Several senior citizens sitting in a room with an amplifier. They're all paying attention to something at the front of the room.
William Albert Jackson, in the baseball cap, filed a lawsuit against his landlord two years ago, alleging habitability issues. Credit: Amir Aziz

Residents at Northgate Terrace, a low-income retirement community located one block off of Telegraph Avenue in Uptown, are speaking out about cockroaches, broken stoves, and break-ins they say they’ve dealt with at their building.

Alongside ACCE, a tenant advocacy group, some two dozen residents of the 11-story building held a press conference Friday morning.

“The recurring theme is neglect,” said William Albert Jackson, a nine-year resident of Northgate Terrace

“We’re predominantly an Asian immigrant and African American community, including many veterans that have served our country, and we deserve to live in a safe and sanitary building,” he said.

In 2021, Jackson and other residents filed a class action lawsuit against the property owner, Virginia-based Community Preservation Partners, alleging habitability issues, negligence, and violation of Oakland’s tenant protection law. The case is ongoing.

“I came to the U.S. to have a better life,” said Jenny Yuan, a five-year resident, at Friday’s event. “I pay my rent on time. I’m concerned for my safety and the safety of my neighbors.” After she gave her statement in Chinese, ACCE Oakland director Kijani Edwards read an English translation.

Oakland enforcement records show that Northgate Terrace residents have filed seven habitability complaints with the city since 2015, including lacking hot water, bedbugs, and a nonfunctional fire alarm. In most cases, the city determined that there was no violation or closed the case. 

On the Yelp page for the property, someone uploaded 46 photos of pests in the building.

Another resident, Bill Ward, told The Oaklandside that he slept in his car for two weeks during a bedbug infestation. He said he used to work delivering food to the building and aspired to live there. He finally moved in seven years ago. 

Ward, who uses a translation app to communicate with his Chinese-speaking neighbors, said it’s a “beautiful place” on the outside, in large part because residents grow plants in the garden. But he was dismayed to discover problems inside the building.

A spokesperson for the management company said pest concerns are handled proactively.

“The safety and comfort of our residents is our highest priority, which is why we aggressively and actively respond to all issues brought to our attention,” said Jon Weinstein, executive vice president of corporate communications at Related Management Company, in an email to The Oaklandside. “In particular, we have a robust and detailed pest management program that involves routinely servicing units each month. There is also constant pest monitoring and service is provided until the issues are completely resolved.”

A sign for "Northgate Terrace Retirement Center." Nearby, someone walks down the block using a walker.
The 201-unit Northgate Terrace was built as federal public housing in 1969. Credit: Amir Aziz

Community Preservation Partners and Related bought the 201-unit building together in 2015. It was originally constructed as federal public housing in 1969. It currently houses residents making 30-60% of the area median income, including those with Section 8 vouchers.

Several residents sent a letter to their landlords in June, listing habitability “demands” in both English and Chinese and asking to meet in July. They said the property owners did not respond to their letter at the time. 

New rental inspection model in the works in Oakland

ACCE organizers and Northgate Terrace residents said issues in the building highlight the need for a citywide property inspection system that can identify habitability problems as they come up.

ACCE is advocating for the city to adopt a “proactive rental inspection program,” where inspectors would regularly review apartments for code violations. Currently, the complaint-based system requires residents to contact the city before an inspector is sent to examine their home. 

The concept is not a new one for Oakland, where launching a proactive inspection system was under discussion as early as 2012, after a Grand Jury report found numerous problems with the city Building Services division’s approach to inspections. (That report focused on the city’s mistreatment and overcharging of property owners.) Since then there have been several stops and starts, including a pilot program and a consultant hired to come up with a plan.

A man in a shirt that says "God Rules" holds an iphone up to several older people sitting down.
Resident Bill Ward communicates with his Chinese-speaking neighbors using a translation app. Credit: Amir Aziz

City spokesperson Jean Walsh said the plan is still in the works.

“Staff are currently analyzing the scope and all necessary collaborations with city staff to effectively launch a proactive rental inspection program,” she said in an email. “The program development was put on hold late spring due to limited resources. The recently hired staffer is now learning about the program and moving the process forward that will lead to preparation of a resolution for adoption by City Council.” 

Several other Bay Area and California cities have proactive inspection systems, where landlords typically pay an annual fee to support inspectors coming out every three or five years to each apartment. If violations are found, they let the property owner know what needs to be fixed and how.

Inspections could catch prevalent issues in Oakland’s aging housing, like mold, which can cause respiratory problems for tenants, said Leah Simon-Weisberg, ACCE’s legal director, who’s helped write several tenant protection policies in East Bay cities.

“It’s a long-term strategy,” said Simon-Weisberg. “They’re not going to be able to visit every unit in the first year. But we’ve been asking for this for 10 years. Over time, it will improve the housing stock.”

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.