Residents of affordable housing are vital members of our communities.
They’re our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family. The stories in this section of our Study Room celebrate residents’ power and show how affordable housing can stabilize and strengthen our communities as a whole.
We thank these residents for sharing their stories with us and honor the tremendous leadership role played by EBHO’s Resident Community Organizing Program (RCOP), which works to build community power in our neighborhoods every day. Many residents featured on this page are or were leaders with this program.
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Residents of Affordable Housing
Carol is a leader in EBHO’s Regional Policy Committee and the East Bay Gray Panthers. She is a Section-8 Voucher holder, meaning she pays 30% of her income in rent and federal subsidies pays the difference between that and market rent directly to the person who owns the property she lives in.
“I’ve been interested in politics since way back, but I got deeply involved in housing issues after getting involved with EBHO and the Gray Panthers.”
Carol Crooks trained as an elementary and early childhood teacher, and she often worked clerical and transcription jobs while also substitute teaching. She was unhoused for a period in her mid-forties, sleeping in a leaking camper in her cousin’s yard where it wasn’t safe to use the heater. Through the Section 8 Voucher program, which uses federal and state funds to bridge the gap between 30% of her income and the market cost of rent, she’s been stably housed on the Oakland/Berkeley border for more than 20 years.
“I’ve been through a ringer, and now I see other people going through it. It’s turning into a regular pipeline where people go homeless. It’s particularly true for the elderly. Half the people who are homeless now in the Bay Area are 50 and up, and it’s rapidly getting worse. A lot of people were squeezed out of here. A lot of people were given vouchers and couldn’t find housing in Oakland, so they had to move further out. I’d like to see those people able to come back.
“I would like to see a lot more Black and brown faces in my neighborhood again. I don’t want to be in a segregated area. I would like to see the cities tax empty houses and make sure that it costs them to sit there. Make them pay the tax every month, not once a year. It’s an out-of-control real estate market, the [same] way the stock exchange is out of control. It’s a problem. We are becoming an oligarchy instead of a democracy.”
Denise is a leader with EBHO’s RCOP committee and a resident of Sylvester Rutledge Manor, Christian Church Homes.
“My search for affordable housing lasted about 23 years, and I don’t believe in no instant nothing! I worked hardest for it when I needed it most – after my husband died and I was homeless for two years. I found refuge for a time at St. Mary’s transitional housing, and I think in that time I must have filled out about 50 applications for every apartment from here to Sacramento. I needed a home, a place to grieve, heal and get back on my feet. To build my self-esteem back up.
We have a responsibility to help, serve and protect people on the streets. They should be getting keys, not handcuffs. Since I got back up on my feet, I’ve worked on a lot of campaigns to give healthcare to the homeless and increase SSI and food stamps for seniors. I’ve worked with the Residents United Network to pass local measures that create more affordable housing. I’m excited to see people with different opinions come together for one vision.
These days they call me Super Nana, and I’m the president of the Council of Elders for St. Mary’s Hope & Justice Program. Hope and justice are very important things; it’s rewarding to come to justice, to come to right. My hard years taught me that everything worth having has to be earned the hard way, and I believe the things we need most as a community have to be earned together.” Interview with EBHO staff for our 2019 Affordable Housing Guidebook.
“I was diagnosed with Cervical Stenosis and eventually lost my home, placed my possessions in storage, and then lost my storage and all my belongings. I had joint custody of my daughter Evelyn, but I had to send her to live with her mother in Oregon. She was still young, but I started getting news that she was struggling in school and felt a lot of urgency to find a solution.
I heard about this opportunity to apply to a new home being built here in Pittsburg and was able to get on the phone with the manager. His name was Joseph, and he had a secretary named Mary. I said, “Wait a minute – this feels spiritual.” I was the last to apply, but I was the very first to move in.
Living here for the last ten years, I’ve tried to teach Evelyn that we’re living off the values of affordable housing. I see all the other children who don’t have that security, who can’t flourish in the community in that same way, and I ask what more can I do to have an impact? I think we need to change the narrative around affordable housing so people don’t see folks as asking for a handout, but instead see the families and the children who need help. Thriving communities are inclusive – they include people of all different backgrounds and races, as well as children, adults, seniors, high earners and low earners. If we’re going to have real impact, we need to consolidate everyone under one platform.” Interview with EBHO staff for our Affordable Housing Guidebook in 2019.
Fredericka Robinson is a member of EBHO’s RCOP Committee and a resident at Cathedral Gardens, Oakland, EAH Housing.
“In February, I marked 23 years living with HIV. The anniversary made me reflect on all the people who have been positive forces in my life – all the people who told me I would make it. The people in my life gave me hope, but having access to affordable housing is also a major reason why I’m in the place I am today.
Affordable housing for me means that every morning I wake up with the knowledge that I can lie in my bed, keep my head above water, and live another day.
But affordable housing is relative, which is why I think the income restrictions need to be changed. Affordable housing should mean that people, regardless of their income, can put food on the table, live a good life, and take care of their families.
Now that I have an affordable place to live, I’m considering going back to school to earn my Master’s degree. Since I was able to find my place in affordable housing, I’m trying to support others, whether it’s by helping them fill out applications or advocating for better policies.
A good example was the A1 campaign for a housing bond in Alameda County. When the campaign succeeded, it felt really good. I knew that I had worked for something that would make a difference. I was at the kickoff rally, and that campaign showed me that a few positive people can start something powerful.”
Nu Huynh is a resident of Frank G Mar Apartments in the Chinatown Neighborhood in Oakland; her building is owned by East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC).
Even 25 years later, Nu Huynh remembers what it felt like when she learned that she was accepted into the affordable Frank G. Mar apartments in Oakland’s Chinatown: “It was like winning the lottery.”
Her life has been tied to the building ever since. She still lives in the same apartment where she raised her daughter and persevered through the passing of her husband. With her daughter now in college, she spends much of her time building community in and around the apartments. “Whenever she sees anyone new … she always says hi to them. It’s okay if they don’t respond, she likes to say hi at least,” says Lily, her resident manager. She also takes it upon herself to help deliver mail, and to volunteer at Christmas and New Year events.
Nu Huynh’s housing hasn’t just allowed her to stay in Chinatown, but it has given her the chance to deepen her roots and improve her community. She regularly attends District 2 meetings, which are held near the apartments, and constantly advocates for safer and cleaner streets in her neighborhood. She is especially passionate about safety, and represents Frank G. Mar apartments at Neighborhood Crime Prevention Meetings.
Nu has also become a strong advocate for affordable homes, and she has participated in campaigns with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network to increase resources for building and preserving affordable housing. “When I really needed housing, I got it, and so now I want to help others who really need it.”
Karen Smulevitz is a member of EBHO’s RCOP committee, one of our Affordable Housing Honorees in 2020. She lives at Palo Vista Apartments, Oakland Housing Authority. She is pictured above (right) with EBHO Executive Director, Gloria Bruce.
Since moving to Oakland in 1969, Karen Smulevitz has always been politically engaged with her community. Before living in Palo Vista Senior Apartments, Karen spent 13 years at a poorly managed apartment that was “not up to code.” Because of conditions that were “not healthy or clean”, Karen was often hospitalized for cases of pneumonia.
When Karen heard about a lottery for housing, she entered her application and soon after moved into Palo Vista, where she and her dog, Ebony, have now been living since 2012. With healthier living conditions and affordable rent, Karen no longer suffers from episodic pneumonia or significant financial stress.
As a strong advocate for affordable housing, Karen believes that “everyone deserves a decent place to live.” In Spring 2013, Karen spoke before City Council and helped win 25% of Oakland’s former redevelopment funds for affordable housing. Karen now volunteers with the Oakland Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative (OSNI) to revamp the economic, commercial, and housing development of International Boulevard, a major corridor of East Oakland poised for big changes.
Says Karen, “I’d like people to realize that…everyone benefits when all those who need housing have decent housing that’s clean and safe and attractive and comfortable. When people have that security, life is better. My goal is to see some progress and have this project meet the needs of the people of the needs who live here without displacing people, kicked out because they can’t afford to live here anymore. And good housing also incorporates all the good things that a city has a to offer and that’s jobs and housing and transportation and safety.”
With her own secure home, Karen can continue to help build the “vibrant community” in Oakland that she envisions.” Karen spoke with EBHO staff in 2014 for this profile and she remains a member and leader at EBHO.
Residents of Community Land Trusts
Read our interview with residents of Fairmount House, a 10-unit apartment building in Oakland that is part of the Bay Area Community Land Trust.
More Stories: Formerly Unhoused East Bay Residents
Read more stories of formerly unhoused people and residents of affordable housing in Street Spirit, an independent newspaper in the East Bay dedicated to covering homelessness and poverty from the perspective of those most impacted.
Each year we host a Leadership Academy to train new leaders and welcome resident leaders into our Resident Community Organizing Program. You can find information about that program here. Sign up to receive emails about this and other EBHO programs.