Connect with us

Activism

Tenants Protest Management Practices at New Oakland Veteran Housing

During visits this month, this reporter found the doors to common areas at Embark locked. When residents tried to open these doors, they were unsuccessful, with the exception of a second-floor balcony, which residents claim was recently reopened. That area was overgrown with weeds. Lyons stated the companies are now looking for a landscape vendor to clean up that area.

Published

on

Tenants Deidre Robinson (left) and Sergeant First Class Rodney B. Burton (right) sit on the second-floor balcony of Embark Apartments, a recently opened affordable housing complex for veterans. The area is overgrown with weeds. Photo by Zack Haber.
Tenants Deidre Robinson (left) and Sergeant First Class Rodney B. Burton (right) sit on the second-floor balcony of Embark Apartments, a recently opened affordable housing complex for veterans. The area is overgrown with weeds. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Since March of last year, tenants at Embark, an affordable apartment complex for veterans in Downtown Oakland, have been demanding that the companies that oversee and own their buildings address safety and habitability issues and provide residents with respectful management that is free of harassment.

“It’s such a nice building,” said tenant Deidre Robinson. “But they’re actively destroying it, and I don’t understand why.”

Robinson, along with most of her neighbors living in the 63-unit Veterans Affairs (VA) subsidized apartment complex that opened in early 2020, is a Black veteran. While Embark is publicly funded, it is privately owned and operated.

The San Francisco-based John Stewart Company, which oversees 372 buildings in California, serves as property manager while the Berkeley based non-profit, Resources for Community Development (RCD), owns the building. In addition to Embark, RCD owns 59 other affordable Bay Area properties.

After a period of homelessness and struggling with severe depression, Robinson has used VA services to secure stable employment and what she calls her “forever home” at Embark. Her new apartment made her “super happy” at first, but she no longer feels safe there.

She says she regularly encounters people who don’t live at Embark but enter the complex without permission.

“I take mace when I go to the laundry room,” said Robinson, “because I find hostile people there who don’t want to let me wash my clothes when they’re sleeping there.”

According to Robinson, she often finds human feces and urine in halls and stairways and her packages often go missing. She suspects people who break in are responsible for these problems and says management won’t investigate to find who is responsible, even though the complex contains security cameras in all common areas.

In an email representing a collaborative response from John Stewart Company and RCD, Communications and Marketing Director Lauren Lyons wrote that the companies “are aware of some incidents of loitering, package theft and public urination,” but that their staff “confront non-residents, monitor our security systems to prevent theft as much as possible, and have frequent janitorial/cleaning schedules.”

She also wrote they “provide footage to the local police whenever they conduct an investigation.”

During a tour of Embark that a tenant named Sergeant First Class (SFC) Rodney B Burton hosted on a weekday afternoon of this month, this reporter encountered food scraps on sticky dusty hallway floors while what appeared to be human feces lay in a stairway. A person walked through Embark’s unlocked front door who apologized and immediately left when SFC Burton confirmed he wasn’t a resident.

During nighttime visits, this reporter found a side fire exit door unlocked at Embark, allowing easy entrance to the building from the street.

In late 2020 and early 2021, Embark tenants began to organize to collectively address problems. They’ve sent two letters to John Stewart Company and RCD to express their grievances and list demands. In the first letter, sent in March 2021, they announced the formation of the Embark Veterans Tenants Association and wrote that “though our building is new…profit is being put before us tenants.”

They demanded that “all outstanding rent be zeroed out” due to the COVID-19 pandemic and asked that management regularly give rent and utility receipts to tenants so they can better keep track of their finances and hold the companies accountable for any errors. The demands related to finances came, in part, due to residents receiving notices they felt constituted harassment and intimidation.

“I’ve been harassed by managers” said SFC Burton, “and they intimidated some other veterans that constructively evicted themselves, even though there’s a moratorium on evictions.”

This reporter obtained two Notice to Pay Rent or Quit letters that John Stewart Company had sent to residents in August and July of 2020 which stated, “If you fail to either pay the total amount of rent due in full or return possession of the premises…you may be evicted.”

According to SFC Burton, a few of his neighbors felt intimidated and left after receiving such notices demanding payment that they couldn’t pay. At that time though, as well as now, an Oakland based eviction moratorium would have prevented John Stewart Company or RCD from winning any eviction case at Embark against a tenant for nonpayment of rent.

In an email to this reporter, Lyons, the companies’ spokesperson, wrote that in 2020 “Property managers sent notices to all RCD residents who had an unpaid balance on their account,” and also stated such notices included information about rental assistance. None of the notices from 2020 this reporter saw contained such info, but one notice from summer of last year listed contact info for agencies that help with rental assistance.

According to Oliver Yan, who worked as Resident Services Coordinator at Embark from its opening till fall of last year, the companies weren’t helping tenants’ efforts to secure rent relief during his tenure.

“I would actually argue they were working against those efforts,” Yan said.

Yan claims that the bulk of his job had been trying to get Embark tenants rent relief funds, but the process was “extremely frustrating,” in large part due to John Stewart Company’s “bad accounting practices.” Yan needed accurate accounting information to help tenants secure rent relief but often couldn’t obtain it due to the management and ownership’s resistance.

“John Stewart Company was actively fighting me,” he said, “and RCD was not helping.”

According to Embark tenants, accounting problems persist. On March 31, 24 members of Embark’s tenant union sent another letter of demands to the companies. Residents asked for full rent and utility receipts from March 2020 till the present time, which they say they still haven’t received. California Code of Civil Procedure requires any property owner to provide receipts to tenants for rent payments.

Additionally, Embark tenants objected in their March 31 letter to “community spaces,” such as shared social rooms and balconies, being “inaccessible for residents for the last two years,” even though they’d seen management using them.

According to Lyons “common areas are not currently closed” but had been closed “during the height of the pandemic.”

During visits this month, this reporter found the doors to common areas at Embark locked. When residents tried to open these doors, they were unsuccessful, with the exception of a second-floor balcony, which residents claim was recently reopened. That area was overgrown with weeds. Lyons stated the companies are now looking for a landscape vendor to clean up that area.

Tenants at Embark had formed their union in early 202, affiliating with Bay Area Tenants and Neighborhood Councils, a tenant union with over 500 members, also known as Bay Area TANC.

TANC and Embark residents held BBQs to help spread the word about tenant organizing. According to SFC Burton, over 40 people are now meeting every month to organize about Embark tenant issues, and they’ve had success getting rent and utility relief for many Embark residents.

“It’s been really fun to work with TANC, and efficient,” said SFC Burton. “Without organizing, I don’t even want to think about what would have happened.”

Juleon Robinson, a TANC member who has been organizing at the complex, feels he’s learned a lot from Embark tenants.

“I’ve learned about patience,” he said. “[SFC Burton] knows everyone in that building, and he’s checking in with them all the time. Relationships are so important for organizing.”

Embark is not the only John Stewart Company/RCD building where tenants have been organizing. Tenants at Fox Courts, a nearby complex with 80 apartments for low-income tenants, which John Stewart Company manages, and RCD owns, have also unionized, affiliating last year with TANC and forming the Fox Courts Tenant Council.

Fox Courts tenant Annie Coffin was motivated to organize because, while she had been happy when she moved into the then new complex in 2009, she thinks conditions at Fox Courts have worsened.

“When I first moved in this place was nice,” said Coffin. “But now you have to argue with management to get the base minimum of upkeep.”

Some of Coffin’s complaints about Fox Courts echo those at Embark. She says people break in and defecate or vomit in common areas. Packages go missing, and she says management and ownership don’t do anything to stop it. She’s also complained that management harassed her neighbors and those who visit her. In November 2021, Fox Court Tenant Council wrote a letter, which 36 tenants signed, demanding “regular maintenance of common space, immediate habitability repairs” and “accountable available and respectful management.” In April of this year, the union made 15 specific demands in another letter.

Unlike at Embark, John Stewart Company and RCD did formally respond to the Fox Courts letters. Lyons says the company has also “recently met with 23 [Fox Courts] households who attended a resident meeting.” According to Fox Court tenants, the companies have corrected some, but not all, of their concerns.

Meanwhile, at Embark, Deidre Robinson hopes John Stewart Company and RCD address the problems there and treat the complex “like the blessing that it is.”

“We just want someone who cares who comes in and out of the building,” she said, “and why they can’t open up the community rooms is beyond me. It’s almost like John Stewart Company is unaware this is a complex full of veterans.”

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Activism

Over 500 Attend Police-Free Event to Reimagine Safety in Oakland

Night Out for Safety and Liberation started in 2013 by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain and is held as an alternative to the police-centric National Night Out. Since 2013, the event has spread across the country with over 50 events scheduled this year where communities make the night about the power of community, not cops.

Published

on

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Night Out for Safety and Liberation Events Held in More Than 50 Communities Across the Country

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

OAKLAND, CA — Over 500 people and families filled Josie de la Cruz Park in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood on Aug. 2 to enjoy performances, kids activities, and mutual aid to celebrate Night Out for Safety and Liberation (NOSL), an annual national event that redefines what safety and joy is without policing. The free community event included free diapers and books for all ages, food, bike giveaways, air purifiers, self defense training, a drag show, and performances from poets and artists such as Lauren Adams, TJ Sykes and Voces Mexicanas.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Night Out for Safety and Liberation started in 2013 by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain and is held as an alternative to the police-centric National Night Out. Since 2013, the event has spread across the country with over 50 events scheduled this year where communities make the night about the power of community, not cops.

“We have been reimagining what safety means beyond police for our communities for over 25 years at the Ella Baker Center. When we create safe spaces for our community to come together and support each other, when we provide living-wage jobs so people are able to put food on their table, when we empower our children and provide opportunities for them to thrive, when we invest in healthcare and mental health resources, this is how we create real safety,” said Marlene Sanchez, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Through Night Out for Safety and Liberation, communities are creating safety not through policing but through healing and restorative justice, through creating gender affirming spaces and protecting trans and LGBTQIA communities, through reinvesting funding into community-based alternatives and solutions that truly keep communities safe.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

“We don’t need more police in our streets. We don’t need more surveillance. What we need is resources!” said Jose Bernal, Organizing Director with the Ella Baker Center. “What we need is housing, diapers, legal resources, jobs. This [Night Out for Safety and Liberation] is what keeps us safe. This is resilience.”

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

The event was emceed by Nifa Akosua, Senior Organizer and Advocate with the Ella Baker Center, and TJ Sykes, author and community activist–both natives of Richmond, California. The show included entertaining performances from Oakland Originalz break dancers, Voces Mexicanas mariachi band, singer Lauren Adams and a drag show from Afrika America.

“Night Out for Safety and Liberation is about neighborhood love and neighborhood safety. It’s about connecting, showing up for each other and staying connected as a community. That’s how we keep each other safe,” said Nifa.

More than 20 organizations and vendors participated in Tuesday’s event, offering community resources, face painting, giving away 500 books for all ages, and free diapers. Those participating included: Help A Mother Out, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, ACLU of Northern California, TGI Justice Project, Urban Peace Movement, Ella Baker’s Readers & Cesar Chavez Public Library, Alliance for Girls, Bay Area Women Against Rape, Centro Legal de la Raza, Common Humanity Collective, Street Level Health Project, Malikah – Self Defense, East Bay Community Law Center, Unity Council, Young Women’s Freedom Center, East Bay Family Defenders, Bay Area Workers Support, L’Artiste A La Carte, Education Super Highway, Cut Fruit Collective, and WIC.

Other Night Out for Safety and Liberation events were held in Oakland, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Waco, Hampden, Conway, Washington D.C. and other cities. Follow the conversation and see photos from events in other cities using #SafetyIs and #NOSL22.

Continue Reading

Activism

OPINION: Are We About to See the Permanent Exclusion of Most Black People from Construction Jobs in Oakland?

How is that possible in this city that is believed by the world to be very progressive? Most of the work goes to members of the construction unions that have historically and currently excluded Black people through a complex set of membership requirements.

Published

on

The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.
The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.

By Kitty Epstein

For decades Black people in Oakland have obtained 9% or less of the work hours on publicly funded construction projects. So…for jobs that are paid for by all of our tax dollars, Black residents, who make up 23% of Oakland’s population, get only 9% of the relatively well-paid work doing construction.

How is that possible in this city that is believed by the world to be very progressive? Most of the work goes to members of the construction unions that have historically and currently excluded Black people through a complex set of membership requirements.

Nationally, only 7.2% of the carpenters’ union members are Black; 8.3% of the electricians’ union members and so on. The City of Oakland has done two very thorough reports of these racial equity issues. You can find this important information at the end of this story.

But the leadership of the construction trades now insist that that they should obtain an even larger portion of the construction hours and that this practice should be set in stone by something called a Project Labor Agreement. It is now being inaccurately called a “Community Workforce Agreement,” which is nonsense because it doesn’t help the community.

Why would progressive Oakland consider giving exclusive benefits to organizations that practice well-documented racial discrimination? At least one part of the reason is that the construction unions spend enormous amounts of money on Oakland elections. They were instrumental in former City Councilmember Desley Brooks’ defeat in District 6, for example, because they did not consider her sufficiently compliant with their demands.

The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.

The community members proposed that the entire task force work collectively throughout the process of making proposals and negotiating solutions. The City rejected this proposal and began meeting with the building trades alone, saying that they would return with a proposed Project Labor Agreement, although there has been no demonstrated change in the racial exclusivity practiced by the construction trades.

This is outrageous on three levels:

  1. These are the tax dollars of Black residents, as well as others.
  2. The community’s interests in racial justice have not been resolved in any policy venue.
  3. The community belongs at the table throughout whatever process takes place.

The usual arguments for labor/employer negotiations do not apply. The construction unions are NOT city workers. If they were city employees, they would have both the rights (negotiations) and the responsibilities (non-discriminatory hiring) of the city. Since they are not held responsible to Include Black people in their organizations, they should not have the right to exclusive negotiations about anything

I am hopeful, of course, that the City will reject the continuation and expansion of racial discrimination policies practiced by the leadership of the trades unions and will insist on the drastic changes necessary for Black people to obtain 23% of the work hours they are due by virtue of their proportion of the population and tax dollars contributed.

These two documents below provide information that is both illuminating and horrifying.

Oakland Equity Indicators: https://www.oaklandca.gov/projects/oakland-equity-indicators

Disparity Study – https://www.postnewsgroup.com/disparity-study-examines-patterns-of-discrimination-seeks-remedies-for-city-practices-of-selecting-contractors-in-construction-goods-and-services/

Continue Reading

Activism

The California Department of Aging: There Is Help for Elder Californians

Part of the statewide plan for addressing the Black elder community is to partner with ethnic media organizations to spread the word about the resources that are available to Californians in the advanced phase of their aging process. DeMarois, much like Nevins, acknowledged that a large portion of the state’s plan to reach Black elders is through local churches.

Published

on

Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services, Cheryl Brown and CDA Director Susan DeMarois talk to a group of community members. CBM staff photo.
Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services, Cheryl Brown and CDA Director Susan DeMarois talk to a group of community members. CBM staff photo.

By Aldon Thomas Stiles California Black Media

The St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Commission on Social Action held a community meeting on aging last Thursday in San Bernardino with representatives from the California Department of Aging (CDA) and the Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services.

Held in the sanctuary, the discussion featured state representatives and Social Action Commission members led by former Assemblymember and Commission Chair Cheryl Brown, who represented the 47th Assembly District in San Bernardino County from 2012 to 2016.

Brown spoke with community members and leaders from San Bernardino and Riverside counties about programs and resources available for elderly Californians and the caregivers who look after them.

“The state has set aside millions of dollars to help older Californians have a better quality of life through the Master Plan for Aging. And caregiving is fourth of the five goals established in the state’s Master Plan for Aging,” Brown told California Black Media.

CDA Director Susan DeMarois also attended the meeting.

CDA administers programs that serve older adults, adults with disabilities, family caregivers, and residents in long-term care facilities throughout the state. It has a $450 million budget and according to its Strategic Plan, CDA’s first objective is to advance Gov. Gavin Newsom’s California Master Plan for Aging.

Newsom’s master plan was introduced as an executive order in the summer of 2019. Conceptualized as a five-point plan, its framework encompasses housing, health, equity, caregiving “that works” and affording aging.

According to DeMarois each point of the governor’s master plan has its own budget and will be implemented over the next eight years.

During the meeting — titled “Lunch, Listen and Learn” — community members expressed their concerns and suggestions specifically regarding how to take care of elderly Black people in the Inland Empire. A major theme of the discussion was ensuring familiar (traditional) modes and channels of communications that were being employed to reach Black elders.

Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County Department of Aging and Adult Services, spoke about ways in which the county has been involved in addressing those concerns.

“We have staff out there in the community, putting information in hands,” said Nevins.

Nevins emphasized the significance of Black churches and their unique influence on Black elders in California.

“We definitely reach out to the churches. We’ve always done that,” Nevins said.

DeMarois hailed San Bernardino as a model for the rest of the state because the city has been “meeting the needs of the whole person.”

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), California was tied with Hawaii in 2019 for the states with the nation’s highest life expectancy at an average of about 81 years.

Riverside County has a life expectancy of 80.3 years and San Bernardino County has a lower expectancy at 78.8 years.

Part of the statewide plan for addressing the Black elder community is to partner with ethnic media organizations to spread the word about the resources that are available to Californians in the advanced phase of their aging process.

DeMarois, much like Nevins, acknowledged that a large portion of the state’s plan to reach Black elders is through local churches.

“It’s multi-pronged,” said DeMarois. “We know in the Black community faith is a proven path.”

One of the organizations mentioned during the community meeting – an organization that DeMarois claims she took note of – is the Inland Empire Pastor’s Association.

DeMarois expressed the need for the state and local agencies to implement “coordinated strategies” to approach challenges facing the state’s aging population.

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

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
Activism3 days ago

Over 500 Attend Police-Free Event to Reimagine Safety in Oakland

Digital Issues3 days ago

Oakland Post: Week of August 3 – August 9, 2022

#NNPA BlackPress3 days ago

Brittney Griner Sentenced to More than 9 years in Russian Prison

The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.
Activism3 days ago

OPINION: Are We About to See the Permanent Exclusion of Most Black People from Construction Jobs in Oakland?

#NNPA BlackPress4 days ago

Report: Human Rights Violations in Prisons Throughout Southern United States Cause Disparate and Lasting Harm in Black Communities  

#NNPA BlackPress4 days ago

Celebrate your birthday with 10 free items

#NNPA BlackPress4 days ago

Vice President Harris Addresses NAACP Convention; Urges Black Voter Participation

#NNPA BlackPress4 days ago

Biden Administration Announces Steps to Lower Electricity Bills for Residents in HUD Programs

#NNPA BlackPress4 days ago

Police Force and Top Officials Resign in Kenly, North Carolina After City Council Hires Black Women as Town Manager

#NNPA BlackPress5 days ago

Biden-Harris Administration Announce New Actions to Address Mental Health in Schools

#NNPA BlackPress5 days ago

Will Smith Issues Apology to Chris Rock and Family for Oscars Slap

#NNPA BlackPress5 days ago

Emory University Announces the first African American Studies Ph.D. Program in the U.S. Southeast

#NNPA BlackPress5 days ago

PRESS ROOM: Autism influencer Jeremiah Josey releases a new book about his experience as a Black man with autism

#NNPA BlackPress6 days ago

IN MEMORIAM: Basketball Legend Bill Russell Dies at 88

#NNPA BlackPress7 days ago

REVIEW: ‘Nope’ is a Yes! — Peele Delivers with Follow-Up

Trending