The September 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Alarming Rise in Hate Crimes

Wave of Murders of Homeless Are A Warning Sign

Bumfights: An Incitement to Hate Crimes

Hate, Violence and Death on Main Street USA

Brazil Murders of Homeless Go Unsolved

Social Security Is NOT in Crisis

Time for Health Care for All

Cindy Sheehan's Unanswerable Question

Lawsuit Against California Hotel

Tribute to the Love Lotus Gave

A Mother's Plea for Homeless Son

Poor Leonard's Almanack: Carl G. Jung

Sept. Poetry of the Streets


August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

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

Welcome to the Hotel California

Tenants sue nonprofit, say that Oakland's historic California Hotel is infested with rats and bed bugs

by Lynda Carson

Tenants of the California Hotel in Oakland gather to announce the filing of a lawsuit against the landlord for roach and rat infestations.

Sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite, as the old saying goes. But some Oakland tenants have learned that this is more than just mere folklore that has been passed down through the years. "I've heard the old saying about bed bugs since I was a child, but I never knew they were real until moving here," said Frank Benavidez, 47. "The bed bugs are drinking my blood and eating me alive."

On August 2, 2005, 43 tenants of the California Hotel, a historic landmark located at 3501 San Pablo Street in Oakland, filed a lawsuit at the Alameda County Superior Courthouse against Oakland Community Housing Inc, (OCHI), a nonprofit housing developer. The 43 tenants listed in the lawsuit are each seeking $50,000 in damages over rat infestations, bed bugs, cockroaches and other health and safety issues. A majority of the hotel's residents are elderly and disabled African-Americans.

Backing the horrific claims of the tenants is a July 22, 2005, letter from the Alameda County Health Services (vector control), stating that the procedures being utilized by OCHI to control bed bugs are inadequate. In addition, Vector Biologist David K. James writes, "A severe Norway rat infestation exists within these premises, and it appears that it's a long established and large population."

Benavidez says, "I can hear the rats scratching around in my ceiling at night and the noise keeps me from sleeping."

OCHI bought the historic, 150-unit California Hotel in 1990 for as little as $1,910,000. The large hotel was built in 1929 and is presently valued at $4,853,722.

Tenants reside in Single Room Occupancy units (SROs), and pay their rent by the month. "We are charged either $395 for a basic room per month or as much as $466 a month for kitchenettes without a sink," said three-year tenant Lisa Glorias, "but they charge us an extra $7.50 a night if we have a guest stay over."

The filed complaint in the lawsuit also details such problems as inadequate and defective electrical systems and outlets, exposed wiring, defective plumbing, infestation of vermin, roaches and insects, in addition to other dangerous and uninhabitable conditions.

"I believe that OCHI and this property is being run by slumlords, and they are sucking the system dry," said tenant activist Linda Stephens, who started the tenant rebellion at the property after contacting attorney John Murcko for assistance. "These guys are really raking in the dough from plenty of HUD funding, because tenants normally pay $395 a month; but when they move in tenants from the Shelter Plus Program which is subsidized by local housing authorities using HUD funding, OCHI then charges $795 a month for the same unit," said Stephens.

The lead desk clerk of the California Hotel, Rashid Mohammed, stated that they are currently accepting applications and are asking $622 per month for some units and $645 a month for larger units.

"I first became aware of the problems at the California Hotel on July 15, 2005," said Oakland attorney John Murcko. "Linda Stephens was the first to come in to tell me about the horrible conditions. It's a terrible situation with fleas, rats, bed bugs and bad odors coming from the vents and the floors. It's the worst infestation I have seen in the last 20 years as an attorney. OCHI received a notice last November from vector control and nothing was done."

Eleanor Piez, director of community relations for OCHI said, "We know there are some serious problems with rats and bed bugs, and we have faced some difficult repairs lately while installing a new sprinkler system."

Piez blamed tenants for creating an adversarial situation by filing a lawsuit and speaking out about the bad conditions. "If the tenants had communicated closer with management about these problems instead of going to the courts or the media, our problems would not be as severe as they currently are," said Piez. "Now it's totally adversarial and very tense. We have 120 tenants and 150 units, and believe that the infestations became worse due to moving the tenants around to different rooms while the repairs have been going on lately."

Bed bugs have made a big comeback in recent years and are increasingly found in shelters, apartments and hotels. Bed bugs are active at night while sucking the blood of sleeping humans, and they like to hide during the daylight hours close to where people usually sleep at night. Once they pierce the skin of their victim with an elongated beak through which they can suck the blood of their prey, they feed for around 3 to 10 minutes until full.

Repeated efforts to reach OCHI Executive Director Dwight Dickerson for comment have not been successful; but records show that while his tenants at the California Hotel have been plagued by rats and bed bugs, Dickerson himself is raking in well over $80,000 a year in salary, plus extras.

Records show that from 1999 through 2002, OCHI received $745,642 in gifts, grants and contributions. With nearly 1,000 rental units under its control, records also show that from 2002 through 2003, OCHI has profited by as much as $2,203,920 for services performed, merchandise, gifts and other related activities of the nonprofit housing organization.

"A few months back, we had a dead man here for 12 days in his room before the body was discovered, and the smell of dead rats in the walls were so strong that we could not make the distinction between the dead man's body and the dead rats in the walls," said Linda Stephens.

"Now they are spreading lime around the building to kill the stench of all the dead rats in the walls," she said. "This is a national historic building with Black Heritage, and it really angers me to see how OCHI has exploited and sucked up every last dime they can get out of this building. Many of us residing here are the working-class poor, but efforts by Dwight Dickerson and the management staff of OCHI are trying to paint most of us as being mentally challenged, in an effort to divert attention away from the slum-like conditions that they have had us residing in."

Oakland Community Housing Inc, (OCHI), an Oakland nonprofit housing developer, was formed in 1973. The OCHI website claims they have developed over 1,000 units of affordable housing since the organization first began, and that they manage over 900 units for themselves and other nonprofits.

Lynda Carson may be reached at

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

E-mail: Spirit

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