The June 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

From Prison to Priesthood

Interview with Father James Tramel

Protest Demands Housing for Poor Families

Oakland Judge Blocks Evictions

Fresno Police Demolish Tent Encampment

Extremists Call for Attacks on Immigrants

Unjust Senate Bill on Immigration

World Bank and IMF Face Crisis

Corporate Media Fail to Address Global Hunger

Raise Minimum Wage for All

The Journey of Charlotte Tall Mountain

Dying for Nixon, Dying for Bush

In Santa Cruz Dreams Come True

Tourists Ignore Kenya's Poverty

June Poetry of the Streets


ARCHIVES

May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005


Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

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The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Superior Court Judge Blocks Mass Evictions

"The court's rulings further reinforces our clients' position that the wrongdoing was done on the part of the Housing Authority." -- Jorge Aguilar, Eviction Defense Center

by Lynda Carson

Eviction Defense Center attorney Jorge Aguilar (center) meets with Oakland tenants who are fighting a court battle against mass eviction. Lydia Gans photo

In a stunning reversal of numerous unlawful evictions ordered by the Oakland Housing Authority, Superior Court Judge Winifred Y. Smith issued two rulings in mid-May that blocked the evictions of public housing tenants from Lockwood Gardens, a Hope Vl project.

"We are encouraged by the rulings of the court, and are pleased that the court recognizes that the families facing eviction by the Oakland Housing Authority are not unlawful occupants," said Jorge Aguilar of the Eviction Defense Center. "We further believe that these same rulings will also have a positive effect on all the other families still facing eviction under similar circumstances."

The community was shocked recently to learn of fraud and corruption at the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA), when it was revealed that 34 families facing eviction from Lockwood Gardens were actually scammed out of their security deposits by Caroline Wilson, an employee of the OHA who later fled the state with the stolen cash. [See "Poor Tenants Deceived by Oakland Housing Official Face Nightmare of Mass Eviction," Street Spirit, May 2006.]

In late April 2006, the OHA claimed that at least 34 families facing eviction from Lockwood Gardens were unlawful occupants (squatters) who illegally gained possession of their housing units. OHA officials served them 30-day, forcible-detainer eviction notices in an effort to remove them from their housing.

"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," said Ms. Kelly, a tenant facing eviction from Lockwood Gardens.

According to David Lipsetz, a senior policy analyst at the OHA, "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."

Despite the claims by the OHA that the families are unlawful occupants who must be evicted, the Superior Court of Alameda County believed otherwise, and acted to block the unlawful evictions. Judge Smith stated, "On the basis of the facts pleaded and judicially noticeable, defendants entered the property with consent and a claim for forcible detainer will not lie."

Judge Smith's ruling blocked the evictions because the facts did not show that the families gained possession of their rental units illegally, as the OHA had originally claimed; instead, the facts show that OHA officials permitted tenants to enter the property at Lockwood Gardens.
In addition, based upon documents submitted to the hearing, the court is convinced that the Oakland Housing Authority accepted rent payments from the same families that were being accused of moving into their units illegally.

However, Judge Smith also bent over backwards to allow the OHA to amend the complaint against the families. Smith ruled to uphold the demurrer filed on behalf of the threatened tenants; yet the court ruling gives the OHA "leave to amend" their allegations against the tenants to make a more persuasive case for eviction, if that is possible.

Jorge Aguilar, an attorney with the Eviction Defense Center, believes that the OHA is in no position to amend their complaint to evict the families; he said that they may have to try a new approach and start all over again with Unlawful Detainers, or seek an "Action for Ejectment," which may take a year or more to go through the courts.

Aguilar said, "The court's rulings further reinforces our clients' position that the wrongdoing was done on the part of the Housing Authority. At this point, we hope that the Housing Authority will reconsider its position and allow the families to remain in their housing. It's possible that the OHA may seek an Action for Ejectment or file an Unlawful Detainer against the families, but we hope that they know better than to try that."

Winou Wakeyo was one of the OHA tenants who had her eviction blocked by the court. In response, Wakeyo said, "Thank God! God is my best friend in this country. All my life, I have believed in God. In America, this government is very good for refugees. As a refugee, you're all alone. No one sees you, and no one hears you. For a while I slept in a store like a homeless person. I think God helped me through this. I thank the courts and this government for helping me out and I am very grateful."

This whole controversy of mass evictions became public after many families seeking legal help to fight their evictions contacted local law firms for assistance. The families told attorneys that they were being accused by the OHA of illegally moving into public housing, but believed that they had not done anything wrong, and were being unfairly evicted.

A meeting was held on March 20 at the East Bay Community Law Center for all the families facing eviction. When the tenants started sharing what had happened 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.

Upon hearing of the court's move to block some of the evictions at Lockwood Gardens, another tenant said she was ecstatic, adding she hoped that the OHA would not try to evict again, because she wanted to move forward with her life.

The Eviction Defense Center, along with attorney Bob Salinas of Sundeen Salinas & Pyle, represent 9 of 34 families facing eviction; and attorneys Laura Lane and Marc Janowitz of the East Bay Community Law Center represent 12 families.

As more eviction cases move forward through the courts, the attorneys representing the families hope that the Superior Court of Alameda County will continue to block the Oakland Housing Authority's attempts to make these families homeless.

Contact Lynda Carson at (510) 763-1085.


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