Ninety-one residents at Cypress Village signed onto a petition addressed to the property administrators demanding an end to intentional neglect of the property, favoritism, harassment from the Housing police, and evictions. This is a good thing, but we are still going against the tide. A lot of residents still fear retaliation, and those who have not joined cite retaliation as their main barrier to entry. This leads to a lack of the consistency and involvement which is necessary to build up consciousness and neighborly support beyond signing a petition.
These fears of retaliation are valid. OHA is notorious for harassing residents with 3-Day notices to quit, for a myriad of invalid reasons. Residents who have been paying rent and following OHA rules will receive these phony documents out of the blue. They look like a formal eviction notice but are not even a legal document. In fact, they only mean that the landlord is contacting the tenant and could possibly file eviction action in the future. It is clearly an intimidation tactic.
In the face of this intimidation residents have continued organizing. Last month, residents and UFAD members held a rally in front of OHA’s office to present the petition. We taped up signs with messages like “OHA What If You Lived Here?” and “Stop Playing with the People.” A couple weeks after the rally, we had a BBQ where people decided that the next step should be to ask for a formal sit down with OHA. There has also been some progress on a neighborhood newsletter, inspired by Urban Core in Boston. A couple of residents who cannot come to in- person events due to health reasons have taken the lead on this publication.
Even people outside of Cypress are taking notice. For example, a reporter from the Oakland Post published an article on the developments at Cypress. After publication, those who were interviewed and disclosed their names were personally contacted by Mark Shiferl, the director of property management at OHA. He was blowing up smoke and groveling to residents that he would make sure issues were resolved. He called one resident who spoke out about the black mold in her unit and OHA’s recent attempt to raise her rent. After a few weeks, the resident’s rent was decreased and she was moved out of her mold-infested unit, but Mark has not responded to any other residents recently.
Residents have noticed other changes, like how trash pickup is happening two times a week instead of one. It’s clear that OHA is trying to clean up its act, but even so, they’re still not meeting all the residents’ demands. As one resident has pointed out, “We’re not asking for that much, and they’re not even doing that.”
OHA’s responses (even though they’re pretty lack- luster) clearly show that the organizing efforts have put them on notice. The Housing Authority wants to make small concessions, thinking that will make people complacent. But people at Cypress are be- yond asking for small concessions, and will continue organizing together with their neighbors to have a real say in how Cypress is run.