to live in my unit,” said Elise Jones, who’s lived in City Towers for over 16 years. “I don’t think we should have to suffer in our homes just because we’re in poverty.”

According to Jones, the apartment she shares with her son has maggot and mice infestations and a stove that no longer works. She says she’s put in work orders to Don McShane, VPM’s site manager, who has not yet fixed these issues.

In July of last year when a leak in her apartment came to her attention, Jones says she immediately informed McShane, but he delayed responding to the issue. Her rugs, clothes and furniture were destroyed as the leak grew and her apartment became increasingly damp.

“I knew it was unsafe for me and my son to be there,” Jones said. “But I was told it had to be a real emergency for them to come due to the [COVID-19] shut-downs.”

Jones reports that in September, VPM Management Inc. fixed the leak, but did not address mold that had begun to grow on her floor.

The Oakland Post contacted McShane by phone, who declined an interview request for this story and suggested contacting VPM’s corporate phone number. While The Oakland Post called, no one from VPM returned voicemail messages requesting comment. This reporter also emailed detailed questions to VPM CEO Philip H. McNamee and Regional Manager Rose Palmer but received no response.

City Towers tenants, in turn, have been outspoken in their complaints about VPM. In four interviews with tenants and 14 written statements shared with this reporter, 18 City Towers residents claimed mistreatment from the company. A dozen of these tenants complained of mold, 10 of broken appliances, seven of security mistreating residents and/or providing insufficient services, six of mice and/or roach infestations. Six tenants also complained of urine and/or feces in elevators and/or stairways, which they say occurs because security does not stop outsiders from entering their buildings. During onsite visits, this reporter walked through unlocked entrances in all three City Towers high-rises and was not asked by security to check in, or who they were visiting.

Of the 18 tenants who complained of mistreatment, 11 mentioned that their requests to VPM to fix issues were ignored or not responded to for long periods of time, while two said they were afraid to file complaints for fear of retaliation.

“Everything is broke,” said City Towers tenant Ali Boutte. “It takes four to six months for them to fix something here. That’s ridiculous.”

“I hate this place,” said City Towers tenant Tamara Hubbard, who shared complaints of mold in her apartment that have not been addressed. “I’ve been having a lot of asthma attacks. I wake up coughing in the middle of the night.”

City Towers tenants have begun taking their complaints directly to VPM Management Inc in a unified manner.

“We are tired of mistreatment of low-income tenants and this is only the first step towards uniting people against the day to day injustices,” reads a petition that over 90 City Towers residents signed since March and was delivered to VPM on April 1.

The petition complains of neglect and demands better maintenance and security measures in common areas, as well as relocation of elderly and disabled tenants from floors near the top of the buildings, which residents say pose safety issues in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Such an evacuation was needed when a fire struck one of City Tower’s high-rises during the afternoon of Feb. 15. A report from the Oakland Fire Department shows two City Towers tenants and three firefighters were hospitalized that day.

In a written statement, Melvin Parker, an older City Tower’s resident who lives on the 10th floor, described escaping the fire as “a nightmare,” as “people were bumping into each other,” because “there were no lights in the stairwell so you couldn’t see.”

While the fire put residents in danger, the event garnered attention that helped bring them together with the surrounding community and each other. Katie Latimer, who lives near City Towers and is part of The United Front Against Displacement, an anti-gentrification organization which has recently organized with low income tenants living in Boston, Harlem and San Francisco, said the incident motivated the organization to get involved.

Aware that a fire killed 17 tenants of a Bronx high-rise when a space heater malfunctioned last January, and that residents of that apartment had complained that their landlord had failed to provide central heating shortly before the fire, Latimer and other UFAD members wondered if neglect had played a role in the fire occurring at City Towers, and if residents were facing issues they could organize around.

“We know people in low-income housing are going through a lot of [stuff] that’s not right these days,” said Latimer, “and that it’s easier to organize when there’s a large number of people with the same landlord and similar complaints.”

Five members of the organization started knocking on doors to learn more about residents’ experiences. When they found out that many were facing problems, they started meeting every week with residents to unify tenants and organize responses. The group has been sharing printed information at the high-rises, such as possible continuing onsite fire hazards and information about the companies behind City Towers. Jones, along with fellow City Towers tenant Loucrita Johnson, have joined UFAD’s outreach efforts to bring in more tenants to organize.

“I’ve learned not to be afraid to fight back,” said Johnson. “I want to continue to work on this with other tenants until something gets done about City Towers.”

In April, UFAD and tenants filed complaints to Oakland’s Inspection and Code Enforcement Services which resulted in the city sending KDF City Towers LP, the Newport Beach-based company that owns City Towers and has hired VPM Management Inc, three “notice of violation” letters. The letters accuse KDF of code violations on three units and common areas in two City Towers high-rises including inoperable heaters and electrical outlets, as well as leaks and damage to bathtubs, lights, and cabinets. KDF must now fix the issues, file an appeal, or face fines.

The Oakland Post sent multiple emails requesting comment on this story to co-founders Marquis E Hyatt and Paul Fruchbom of KDF Communities LLC, the company that owns KDF City Towers LP, but did not receive a response.

On April 18, City Towers residents received a note from VPM Management Inc. that stated “Due to the COVID Pandemic, Management has been unable to perform annual unit inspections for over 2 years. Because of this, many of the apartment homes have many maintenance items that need to be addressed.”

The note also said that VPM was hiring a company to help them with repairs that would start on May 2. On May 10, City Towers tenant Ali Boutte told this reporter VPM had recently taken photos of things in his home that needed to be repaired and told him they would soon be worked on.

UFAD has been continuing to meet with tenants and on May 7, they showed films about tenant organizing in an informal gathering in an effort to bring City Towers residents together. Members of the organization and tenants told this reporter that they feel their work has caused a response from VPM Management Inc, but that there is still a lot of work to be done to adequately address all the issues.

“We all have the same stories, and the tenants want change,” said Jones. “I’m not going to stop. I’m going to fight for tenant rights and not be silent.”

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

Published

on

By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

Continue Reading

Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

Published

on

“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

Continue Reading

Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

Published

on

Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

Continue Reading

Subscribe to receive news and updates from the Oakland Post

* indicates required

CHECK OUT THE LATEST ISSUE OF THE OAKLAND POST

ADVERTISEMENT

WORK FROM HOME

Home-based business with potential monthly income of $10K+ per month. A proven training system and website provided to maximize business effectiveness. Perfect job to earn side and primary income. Contact Lynne for more details: Lynne4npusa@gmail.com 800-334-0540

Facebook

Trending