Residents scramble for new housing

August 26, 2009 7:17:15 PM PDT
The largest ever relocation operation of residents in Oakland is underway. Nearly 200 people are now homeless after city officials condemned their apartment complex.

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Ernest Siler is a father of four who is packing up everything he can and leaving the apartment his family has lived in for the past year.

"I don't know where we're gonna go, what we're gonna do, they said we had two days to pack up and get everything out of here," Siler said.

Siler is among the 194 people, including 74 children, who were suddenly evicted Tuesday when the city declared the complex, the Amber Tree Apartments, a health and safety hazard.

The fire department says there are all sorts of code violations -- illegal electrical wiring, broken fire alarms, no running water. Residents complained of rats, roaches and mold as well as criminal activity.

"I blame the owner, the manager and the city for not doing anything about it," Siler said.

The city of Oakland has known about this apartment complex for a long time. Three years ago, the owner was cited, two years ago, the city attorney filed suit against him.

"Yes, it was a problem but it has been a deteriorating situation and at some point when you come in and see the number of hazards and the immediate threats, the city can't say, 'it's OK to continue,'" Mayor Ron Dellums' spokesperson Karen Boyd said.

Complicating matters, the owner died last year, his widow declared bankruptcy and Chase Bank has refused to foreclose. A Chase spokesperson said the bank is "working with the owner to facilitate the sale of the property."

In the meantime several businesses and organizations are stepping up to help pack and store belongings.

"All we can do is come and help, but it really is heart wrenching and heart breaking," Rudolph Brady of Men of Valor said.

What is disturbing is, this could be the tip of the iceberg. The city estimates there are dozens of similar properties around the city.

"Hopefully this sends a message to owners of other buildings of this nature, that the city of Oakland will aggressively enforce its requirements for health and safety in the building code," Brady said.

Both Dellums and Vice Mayor Ignacio De La Fuente are on vacation. Dellums has been briefed on the situation and is said to be satisfied with how it is being handled.

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