Thursday, June 08, 2017

Wall Street Landlord Drags Feet For 3 Years On Lead Remediation Request, Causing Tenant To Go Out Of Business Running Home-Based Daycare Center Serving Low-Income Kids; Lost Income After Cancellation Of 'Head Start' Contract Leaves Couple Facing Eviction

In Oakland, California, KQED-TV reports:
  • Renting from a Wall Street Landlord

    [V]anessa and Richard were paying more to rent their new house than they had been paying on their mortgage before their first home was lost to foreclosure, but in many ways, the rental was perfect. It only had one level, so Richard didn’t have too many steps to climb, which is hard after his stroke. And the house was spacious, with lots of room for Vanessa’s daycare, Tender Arms Family Child Care. She had a contract with Head Start to care for low-income children.

    Vanessa wanted to plant greens with the kids in the backyard as she had at her old home, so in the fall she called a group to come out and test the soil. That’s when she ran into a big problem: The level of lead in the soil was 1,350 parts per million, right in the area that the kids used for the playground.

    The amount of lead in the Bulnes’ backyard was more than three times the amount the federal Environmental Protection Agency considers a hazard in play areas, and almost 17 times the amount California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment considers a health risk.

    When Vanessa got the lead results back, she called Head Start immediately, and they came out and put a temporary rubber cover on part of the patio. But they emphasized a permanent solution had to be found if she wanted to keep her contract. Alameda County has a financial assistance program to help low-income residents remove or fix lead problems, with priority for family child care providers like Vanessa. If Vanessa had still lived in a home she owned, she would have had it done right away. But now, she was renting.

    “Because we’re not the owners, we couldn’t apply to have the work done, we needed the owners to give us consent, and that’s where we didn’t get any cooperation with the property owner,” Vanessa said.

    The owner of the Bulnes’ new home wasn’t just any landlord. It was a corporation: Waypoint Homes. It merged in 2016 with another top real-estate investor, Colony American Homes, to become Colony Starwood Homes. Co-chairman of the board, Thomas Barrack, is a billionaire who helped raise $35 million for President Trump’s campaign and chaired his inaugural committee. The company owns more than 30,000 single-family homes across the country and close to 4,000 in California. On the company website, Colony Starwood boasts, “We recognized the unique opportunity created by the housing crisis and acted upon it in a bold way.”
    Now, Vanessa Bulnes had to rely on them to get the lead fixed, so she could keep her contract with Head Start.

    “So I’m on the phone, my husband and I, we’re calling Waypoint, and emails and everything like that,” Vanessa said. “Here we are, the clock is ticking. I’m like OK, I’m taking pictures, this is the area, this is how big it is, this is what we need you to have done.”

    Vanessa first contacted Waypoint in 2013, when the lead was found. But she says property managers came and went, and each time she had to start the process again. In June 2016, almost three years after the lead had been found, Head Start told Vanessa they couldn’t renew for the next school year if the lead wasn’t fixed by September.

    “And I’m like, ‘OK, this is affecting my income.’ I give all these red flags about what’s going to happen if nothing is done. Still no urgency on their part,” Vanessa said.

    In one email in August 2016, a regional manager for Waypoint Homes wrote simply, “Unfortunately, we are not in a position to work with this program at this time.”

    It wasn’t until November that someone from Waypoint Homes finally came to walk through the property with someone from Alameda County. When questioned why it took the company so long to fix the lead problem, a spokesperson did not respond, instead stating that the company finished the work on Nov. 28, 2016.

    By that time, three years after Vanessa’s initial request, it was too late. The school year had already begun, and Head Start had canceled her contract. The family’s main source of income, which had gotten them through the stroke and the foreclosure, was gone. They had to apply for assistance for food, and Vanessa had to change her health insurance from Covered California to Medi-Cal. They began to fall behind on their rent.

    Even before they started working on the lead remediation, Colony Starwood Homes had already begun trying to evict the Bulneses.
For the story, see From Foreclosure to Eviction: One Family’s Struggle to Recover. paint lead contamination epa environmental protection agency