Public Housing Tenants, Supporters, Petition Oakland Housing Authority

Cassidy Taylor (left) of the housing justice group The United Front Against Displacement, and Eddie Simmon (right) a Peralta Village resident of 20 years, pose outside of a Peralta Village apartment on January 24. Photo by Zack Haber

Since last fall, about a dozen Peralta Village residents have been meeting with each other and Bay Area-based housing rights activists to petition, organize for improved maintenance, and protest The Oakland Housing Authority (OHA).

85 Peralta Village residents, or about 11% of the West Oakland public housing project’s population, have supported the efforts by signing a petition residents and activists wrote accusing OHA of “unresponsive or slow…follow through on repairs and regular upkeep,” “threats of eviction” despite eviction moratoriums that are currently in place, “not clearing garbage…on a consistent schedule” or providing recycling bins, and unfair ticketing from OHA Police. The petition asks OHA to improve maintenance and reduce rent until problems are fixed.

“We gotta get together and make it a group effort,” said Eddie Simmon, who has lived in Peralta Village for over 20 years. “One person [addressing OHA] is like a mosquito bite; they flick it away. But if you get a whole hornets nest, then you got something to contend with.”

Simmon is one of four Peralta Village residents, all of whom are Black in their late 40s to mid 60s and helped write the petition, that I interviewed. Fearing retaliation, two of these residents requested anonymity in this article. Peralta Village, originally named Cypress Village, was created just after World War II as segregated all Black housing. To this day, its population is almost entirely Black and many still refer to it as Cypress Village.

I also interviewed three activists, all of whom are in their 20s and are part of the grassroots housing justice group The United Front Against Displacement (UFAD). The group has been doing weekly door knocking in Peralta Village since last summer to connect and organize residents. In recent months, residents have joined in the door knocking. Residents meet with each other and UFAD members weekly, sometimes in person and sometimes on Zoom. The meetings are called Cypress Tenants Meetings and have no affiliation with OHA. Residents can learn more about the meetings by contacting the UFAD at wewontgo@riseup.net or 510–815–9978.

“It’s been really encouraging seeing folks get enthusiastic about doing tenant organizing in the projects,” said Cassidy Taylor, a low income essential worker who lives close to Peralta Village. She moved to Oakland from Boston about a year ago to work with the UFAD and sees tenant organizing as important to improving the conditions of all working class people. Taylor, along with Peralta Village residents and other UFAD members, are planning a protest on February 13, when they will deliver the petition to OHA offices.

Their protest will address ill treatment that many Peralta Village residents say they are experiencing. One resident claimed that it recently took OHA six weeks after she notified them to fix her window that wouldn’t close. Another resident, JaCynthia Givens, said she’s been “having headaches and weakness” due to breathing black mold in her apartment. Gena Rainey, 38, who spends time in Peralta Village as a caretaker for her mother, said she has contacted OHA over 10 times in the last year requesting they fix broken wiring that causes the overhead lighting to no longer function in her mother’s apartment, but no OHA workers have helped. Rainey has bought lamps, but the dim environment and a protruding kitchen floor caused her mother to fall and break her hip.

“I understand they consider this the ghetto or the hood but we deserve to be treated better,” said Rainey.

According to Greer McVay, a spokesperson for OHA, OHA has a property management team that addresses maintenance issues when tenants put in work orders. She said that “because of COVID-19, we’re doing things a bit differently and prioritizing emergencies.” While OHA used to send workers out in shared vehicles, now only one worker can be in a vehicle at a time, which slows the process of fulfilling work orders. McVay claims that generally non-emergency work orders get fulfilled within two days, though she acknowledges “there are times where work orders have slipped through the cracks.”

The residents I interviewed all claimed that delays of weeks or months in securing repairs usually occur when they put in work orders. Simmon said he started doing his repairs himself because OHA maintenance workers do not give specific times when they plan to do the repairs.

“They just come whenever they want to come,” said Simmon. “You might not even be available.”

When workers come and tenants are not home, the workers leave. Simmon wants the workers to arrange times with tenants to fulfill work requests so they do not waste trips and repairs can be fulfilled.

Tenants said that when OHA feels they have broken housing rules, OHA threatens them with eviction. Rainey said these notices scare people and that her mother fell ill soon after OHA sent a letter threatening to evict her due to Rainey parking next to her home and within Peralta Village’s gates without a pass, a technical violation of OHA’s policies that is commonly practiced due to safety concerns with parking on the street.

Another resident, who is in her 60s, said she got a threatening notice after she fought back against a neighbor in her 30s who attacked her. The resident said she experienced repeated harassment from this neighbor, reported it to OHA over two years, but that OHA never worked to remedy the situation. The notice, which I obtained, threatened to evict her if she ever engaged in an altercation with the neighbor again. After obtaining what she calls threats from OHA instead of help, she is scared to meet with them.

According to McVay, OHA is not currently evicting residents.

“We are always going to look for ways to help people if they are in non-compliance [with OHA rules],” she said. “And we have not evicted anyone during COVID-19.”

When a resident is accused of violating an OHA rule, they get sent out forms including what McVay describes as “standard legal language” that could “seem harsh” to residents, but she said that OHA also follows up and tries to keep residents housed. Residents I interviewed said they felt threatened but not helped by OHA.

All residents interviewed said that overflowing trash in the dumpster area is unpleasant to deal with and attracts rodents. A few said the conditions made them scared to throw their trash away. During a visit to several dumpster areas around the apartment complex on January 24th, I saw overflowing waste matter, some which sat on the ground, and a scurrying rat. I saw electronics and cardboard boxes outside of but near the dumpster area. No recycling receptacles were present. While in the past, Simmon said clean ups from workers happened weekly, now they’re “almost non-existent.”

Overflowing dumpsters in Peralta Village. Photo by Zack Haber on January 24.

McVay said much of the trash problem in the area is related to people from outside the neighborhood dumping in OHA receptacles. Peralta Village tenants confirm illegal dumping is common but think that OHA is not addressing the problem. One resident suggested installing cameras to document and discourage dumpers. Residents say people from outside the neighborhood also throw trash around searching for recyclable cans and bottles, and that the presence of recycling receptacles would alleviate this problem.

McVay supports recycling at Peralta Village and said “I believe that all of our locations have recycling bins and if they don’t, then they should or will soon.” But all residents interviewed said no recycling receptacles currently exist in their dumpster areas.

Residents like JaCynthia Givens see a disconnect between how OHA says treats residents and what she and her neighbors experience. She described the way OHA treats her as inhumane.

In a recent meeting with UFAD members, she expressed excitement about protesting OHA offices on February 13.

“We don’t have to be afraid,” she said. “We’re just fighting for our rights.”

Note: A shorter version of this article will appear in print in The Oakland Post on Friday. A similar version will appear on The Post News Group’s website soon. Thank you to Wanda Ravernell, who helped edit this.