dark stairway with several people walking out of it
Coliseum Connections residents collect belongings to bring to their temporary hotel lodgings, a few days after the building flooded and power was cut. Credit: Natalie Orenstein

One month after a flood displaced hundreds of residents from their East Oakland homes, they still have no idea when they’ll be able to return. 

Storms deluged the parking garage at the Coliseum Connections property on 71st Avenue with several feet of water, submerging cars and forcing residents to evacuate on New Year’s Day. Most residents were relocated to a nearby hotel.

After the water was drained over the course of several days, city inspectors discovered damage to many parts of the electrical system, said spokesperson Jean Walsh. PG&E had shut off the electricity the day of the flood to avoid safety hazards.

But property management failed to apply for the required permits to begin the necessary electrical repairs, prompting Oakland to issue a notice of violation on Jan. 17. The complex, which opened in 2019, is owned by Michael Johnson, CEO of UrbanCore Development, and managed by FPI, a California company with numerous properties in Oakland and around the country. Coliseum Connections was built on BART land, and the agency gets some of the rent profits.

“Inspection staff called the property manager on January 23 and left a voice message to ask for an update,” Walsh said in an email. The next city inspection is Feb. 21.

Initially the property owner covered rooms for residents at the Courtyard Marriott by the airport, and the tenants have now been moved to other hotels that have kitchens in the rooms, according to residents. Many families live in the 110-unit complex, which includes the flooded apartment building and several townhouses.

Resident Andre Fayne didn’t take advantage of the hotel offer initially. He’d moved to California from Atlanta in November for a job as a general manager at a hotel in San Francisco, so he figured he’d sleep at work. 

“I’m thinking this is only going to be a few days, so I’ll stay at my property,” said Fayne, who’d moved into his Coliseum Connections apartment just days before the flood. But in early January his hotel hosted a finance convention that required all the rooms, so he was displaced again. And then the return date kept getting extended, and extended.

“I know that you remain understandably frustrated by the current situation and I’m sorry that we still don’t have any updates regarding the timeline for moving back into Coliseum Connections,” wrote property manager Clay Anderson in an email to residents Jan. 20. “The holdup remains the completion and delivery of replacement electrical panels,” she said, telling residents that the panels typically take 12 months to acquire, but that FPI is “trying to push for [them] ASAP.” 

flooded building 2
There are 110 units spread between the main Coliseum Connections apartment building, where the garage flooded, and several townhouses. Credit: Natalie Orenstein

That’s the most recent time residents heard from FPI, according to Fayne, who said he was shocked to see the reference to a time period as long as 12 months. The Oaklandside has called and emailed FPI representatives several times since the flood and has not been able to reach them. Johnson did not respond to an inquiry Monday either.

“I just wish they would communicate better,” said Fayne. “I do feel for some of my neighbors who have children, and I hope they do right by the situation.”

One resident who’s staying in a hotel in Berkeley with her two young children lost her car to the flood, so she’s relying on transit and cab rides to take her kids to school in Oakland and get to work, according to a press release sent by another resident. The resident’s car insurance paid off her loan, but she’s now stuck without a vehicle and barely any savings. 

About half the units at Coliseum Connections are market-rate, and the other half is affordable housing for low-income residents. 

According to the property manager’s Jan. 20 email, the city will provide each household with $500. Fayne said he filled out the paperwork but hasn’t received the check yet.

Fayne spoke to The Oaklandside by phone Monday while he was moving boxes into his uninhabitable apartment. After holding off for weeks, he finally had the rest of his belongings shipped from Atlanta, where he’d been paying $300 a week to store them. 

When he decided to move to the Bay Area, he selected Coliseum Connections sight-unseen because a friend lived there and, for someone who takes transit to work and flies for his job often, the proximity to both BART and the airport was unbeatable. Now he’s taking Ubers to work, on his own dime.

It is still unclear exactly what caused the complex to sustain such significant damage from the rainy weather. Observers have wondered whether poorly maintained or engineered drains, modular-style construction, or failed equipment are to blame. The property and the underground garage are situated at the meeting point of several creeks, so they’re prone to flooding without proper precautions.

The Oaklandside reviewed the 2019 stormwater agreement for Coliseum Connections, a standard contract where the property owner agrees to properly install and maintain stormwater treatment infrastructure. The form is signed by Johnson. 

The property has received two other notices of violation since it opened, one for a nonfunctional heater, and one because dumpsters were left out on the curb at all times. However, on those notices, BART is listed as the property owner.

While some residents are looking into ending their leases early, Fayne said he’s “trying to wait it out and see what happens.”

“I spent a lot of money on relocating from more than 2,000 miles away,” he said. “Me looking to up-and-move somewhere else is not part of my plan.”

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.