The October 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Federal Housing Cuts to Blame for Homelessness

Judge Halts OHA Evictions

The Crime of Pushing a Cart

Giving Love to a Homeless Dog

Clergy Denounce Police Sweeps of Homeless

St. Mary's on the Move for Justice

Oaxaca's Radical Teachers

Berkeley Is Hard on the Homeless

Giant Puppets Stand Tall for Justice

Poor Leonard: On History

October Poetry of the Streets


ARCHIVES

September 2006

July 2006

June 2006

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.

Oakland Judge Refuses to Let OHA Evict Poor Families

"There was not a shred of evidence to show that the tenants did something wrong, or even knew that something was wrong when they went through the process of moving into public housing." -- Laura Lane, East Bay Community Law Center

by Lynda Carson

Jorge Aguilar (at left), an attorney with the Eviction Defense Center, and Chanteel Holoman, a tenant facing eviction, celebrate a legal victory. Lydia Gans photo

On Thursday, September 21, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Y. Smith rebuffed the ongoing attempts by the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) to evict about 20 low-income families from their public housing units at Lockwood Gardens in Oakland.

In a major setback to the OHA's attempt to publicly demonize the poor families they are trying to evict from Lockwood Gardens, Judge Smith stated in her ruling that the OHA has not proven in their eviction notice that the families had engaged in fraud to move into their housing units. In addition, the judge stated in her ruling that the OHA has accepted rent payments from the families. Therefore, the demurrer submitted in defense of the families facing eviction is "Sustained Without Leave To Amend," according to Judge Smith's ruling.

The Eviction Defense Center and Oakland attorney Bob Salinas have been defending nine families facing eviction, and the East Bay Community Law Center has been defending 11 more families facing eviction. The attorneys believe that many more families who did not have any legal representation were actually evicted from Lockwood Gardens.

The mass eviction case gained local media attention in late April 2006, when the OHA issued a press release accusing one of its own former employees of committing 34 counts of fraud and theft while moving 34 families into housing units at Lockwood Gardens in Oakland.

The OHA alleged that these 34 families were somehow involved in the corruption taking place at their East District Office in Oakland, and that the families must face eviction because they were in some manner responsible for the alleged corrupt activities of the OHA's own former clerk.

"Right now, I have a sense of relief," said Lockwood Gardens tenant Chanteel Holoman. "I feel there was a bit of justice in the judge's latest ruling; however, I feel it's not over yet. The Housing Authority never seems to stop in their attacks against us."

Holoman described the mental anguish caused by the OHA's relentless efforts to evict her and dozens of other low-income tenants. "This is always on our minds," she said. "It's all very emotional. We never know what to expect. We don't know when the next attack against us will occur, or what the next notice placed on our door will mean for the existence of our lives. I have a small child, and this makes it especially hard on me."

Along with the harrowing anxiety of living on the brink of eviction for months, Holoman said the OHA had tried to ruin the reputation of poor tenants who were only seeking housing for their families.

"It's really unfortunate that our names have been tarnished by the OHA, and our credibility ruined by the public attacks expressed against us in the media by OHA officials," she said. "I plan on staying where I am at, and it's no secret about the OHA's attempts to evict myself and others. It's all over the news, on TV and in the papers. Most people I know speak out in support of us who are fighting to stay in our housing. But, there's still that bunch who feel we are criminals because of the way the OHA has portrayed us in the press."

Indeed, since April 27, 2006, the OHA has been on a crusade, using press releases and public statements to demonize families facing mass eviction at Lockwood Gardens. The OHA has implied that 34 families or more have been involved in fraud to obtain public housing units, that the families are squatters, and must face eviction. Leading the charge in this cruel campaign to assassinate the character of the families accused of being unlawful occupants, has been OHA spokesperson David Lipsetz.

Despite attempts by the OHA to demonize the families who are fighting against their evictions at Lockwood Gardens, the attorneys defending these courageous souls from homelessness are very pleased by Judge Smith's most recent rulings.

"This is a huge victory," said Jorge Aguilar, an attorney with the Eviction Defense Center in Oakland. "Judge Smith's ruling vindicated what the tenants have been saying all along: They are not squatters, they are legal occupants! Hopefully, the OHA will work with the tenants to put this matter behind them. We want the OHA to treat them as the legitimate tenants they are, with full rights and privileges."

Not so fast, says the upper management in the OHA, who continue to hope that Judge Smith will eventually rule that the leases of the tenants are not valid under Measure EE (the Just Cause law), in spite of the judge's ruling in favor of the families residing at Lockwood Gardens.
As soon as Judge Smith ruled in favor of the tenants on September 21, the OHA moved quickly to continue its efforts to demonize the families at Lockwood Gardens, no matter what the court ruled.

"We're very pleased with the outcome of the ruling by Judge Smith," said Attorney Laura Lane of the East Bay Community Law Center. "All the actions filed by the OHA to evict the families at Lockwood Gardens have been rejected by the courts. They are legal occupants, just as the tenants have said throughout all of the eviction proceedings that have taken place against them."

Lane said that the ruling completely vindicated the much-maligned tenants. "There was not a shred of evidence to show that the tenants did something wrong, or even knew that something was wrong when they went through the process of moving into their public housing units at Lockwood Gardens," said Lane.

"The judge's ruling shot down the attempts by the OHA to evict with such actions as Forcible Detainers, Ejectment, or Tresspass, and clearly the ruling upholds the rights of the tenants as legal occupants. We do not know what to expect next from the OHA. We feel that the OHA will continue their attack against these legal occupants. The OHA is not known for doing things right."

Calls to OHA spokesperson David Lipsetz have not been returned for this story, but Lipsetz has been quoted recently in the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune, and is still spewing out his venom against the tenants at Lockwood Gardens. Lipsetz is engaged in another campaign to demonize the families, even while a question over the validity of their leases proceeds in the courts.

The Oakland Tribune reported on September 23 that Lipsetz said, "(If the leases are) valid, then the people who paid her off will become 'tenants' as defined by EE. Until then, the Authority will continue to treat them differently."

In her ruling, Judge Smith pointed out that the OHA did not allege in their cause of action to evict that the families were involved in any kind of fraud. Also, the Alameda County District Attorney has not charged any tenants at Lockwood Gardens with fraud or any other crime. Yet, OHA spokesperson David Lipsetz continues to go way out on a limb, implying once again that the tenants have been involved in some kind of wrongdoing and will be "treated differently" as a result.

The many low-income families that were just vindicated by Judge Smith's ruling can only feel apprehension when the OHA's upper management publicly warns that they will be treated differently than other tenants at Lockwood Gardens.

The tenants have already lived through many nights when OHA police pounded on their doors late at night, threatening them with eviction notices. Given Lipsetz's statements, these tenants live in fear that OHA police will come around again to ask more questions for their so-called investigation. This does not sound like justice has just been served; it sounds more like the OHA plans to subject the families to more cruel and unusual punishment, no matter what the outcome in the courts may be.

Judge Smith's ruling pointed out that the OHA has accepted rent payments from the families at Lockwood Gardens, and the tenants have receipts revealing how long the OHA accepted rent payments from them before accusing them of being squatters.

Despite these facts, OHA spokesperson Lipsetz told the Chronicle on September 22 that his agency "has not cashed any of the 28 tenants' rent checks, as they aren't considered legitimate tenants."

Yet, investigative documents indicate that the OHA has been accepting rent payments from some of the same legal occupants facing eviction as far back as August, September, October, November and December of 2005. The families have stated that the OHA did not start refusing to accept their rent payments until sometime in March or April of 2006.

This alleged case of fraud and corruption in the OHA took a new twist after Carolyn Wilson, the former employee of the OHA who was arrested on July 6 and charged with 65 felony counts by the Alameda County D.A.'s office, declared that the 34 families facing eviction at Oakland's Lockwood Gardens were not aware of any wrongdoing or irregularities while moving into public housing.

During a phone interview on July 14 from St. Tammany Parish Jail in Louisiana, without admitting any guilt on her own part, Carolyn Wilson said, "I want people to know that the 34 families facing eviction by the Oakland Housing Authority at Lockwood Gardens were not aware of any wrongdoing on their part while moving into their public housing units."

Wilson was arrested in Covington, Louisiana, while working at a service company called Protocol, by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Department. "The police came into our company and contacted the manager, and then they called Ms. Wilson away from her desk and arrested her," said Protocol's Human Resource Director Cortney Toledo.

Wilson is still in St. Tammany Parrish Jail, fighting extradition back to California, while proclaiming her innocence. "The Oakland Housing Authority has been claiming I fled the state," she said. "This is not true! I quit my job at the Housing Authority last December, and hung around the Bay Area till sometime in January 2006, before moving to Ponchatula, Louisiana. I gave the OHA a forwarding address and had them mail my last paycheck to me there. They knew where I was at, and knew where to find me at any time."

"I am fighting extradition back to Oakland," Wilson said. "Their case against me was so weak that the local Covington police declined to arrest me, and they had to go through the sheriff's department to find someone else to arrest me."

During an interview on July 14, William Tingle, a prosecutor with the Alameda County D.A.'s office, said, "Ms. Wilson has been arrested in Louisiana and is facing extradition. She is the only one charged with any wrongdoing, and there's a range of sentencing options if she is found guilty of any of the charges against her. I can't say that there will be any charges against any of the tenants, because this is still under investigation."

The OHA has repeatedly stated that they are evicting all the families they wrongfully accused of being unlawful occupants at Lockwood Gardens, so they can give the housing units to those who were allegedly bumped off the waiting list by Wilson, their former clerk.

In an OHA press release on April 27 describing why the mass evictions at Lockwood Gardens were taking place, OHA Executive Director Jon Gresley stated, "We want to serve the families who have legitimately applied for help and waited their turn."

Contrary to Gresley's statement in the press release, it appears that no one at the OHA has even tried to help Labrinina McDougle move into public housing, even though she applied for help, waited her turn, allegedly was bumped out of line in the public housing waiting list by Carolyn Wilson, and was the first person involved in exposing the corruption at the OHA last December, which led to the mass evictions now being blocked by Judge Winifred Y. Smith.

As it turned out, McDougle was dumped completely from the waiting list by the OHA, despite all the hoopla by OHA's upper management about the need to serve those on the waiting list.
"I was shocked when I went to the OHA and learned they lost my files," said McDougle. "They lost my files in the computer and all the documents I signed. When they ran my client number in their system, someone else's name and information would turn up. No one in the office could explain to me why that was happening, and they said they would have to get back to me. I feel like I lost my identity somehow.

"I still have not been able to move into public housing, and have since been told by an OHA supervisor named Ms. Miller that I would have to sign up all over again if I wanted to get on the public housing waiting list. I've already signed up three times to get on the waiting list for public housing and was on the Section 8 waiting list for 12 years. I do not want to sign up and start all over again."

On September 22, OHA spokesperson David Lipsetz gave an excuse to the San Francisco Chronicle as to why the OHA was still trying to evict the legal occupants at Lockwood Gardens. Lipsetz said, "We're obligated to serve the people who signed up to be on the waiting list."

Even while the Oakland Housing Authority continues to ignore the mistreatment suffered by Labrinina McDougal, it still claims it wants to evict the legal occupants at Lockwood Gardens, so that it may serve those already on the waiting list for public housing -- tenants such as Labrinina McDougal.

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com


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