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Complaints From Residents Spark Changes at Senior Home By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday December 21, 2004

Rita Garcia knew the senior housing complex where she lived couldn’t go much longer without a resident manager the day she locked her keys in her apartment last August. 

Receiving no response from the building’s emergency number, Garcia, a 67-year-old security guard, had to catapult her 11-year-old grandson through her open window to let her inside. 

“It’s a good thing he’s so thin,” said Garcia, who has a laundry list of complaints about her current home. “There’s no management here, period.” 

Garcia is one of several tenants who have issued written complaints to Affordable Housing Associates (AHA), the owner and manager of Shattuck Senior Homes at 2425 Shattuck Ave. bemoaning the upkeep of the building and the absence of a resident manager, responsible for repairs and maintenance, since August. 

Frustrations over the lack of a manager reached a crescendo Nov. 27 when a PG&E power outage disabled the elevator. 

Because the stairwell doors were locked from the inside, allowing residents to exit only on the ground floor, those who were already downstairs or outside couldn’t use the stairs to return to their apartments. 

Residents called the fire department, which arrived only to find that the master key didn’t work, forcing tenants to wait until a tenant still in her apartment opened the stairwell door from the inside hall, allowing other residents back into their apartments. 

“We screwed up,” said AHA Senior Property Supervisor Angela Cavanaugh. She said that AHA, a nonprofit developer and building manager, forgot to replace the outdated master key. 

After a lengthy search, AHA introduced a new resident manager last week, its first in four months. “We apologize that it has taken so long, but it hasn’t been easy finding a qualified person and we wanted to do right by you,” AHA Executive Director Susan Friedland told 10 tenants at a meeting last week. 

This past weekend Kenneth Stanley, the newly hired resident manager, re-keyed the building so that tenants can now open stairwell doors on each floor from inside the stairwell, giving them access to other floors. AHA started locking the doors several years ago after the fire marshall complained that tenants created a fire hazard by propping them open, Cavanaugh said.  

Complaints about the building encompassed more than access from the stairwell and the lack of a resident manager. Several residents in private interviews complained that the building’s community room was locked for days at a time, the emergency number often failed to yield a return call, puddles formed in the lobby after heavy rains, repair requests dragged on indefinitely and the garbage room on occasion overflowed with trash. 

A walk through the building two weeks ago showed a clean garbage room and no puddles, but dirty floors and mildew stained siding. 

“I’ve seen the building go from bad to worse,” said Garcia, who has lived in her studio apartment for two years.  

Susanne Yenne, who has lived in Shattuck Senior Homes since it opened in 1998, said that for more than half of the building’s existence, there hasn’t been a resident manager who lived on-site. 

Cavanaugh insisted that the emergency number worked and that the building was well maintained, but attributed many of the other complaints to the lack of a resident manager. 

“I don’t know what it was between August and November, but no one was responding to the job listing,” she said. To ensure qualified applicants, Cavanaugh said, AHA made the position full-time and required the manager to have more repair skills. 

Berkeley law requires resident managers for all apartments with more than 16 units. Steve Barton, the city’s housing director, said buildings typically take a few months to replace an outgoing manager and that AHA had a sound track record for maintaining its buildings. 

A routine housing inspection conducted last February found minor violations in five units, mostly related to broken front doors and windows. All of the citations were fixed when housing inspectors returned in April. 

In addition to finding a resident manager, AHA has also struggled to find a property rental manager, which Cavanaugh blames in part for AHA’s failure to fill the building’s four vacant units.  

AHA recently assigned a new property manager for the building and Cavanaugh said that the organization was finishing the paperwork to bring two new tenants into the building. 

Rent for about one-third of the tenants at Shattuck Senior Homes is paid by the federal government’s Section 8 program, up three-fold from when the building opened six years ago. Because the government pays landlords market rents for Section 8 tenants, they are more lucrative for nonprofit developers than standard rentals, which are subsidized at a lower level from a variety of sources. 

AHA receives $988 from the federal government for every Section 8 rental and charges $650 for a non-Section 8 tenant. 

At last week’s meeting Stanley, the new resident manager, who has 20 years in construction, promised tenants he would address their maintenance concerns. “I’m here to keep this place up and be here for you when you need me,” he said. 

For Armenta Shaw, a tenant who attended last week’s meeting, Stanley’s assurance was a sign for guarded optimism that improvements are on the way. 

“I’m hoping, but I have to see it first,” she said.