Berkeley / East Bay
Gray Panthers Newsletter
6501 Telegraph Ave.- Oakland CA 94609
The July membership meeting will be on
Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at 1:30pm
at North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, Berkeley.
The subject is "Celebrate Medicare!"
All Panthers and community members welcome.
Thanks to the efforts of Jeannie Dritz, Mary Ann Pangra is a new member! Eileen Bloom also contributed.
Get this newsletter in the mail! Become a member of Gray Panthers!
Dues: $35/year ($15 low income)
Send a check with your name and mailing address to Gray Panthers of the East Bay, 6501 Telegraph Ave.- Oakland CA 94609.
NOTE -- Traffic Tickets can also be worked off by volunteer work for Gray Panthers
Third Mondays, Noon - 1:00 pm. date subject to change –– check www.epicalc.org
Oakland Federal Building, 1301 Clay Street (two blocks from 12th Street BART)
People lie down in front of the Federal Building, covered with sheets to represent the dead. Names of some Californians who have died in Iraq and the names of some Iraqi dead are read during the event. A gong is sounded after each name.
Please bring a white sheet. A pad to lie on is recommended.
Info: Ecumenical Peace Institute, www.epicalc.org (510)990-0374.
Every 3rd Friday, Gray Panthers and Strawberry Creek Lodge sponsor a Peace rally,
at Acton and University in Berkeley.
Next rally will be on Friday July 17, 2-3 pm.
Come sing, wave signs, listen to approving honks from passing cars and trucks. For more info, Call Fran Rachel at 841-4143
TAX THE RICH RALLY meets every Monday 5-6 pm at the top of Solano Ave in Berkeley (rain cancels) to protest the inequality of taxes in our country. We hold signs saying “Tax the Rich” and “Tax the Big Corporations.”
The subject of the June 24, 2015 membership meeting of Gray Panthers of the East Bay was senior housing. At least 25 people were in the audience at North Berkeley Senior Center.
Berkeley is a nice place to live, but apartment rents are expensive. Many years ago, rent control was established, requiring landlords to get increases approved. Every year, the Rent Board adjusts rent ceilings upward. Landlords notify tenants to begin paying the new rent. Rent control applies to current tenants; if a tenant moves out, the landlord may set a new rent, and the Rent Board uses that base to determine the increase for subsequent years.
In general, landlords do not like being constrained by rent control. There are ways around it. A tenant who fails to pay rent, damages the unit or violates established property rules may be evicted. The Ellis Act allows even a well-behaved tenant to be evicted if the landlord wants to move into a rental unit himself, or have a relative move in. A property can be allowed to decay, to the point that repair is too costly and demolition is required. The rebuilt unit gets a higher rent. Demolition in Berkeley requires a permit from the Zoning Board.
(report on June meeting continued)
The Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) was established on December 20, 1966. BHA provides rental assistance to a total of 1,939 units through the Section 8 and Moderate Rehabilitation Program. It is governed by a 7-member Housing Authority Board.
Berkeley has several apartment communities that are not assisted living, but enable senior citizens to live independently. There are perhaps 12 of them, including Redwood Gardens, Harriet Tubman, Strawberry Creek Lodge and Lawrence Moore Manor. Residents of those four communities spoke to the May 24 meeting, telling us about their experiences. There was good exchange of information. The Gray Panthers meeting turned out to be a useful clearinghouse.
Most senior residence communities are non-profits, run by a management company. The rents are subsidized under Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937, usually called simply “Section 8” or sometimes “HUD”. Under Section 8, residents pay rent of up to 1/3 of their income; the rest comes from a voucher issued by HUD. The maximum allowed voucher is $2,200 a month. Section 8 vouchers must be renewed (annually?). The rules on Section 8 vouchers may change, subject to actions by US Congress. Eligibility may change depending on tenant’s income or if another person moves in with the tenant. Some Berkeley landlords will not accept Section 8 tenants. Places that do, including all the senior residences, have long waiting lists -- 3 years in some cases. When a Section 8 unit becomes available, as many as 300 people may show up.
To start the meeting, José Hernández from Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s downtown Oakland office, introduced himself and passed out copies of a guide to constituent services, with useful contact addresses and phone numbers. The office has a website www.lee.house.gov Some people in the audience said they had received a notice saying their Section 8 vouchers last just one year. José told them to call his office (510-763-0370). He said they have had a high rate of success dealing with Section 8 problems.
The next event of the meeting was the showing of the video “Save Section 8” which was produced in 1999 by Strawberry Creek Lodge as part of protests against privatization. While watching the video, Margot Smith recognized many activists who are no longer with us -- Helen Lima, Jim Forsyth, Candace Kilcherman, and others.
The video began by describing the “dark side” of the Bay Area economic boom. Many senior citizens, living on a fixed income, find Bay Area rents going up and up while they can’t compete with well-paid high-tech workers and professionals. These seniors have nowhere else to go; they must rely on help from the government.
FDR created the first subsidized public housing program during the New Deal. In 1949, Truman’s Fair Deal introduced urban renewal. After the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, there was a surge in public housing legislation. LBJ created HUD. This was when Section 8 got started; ensuring that no more than 1/3 of one’s income went for rent.
Section 8 is doing well today, but there are fewer landlords now who will take the vouchers.
The video urged us to contact our elected representatives to make sure the government continues to support senior housing and Section 8. Access to warm, safe housing is a human right.
After the video, we heard from residents who now live in Berkeley senior communities, using Section 8.
Strawberry Creek Lodge is a large complex, located on Addison Street near Acton, on the banks of Strawberry Creek; it’s been there for almost 60 years. There are 150 apartment units; about half are under Section 8.
Jerry Essel lives there and serves on what he described as a very strong tenants association. He said the association fights management on just about everything they come up with.
Like many Berkeley senior communities, Strawberry Creek Lodge is operated by Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA).
Jerry told us that SAHA received a tax credit for doing $12 million in renovations. It was very disruptive for the residents; it took 1 ½ years, and will soon be complete. Strawberry Creek Lodge got a new common room, dining room, new landscaping. Solar panels were installed. About 30% of the apartments were remodeled. Rents won’t increase for 15 years.
Somebody in the audience mentioned that a senior community in Boston just went through the same experience; evidently the scheme of using tax credits to refurbish senior residents is happening all over the country.
Jerry offered to help any other senior community to develop their own strong tenants association.
Peni Hall rolled up in a wheelchair to tell us about Redwood Gardens, where she lives. This residence is located in the Berkeley hills, on upper Durant at Claremont. It provides housing for both senior and disabled residents. There are 169 units and about 200 people (there are some married couples).
The building is about 30 years old. The original building was built for the California School for the Deaf and Blind in 1922. The three story high main buildings were built in 1989 and surround a courtyard filled with trees and garden plots. There is a large community room, available for public functions, with a kitchen. When the University of California acquired the property, they wanted to use it for a student dormitory, but a group of activists, including some Gray Panthers, fought back and got a piece of the original land set aside to be converted to low-income senior and disabled housing. It is now entirely a Section 8 building. Redwood Gardens is owned by an out-of-town corporation called Cooperative Services Inc (CSI). They took it over to manage for HUD as a “senior co-op” with a residents council and election of officers.
But CSI was not well-liked. Eventually, the Berkeley Housing Authority said CSI could not run the building any more. CSI still owned it, but management was turned over to the John Stewart company. THen, about 3 years ago, CSI said they’d been exiled long enough and were coming back to take control of the building. They got $3 ½ million from HUD for a major re-do, some of which was really deferred maintenance. They put in a new common room, with a wheelchair-accessible kitchen. All apartment units were remodeled.
There was some disruption; the residents went through a “year of h--ll.” The residents felt abused, because CSI never asked them about what they wanted, and everything had to be done at short notice, punctuated with long delays. Each tenant, at their own expense, had to arrange for temporary storage for their kitchen and bathroom stuff during the refurbishment. Peni was kept out of her unit for 6 months, living in “involuntary cohabitation” with her partner. She objected when she found they’d installed particleboard cabinets, which exhaled formaldehyde fumes. She got the cabinets removed; now she can breathe, but she still hasn’t got replacement cabinets. At one point, Peni was told that if she didn’t like all the disruption, they’d let her break her lease and move out. “Oh groovy,” she said. The individual garden plots in the courtyard had to be dug up while the courtyard was being rebuilt.
During the construction disruption, the residents council became active. They complained to Barbara Lee, and got a “visit.” The refurbishment attracted public attention. There were several visits from news organizations, local activists and folk singers. The year of hell is now over. Peni told us that, when all was done, the result was pretty good. Peni said the Redwood Gardens tenants council has become a “small but mighty group.” They even raised the funds to send a representative (Gray Panther Eleanor Walden) to the National Alliance of HUD Tenants -- website http://www.saveourhomes.org
The next speaker was Dar, who is the VP of the local tenants council. Harriet Tubman is located on Adeline, near Ashby BART. It is 40 years old, with 90 units. Dar said that the prior president passed away, leaving them with nothing; the community went for two years on their own. Harriet Tubman now has a new management, but lost its resident social worker. The residents council works to improve quality of life issues, such as service for night and weekend emergencies.
We next heard from Steve Kessler, and a lady named Lee, who both live at Lawrence Moore Manor, located a 5 blocks north of North Berkeley Senior Center, on Cedar (MLK & Cedar). It opened about 1970. It’s run by SAHA and has 44 apartments, nearly all studios. There are 47 residents.
Lee said that SAHA is the “most magnificent company in the whole world.” She did note that she works at the building as a SAHA employee. She said there is no residents council and she doesn’t see the need for one.
Steve said the place is nice, but kind of like institutionalized housing. It is "not set up for social beings." He’d like people to cook together, for example, but the kitchen cabinets are locked.
He said that those who grew up as white teenagers from the suburbs now find senior life a bit of a shock. In the black community, he noted, intergenerational activity and social relations are much more common and understood. He said he would like to see more inter-generational activity at senior residences. Berkeley City College could organize a program for young people to come in to senior residences as apprentice social workers, or increase activity on the present project to collect oral histories. He noted that spending on this kind of thing would produce more middle income jobs.
An expanded version of this report, with links to other websites, is available at http://www.berkeleygraypanthers.mysite.com/June24_housing.html