A boxy, somewhat run-down apartment building on a steep hill.
City Attorney Barbara Parker is suing the operator and landlords of a housing program run out of several Oakland buildings, including this one on Gray Street. Credit: Amir Aziz

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker is suing a small chain of sober-living homes, alleging they abuse and illegally evict their tenants—many of whom have severe mental illnesses—and create a nuisance in the neighborhoods where they’re located. 

Parker’s office filed a lawsuit against One Rose of Unity in June, naming founder Angelique Austin, her son Terrell Bailey, and the several landlords they’ve rented from, in the suit. The lawsuit describes cases of sexual assault and harassment that allegedly occurred in the facilities. 

“Tenants at One Rose of Unity properties face appalling and unlawful conditions, abuse, and harassment,” the city attorney wrote in the complaint.

The Oakland Police Department has received 530 calls for service at the properties while they were operated by Austin’s One Rose of Unity and Bailey’s T&A Independent Room and Board, according to the city attorney and the Oakland police have made around 95 visits to the sites. 

The city is asking the court to appoint a receiver to take control of the sober-living program and the properties where it operates. The city attorney is also seeking financial damages, including money to be awarded to mistreated tenants. 

In interviews with The Oaklandside, Austin and one of her landlords said the lawsuit unfairly targets a program that steps in to provide services sorely needed in Oakland—offering housing and stability to tenants who’d otherwise be at risk of homelessness. Austin disputed some of the allegations in the lawsuit—but she also acknowledged that some of the most serious assertions are accurate.

Since 2016, One Rose of Unity has rented units in four to six buildings throughout Oakland, providing housing to renters with mental health challenges, formerly incarcerated tenants, seniors, and others in need of help. 

Austin said she experienced hardship and incarceration earlier in her life, but after getting out of custody, “I changed my life,” working for assisted living facilities and getting the idea to start her own, which she initially did by renting rooms in her own apartment in 2013.

“During my downtime in my life, no one ever gave me a chance when I asked for it,” she told The Oaklandside. “This was my opportunity to say, I want to be able to reach out to these people that have nowhere to go.”

One Rose of Unity is an unlicensed program, and its operations are supported through the rent that tenants pay. Such “independent living facilities” are designed for residents who can largely live on their own but need some structure and support, the city attorney’s lawsuit explains.

There are close to 200 independent living facilities in Oakland, according to the city attorney, who says their structure makes them ripe for abuse.

“Due to the lack of regulation and oversight, [independent living facilities] offer ample opportunities for predatory actors to exploit vulnerable tenants,” the complaint says.

According to the city attorney, Austin “recruits” and “targets” high-needs residents. Austin disagreed with that framing. She said she receives numerous unsolicited referrals from the county’s homeless services division, county hospitals like John George, and caseworkers with nonprofit organizations that contract with East Bay cities and counties. 

Alameda County did not respond to a question clarifying its relationship with One Rose of Unity and similar facilities. 

A sexual assault occurred at a One Rose of Unity home

Austin, who said she’s representing herself because can’t afford a lawyer, said a “couple” of the allegations in the lawsuit are “true facts.” 

She confirmed that “the incident where a lady got raped” occurred, saying she’ll “never forgive that night.”

In 2017, a woman living at a 102nd Avenue One Rose of Unity property reported to police that an employee sexually assaulted her, according to the city attorney. The complaint describes the alleged assault in graphic detail.

Austin said the person accused of sexual assault was a “house manager” referred to her by Adult Protective Services who received free room and board in exchange for preparing meals and ensuring that residents took their medication. Austin said that when the female tenant called her “crying hysterical” at 1 a.m., she told the resident to call 911 and headed to the property to assist the woman and the police.

The 102nd Avenue site is now closed and Austin said she works with a different, “high functioning” population at most properties now. 

“Now all my properties are self-sufficiently run,” she said, saying most residents take care of their own meals. She said there is “no staff” but that she has people going to the properties each night at 9 p.m. to turn off the lights and lock the doors. If a resident uses any substances, they’re not allowed to return home for a day, Austin said.

The city attorney says 18 tenants were illegally evicted

The city attorney’s lawsuit also details multiple evictions at One Rose of Unity’s properties. Austin allegedly forced at least 18 tenants to leave without going through the legally required eviction process. The city says Oakland police repeatedly told Austin that she needed to follow eviction laws.

In one case, Austin allegedly had someone put a tenant’s belongings on the street after she had an argument with the renter. Austin and Bailey also allegedly changed locks and threatened other tenants so they’d leave. The city attorney said Austin repeatedly tried to enlist the help of the police in unlawfully evicting tenants, asking OPD to escort renters off the property despite the department telling her that was against the law.

Speaking with The Oaklandside, Austin insisted she’s never evicted anybody, saying instead that she “terminates” tenants, which she described as giving residents three warnings, notifying their case worker, and then giving them 30 days to move out. 

“The only people I’ve ever terminated is because they were punching holes in the wall or attacking residents or me,” Austin said. She said many of her renters have lived there for years.

The legal eviction process in the county requires a landlord to provide a tenant with a formal eviction notice. If the renter declines to move out the landlord can then file an eviction lawsuit. At this point the landlord and tenant either reach a settlement or a judge can issue an order with a timeline. 

Oakland also has a law saying tenants can only be evicted for certain reasons. Damaging property or attacking someone at a property is a legal reason to evict someone, but a landlord is still required to go through all the necessary steps.

Austin told The Oaklandside she believes she’s not subject to city or county eviction laws, saying, “I’m not a regular landlord so I don’t have to go to court to evict. I’m the tenant—I sublease out.”

However, in the interview, she read aloud language from a rental agreement she gives her tenants, which said they’re entitled to an eviction notice if they’re being asked to leave. 

According to the city attorney, One Rose of Unity’s properties are subject to the city’s Just Cause for Eviction law and Tenant Protection Ordinance

Landlord says property owners unfairly targeted in lawsuit

A classic Oakland Victorian-style duplex building, in mediocre condition.
The owner of a 22nd Street property where One Rose of Unity operates criticized the city for going after small-scale landlords. Credit: Amir Aziz

The city attorney isn’t only suing Austin and her company. The city’s lawsuit also alleges that the owners of the properties where One Rose of Unity and T&A Independent Room and Board operate are complicit in the abuse, harassment, and unlawful conditions tenants face. 

One of these landlords strongly objects to the city attorney’s allegations. Tamra Rubin, who rents a 22nd Street building to Austin, called the lawsuit an “abomination,” saying “targeting landlords” for alleged tenant behavior “is a little far-fetched.”

“They’re using their office to intimidate these mom-and-pops that don’t have resources,” Rubin said. “If they want to do something about [Austin’s] business, why are they going after landlords?” 

Rubin said the city and county should offer more support to operators of housing programs instead of taking them to court.

“I don’t know where these people would go” otherwise, said Rubin, who began leasing to Austin’s company in 2020, after struggling to keep tenants in her building.

“It’s an area of downtown Oakland where homeless people were constantly defecating on the property and laying on the porch,” she said. “Obviously there was a need for housing.” She said she liked the concept behind Austin’s business, and while she said she doesn’t know the “ins and outs” of the program, every time she’s stopped by the building, it’s been clean and there are often caseworkers present.

“I was very shocked when I got a notice considering it a nuisance,” she said. 

Cara Reichard, a lawyer in the City Attorney’s Office, said “the law is clear that property owners have responsibility for things that are happening at their property.”

They “ultimately are the ones that hold the responsibility for ensuring that conditions of their property are safe,” she said. 

Reichard, who’s part of the city’s Neighborhood Law Corps unit litigating housing, health, and community issues, acknowledged that supportive housing options for the population served by One Rose of Unity are scarce in Oakland.

“But that doesn’t mean that they deserve to live in places where they’re going to be abused or harassed, or thrown out on the street whenever they get on the wrong side of the landlord,” she said. 

If the court places the company and properties under receivership, as the city is requesting, the receiver could stop any illegal evictions and other violations of tenants’ rights, essentially taking over the business and leases.

Austin questioned the city’s decision to include her and her son, Bailey, in the same lawsuit, saying she’s given him guidance on his business T&A, but it’s a separate entity. 

The city attorney claims that Austin declined to provide the city with proof of T&A’s nonprofit status—which she had cited as a reason for the company’s exemption from certain tenant protection laws—instead saying she would “show the judge.” The city attorney notes this was before a lawsuit was filed.

It’s one of several instances the city describes of refusal by Austin to respond to requests or demands by the City Attorney’s Office. Austin allegedly ignored an order to place a tenant back in her unit after an unlawful eviction, instead writing an email to the city saying, “S[e]e you [i]n court.” 

Austin described that case as the tenant deciding to move out then changing her mind. The lawsuit and other court records show the tenant sought a restraining order against Austin.

When the City Attorney’s Office called Austin to get her contact information after the incident with that tenant, Austin allegedly hung up on them.

Austin told The Oaklandside it feels like she’s being “framed,” saying most of the allegations are untrue or misguided, and that issues are bound to arise at programs serving high-needs residents.

“Yes, I have to call the police, due to the fact that I’m working with Level 4 people,” she said, referring to individuals with severe medical and mental health issues. “I still work with individuals no one else wants.”

“At the end of this road, I’m going to sue the heck out of them,” Austin said about the city.

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.