Deal is Reached in Chinatown Eviction Lawsuit

Oakland City Council approves agreement to protect affordable housing
September 20, 2007 By Kelly Rayburn, STAFF WRITER

http://www.insidebayarea.com/timesstar/localnews/ci_6946563
OAKLAND — City leaders joined community members Wednesday to celebrate what they called a key victory for Oakland's Chinatown — the settlement of a long-disputed lawsuit stemming from a developer's attempts to evict residents of a 50-unit affordable housing complex more than four years ago. "This has been a long fight and one that was really difficult to bring to a positive conclusion," said Councilwoman Patricia Kernigan, whose second district includes Chinatown. Only one pre-eviction tenant still lives in the complex, located in Chinatown's Pacific Renaissance Plaza, but the settlement, which the City Council approved Tuesday night, was nonetheless hailed for protecting affordable housing in Chinatown. Under the terms of the settlement, the 50unit complex will be sold by the Pacific Renaissance developers to a nonprofit housing organization for $4 million. The nonprofit housing organization will then convert the apartments to condos for moderate-income buyers. Proceeds from that project, in turn, will be used to build as many as 55 affordable apartment units elsewhere in Chinatown. Mayor Ron Dellums called the settlement a "momentous occasion." As the mayor's office prepares to unveil a citywide affordable housing initiative, Dellums hinted that the settlement was the culmination of the kind of collaboration needed between city government and Oakland residents if the city is to solve its broader housing woes. "Everyone who is standing here stood for principle, stood for what was right, stood for the people of Oakland and, ultimately, stood for justice," Dellums said at a City Hall news conference that at time felt more like a pep rally. Not all were happy. The residents of a 200 market-rate condominium tower next to the apartment complex turned out in numbers Tuesday to protest the settlement. They worry about their own property values, and said they weren't notified about the pending settlement until last week. Ann Fok, president of the Pacific Renaissance Residential 1 Homeowners Association, said members fear their units will drop in value. "A lot of them are seniors," she said. "This is their life savings."

The people living in the condos aren't rich, she said. Many of them rent out their garages to help make homeowner association dues. "I think they're very sincere in their beliefs," Kernighan said, "but I think their fears are unfounded." She and others said they did not expect a drop in property values in the area. The legal conflict dates back to 1990 when the city and the Pacific Renaissance developers committed to providing 50 units of affordable housing as part as the Pacific Renaissance project, which also includes a cultural center, library and shops. The developer maintained that it only had to provide the affordable housing for 10 years, and in April 2003 gave eviction notices to the people living in the apartments. But some wouldn't leave. The city entered the fray in 2003, suing alongside the tenants, charging that the developer's affordable housing obligation extended beyond 10 years and that tenants were overcharged in their rents. Among those who refused to leave was Yen-Ho Hom, an 89-year-old widow who

used a wheelchair and loved living where she did. She died at 91; a little more than a year after the eviction process began. On Wednesday her son, Art Hom, carried a picture of her and remembered how she took the bullhorn when the tenants held their first news conference. "She said, 'Landlord, you cannot throw me out like a dead rat!'" Hom remembered. By this point, about 90 percent of the tenants had left. About a half dozen stayed. Some of those died and others moved to nursing homes, Hom said. The only remaining tenant is H.K. Chang. As part of the settlement, he'll receive a lifetime lease to stay where he is. Even some of those not thrilled with all the particulars were happy to see the matter put to rest. For his part, Stephen Kaus, an attorney who represented the Pacific Renaissance developers, defended property owner Larry Chan. "I think the entities operated by Larry Chan committed to providing 10 years of affordable housing to Oakland," he said. "And they did that and it's unfortunate that the city didn't appreciate it, ... but I'm happy that it's settled and we're all going to move on."

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