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Special Consideration for Senior Seniors?

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday March 30, 2012 - 01:56:00 PM

Strawberry Creek Lodge (SCL), referred to locally as The Lodge or Strawberry, was built in 1962 at 1320 Addison Street in Berkeley, California. Its purpose was affordable rental housing for lower to middle income senior citizens. Three adjoining buildings in a park-like setting provide 150 units-- some are one-bedroom apartments, most are studios, all with bathrooms and kitchenettes. An elective, not-free evening meal is served. There is no longer a supermarket within walking distance.

Recently, the Berkeley Daily Planet received a message that “while Strawberry Creek Lodge is being refurbished it's causing lots of problems for the residents.” There have been health and disruption problems at SCL. “We are on pins and needles,” according to a former hospice patient. 

The Lodge is a not-for-profit complex governed by a Board of Trustees whose meetings are attended by a Tenants Association representative. SCL is managed by Church Homes of Northern California (CCH). Income is derived from residents’ rents and HUD subsidies under Section 8. Numerous Internet SCL citations provide inaccurate or incomplete information, e.g. “a retirement home” “one bedroom only,” etc. 

n 1991, when activist Helen Corbin Lima (1917-2005) moved into a tiny SCL studio, her only income was Social Security. She applied for Section 8 housing, and a whole new realm of political activity opened up for her. From then until her death, she was active in the fight for affordable housing and to save Section 8. Until her deteriorating health made it no longer possible, she was also actively involved in the SCL Tenants Association. 

In 1997 Lima launched Save Section 8, a nonprofit self-help, grass-roots effort in behalf of American seniors who need rent-subsidized apartments. No admission or membership fees were charged. Income source was voluntary contributions. Activities included picketing , petitions, meetings, newspaper publicity, proposal of a Berkeley ordinance to protect then-current tenants, publications, presence at California’s annual senior rally, counseling individuals and providing speakers, and production of a video, Housing Is A Human Right: Seniors and Section 8. (It appears no longer to be in libraries; I have a copy.) 


In August 2009, SCL received a 66.69 inspection score, which is 23.2% worse than the average HUD inspection score (100=best) for all Section 8 . It was generally agreed that the buildings were in poor shape. Recently SCL received support for major rehabilitation. Senior citizens as well as disabled persons are Section 8 eligible. 

There are at least two funding sources involved in the work going on at SCL. The City Council granted money from the Housing Trust Fund and the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) allocated some Section 8 vouchers to be used as project-based vouchers. Usually when the BHA gives project-based vouchers, the owner takes that to the bank and gets a loan against the increased or guaranteed revenue. Presumably that is how SCL’s rehabitation is being financed. The BHA is allowed to take up to 20% of its portable vouchers and assign them to projects, so these are BHA vouchers rather than directly-from-HUD vouchers. Directly-from-HUD project-based Section 8 does not allow the tenant to retain their subsidy if they move. 


Frail elders are particularly sensitive to the effects of construction work and need a higher than usual level of protection during such a process. I met with 90 year old Albert “Al” Benson, a former art instructor, and his neighbor, 89 year old, legally blind Bonnie Davidson. (I well remember Bonnie from our Save Section 8 days.) 


They estimate that there may be a dozen or so old old tenants -- people who typically came to SCL when they were just plain ‘old’, then in their sixties perhaps. The tenancy is divided – the “others” are mostly boomers and in their sixties. It is the older group that has been most impacted by aspects of the rehab work that is underway: Inconsiderate construction managers. Toxicity from new carpeting and painting. Moving their belongings elsewhere without their knowledge. Indeed, this has happened in at least one other Berkeley Section 8 seniors’ project, wherein an elderly person who speaks no English returned to find her belongings piled up in the corridor, and then in her room while workers departed for the weekend. In the words of another person with a vantage point, “I have heard about the latest Strawberry Creek Lodge drama. I get the sense that the administration tends to use a lord-of-the-manor approach towards its tenants …” Seniors without power, they are further handicapped by not being computer literate. 

On Tuesday evening, March 27, a goodly crowd gathered in Strawberry’s meeting area, a long skinny room in which it’s not always possible for everyone to hear everything being said. Each Lodger had received a flier announcing the meeting. Approximately fifty persons attended; I’m told 33 is a typical SCL turnout. 

Former board member Bill Samsel fended questions and problems, reportedly talking over one gutsy woman tenant. Six-eight persons constituting what might and should have functioned as a resource panel were situated at the front of the room, while the SCL property manager “floated.” Questions and problems from the Lodgers focused mainly on (1) fears of eviction and (2) complaints about work that is underway (e.g., technical electronic equipment assembled over the years by one tenant removed from his apartment and, when returned, not functioning) as well as projected changes. 

I commenced an email trail when I started work on this report. A friend suggested I contact Be Tran in Housing, who referred me to Rachel in the Berkeley Housing Authority, who referred me to Mike Rogers, "...the consultant, hired by Strawberry Creek Lodge to oversee the property rehabilitation," who ultimately emailed “please feel free to give me a call on either line and I'd be happy to talk about Strawberry Creek." Rogers did not return my several phone calls to both lines. Why the runaround?