OAKLAND — The apartments were supposed to be among the city’s affordable solutions for elderly, low-income residents — some lifelong Oaklanders, others immigrants — who couldn’t afford to live elsewhere.
Now, tenants say the Northgate Terrace apartments in the city’s small Koreatown district have effectively become slums — riddled with infestations, bad security, broken water heaters and absentee property managers. They are calling on the Oakland Housing Authority to conduct regular inspections and wrangle more regular maintenance out of The Related Companies, a national company that manages the property.
“Things were better when I first moved in,” said Harold Brooks, 77, who’s lived at Northgate for 13 years and in Oakland his whole life. “The last five years, the security’s gotten real bad. And the roaches!”
Complaints of poor living conditions in multi-family housing are rampant in the Bay Area, where affordable-housing complexes often wind up under-resourced — even while, for instance, millions of federal dollars are sitting unused by Alameda County landlords.
Last week, residents of the town of Oakley in eastern Contra Costa County spoke at a City Council meeting about how their low-income housing is teeming with cockroaches, leading them to trap dead ones by the bunches to keep as evidence.
It’s the stuff of nightmares for Northgate’s dozens of residents. One tenant of seven years, military veteran John Sagady, recalled suffering dozens of bedbug bites over nearly a year before the property manager addressed the infestation.
Most can’t afford to move elsewhere, and the tenants, who are mostly senior citizens, can’t move very well physically, either. When it came time for a scheduled Friday rally, the would-be participants decided marching around would be too taxing — so they settled for a news conference.
Jenny Yuan, on podium, speaks to fellow senior tenants and members of the media during a press conference at Northgate Terrace apartments in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023. Tenants complain that their apartments are infested with cockroaches and bed bugs. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
“The building owners do not properly maintain this place,” said Jenny Yuan, an immigrant from the Chinese province Guangdong who spoke at length Friday and whose statement was translated from Mandarin. “We are urging the city to implement a routine inspection program for all rental properties in Oakland to protect Oakland renters from slumlords like this one.”
Last week, an electrical short in her stove caused sparks to fly. “I cannot even cook in my own home because it’ll start a fire,” Yuan said.
Another resident, William “Bill” Jackson, demonstrated how his key fob simply doesn’t work at one of the gated entrances, while another requires several attempts.
Jackson and other tenants said they regularly come across people who don’t live in the complex sleeping in the stairwells or using drugs there. Burglaries, they say, are common.
He and others have filed a lawsuit against the property owner, Community Preservation Partners, a subsidiary of Southern California-based real-estate firm WNC. Neither entity responded to an interview request.
Officials for the property manager, Related, said they inspect the units often, citing a recent sweep of 24 units at random that revealed no sign of bedbugs.
“The safety and comfort of our residents is our highest priority — which is why we aggressively and actively respond to all issues brought to our attention,” Jon Weinstein, a spokesperson, said in an email.
Senior tenant William Jackson, left, shows the malfunction of the main entrance gate at Northgate Terrace apartments in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023. In addition to the gate, seniors tenants complain that their apartments are infested with cockroaches and bed bugs. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
“In particular, we have a robust and detailed pest management program that involves routinely servicing units each month,” Weinstein said. “There is also constant pest monitoring, and service is provided until the issues are completely resolved.”
A tenants’ rights group, ACCE Action, has begun organizing on the Northgate residents’ behalf, urging the landlords to do better.
Councilmember Carroll Fife, whose district includes the apartment complex, said in a text message that she had reached out to the property owners but was “unsuccessful in finding someone who will speak with me.”
Community Preservation Partners acquired the parcel in 2015, adding the 11-story Northgate Terrace complex to an affordable-housing portfolio that includes the Park Sunset in San Francisco, Courtyard Plaza Apartments in San Jose and Franco Center in Stockton.
Jackson, who has lived in his apartment for nine years, said he became involved in seeking change when the bedbugs struck. At 72, he’s still working as a substitute teacher in the Oakland schools.
“Hope we can finally get some change around here,” he said Friday afternoon in an interview outside the complex. As he turned to go back inside, Jackson tried his key fob a couple times — to no avail.