Problems persist at Oakley’s largest affordable housing complex

Problems persist at Oakley’s largest affordable housing complex

Six months after residents of Oakley’s largest affordable housing apartment complex banded together to bring their complaints to the City Council, issues with delayed maintenance, lack of repairs and security linger.

That despite state inspections, fines and the city’s formation of a temporary affordable house ad-hoc committee to address the problems. The new committee was supposed to wrap up its work last month and now is set to extend its duration into next month.

A group of residents brought their concerns about The Oaks apartment complex to the committee last week, asking management – which sits on the board along with residents and two council members – to assure them that issues would get resolved.

“The (front) gate has not worked since I’ve been there for six years,” said Michael Lockridge, who lives in a senior apartment at the 500-unit complex on Carol Lane. “I moved into what’s supposed to be a secure property. It’s nonsense, honestly.”

Jackie Rider, a senior citizen resident, concurred, saying security is an issue with non-residents entering the buildings — sometimes through open trash rooms — and using the stairwells as urinals. She also complained of limited maintenance and broken laundry facilities.

Promises to clean common areas and tend to landscaping have fallen flat as well, Lockridge said.

Issues at The Oaks first came to light last summer when residents complained to City Hall about cockroach infestations and this newspaper investigated those complaints. Shortly thereafter, state inspectors visited the property and confirmed the roaches and other compliance issues, according to the California State Treasurer’s Office.

Developed by the Corporation for Better Housing nonprofit, the apartment complex in central Oakley is part of the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, which offers tax credits for those who build or rehabilitate low-income housing. With both senior and family units, the complex is owned by seven different owners or investor groups, including nonprofits and for-profit ventures.

Oke Johnson, a spokesman for the WinnResidential, which has managed the buildings since 2019, tried to alleviate residents’ fears about the maintenance issues, telling them there are plans for improvement.

“When I was at the community again today, it was clear that we’re not meeting the mark that we need to, so we’ll be making some changes – regarding process and how we do things,” he said at the Feb. 20 housing committee meeting.

But Johnson wanted the audience to know the “headwinds” the company faces.

“The properties have not been profitable and the owners are not taking distributions,” he said. “I think that’s important for everybody to understand. In fact, the owners have contributed a million dollars in direct supportive maintenance of these communities.”

Johnson also noted there’s only an 80 percent occupancy rate and many rents are past due.

“The partnerships continue to not collect fees, and other items that are technically owed as a result of those agreements totaling more than $1.4 million today,” he said.

But hard times didn’t placate committee member and Councilman Aaron Meadows, who said the company still had to fix the issues.

“(You can) go over the numbers, and all the revenue and how many vacancies you have and how much you’ve spent on turnovers and all that, and honestly that really doesn’t matter to (the tenants),” he said. “They pay the rent and they need to be habitable.”

Meadows pointed to the almost $1.5 million a year in losses from the 80 vacant units.

“You gotta turn those units. That’s not a problem up here (on the dais) and it’s not their (the tenant’s) problem,” he said.

Indeed, resident Thelma Brown just wanted her plumbing fixed once and for all. Her bathtub takes between 10 to 12 hours to drain, she said, and the bottle of Drano the on-site maintenance person poured down the drain didn’t help.

“It’s a nuisance and it’s bad for my health,” Brown added, while Johnson then promised to address the issue.

Another senior, Micki Nicol, said management at the Oaks has allowed the buildings and grounds to be “in a constant state of disrepair” since 2019.

“The only improvements made have been cosmetic — new signage, new awnings and new flags outside the buildings,” she said. “My building alone has consistently had broken locks on outside doors, water damage, mold, cockroaches and vermin. We have not had housekeeping for the buildings since October 2023. That issue was supposed to be resolved.”

Michael Frank spoke of a fire in a nearby apartment and subsequent flooding in his.

“There’s still holes in the wall from where they drilled. We had to put tape on them to keep the bugs out,” he said, before calling for some accountability.

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Senior housing advocate Mike Dupray asked WinnResidential why seniors should have to tolerate “such unsanitary, unsafe living conditions.”

“How can you morally expect seniors who are already using 50 to 80 percent of their fixed incomes (for rent) to give up services originally contracted for?” he said.

After Dupray and others complained of unsanitary conditions, roaches and unlocked trash rooms, in recent weeks management found a solution: Now the trash rooms are locked, requiring the seniors to take their garbage downstairs instead of using the trash chutes. This, however, didn’t sit well with many seniors who have physical limitations and can’t reach to throw their trash in the large bins.

In response, Johnson said any senior needing accommodation will be given one, even without a doctor’s note.

“We are willing to help,” Johnson said. “We want to help.”

Management will also be working on other fixes such as sidewalk inspections, tree and dead branch removal, foliage trimming, as well as instituting security gate closures in the evenings, he said.

And while WinnResidential complained of the high cost of flooring replacements, Oakley Vice Mayor Shannon Shaw said the costs wouldn’t be so high if they would do more preventative maintenance. She also questioned why so many work orders are not considered high priority.

“Security should be an emergency thing,” she said. “Plumbing should be an emergency. Electricity should be an emergency.”

Shaw urged residents not to give up on requesting repairs despite the delays.

“I don’t love that we hear a lot of the same things over and over again,” she told the management. “I want to see things change.”

The next housing meeting will be at 3 p.m. March 21 at City Hall.