Redwood Gardens residents argue with management over communication problems

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Peni Hall is one of Redwood Gardens' original residents and has lived there since it opened 28 years ago. In October 2014, she participated in a protest against the building's management.

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A council of about 30 apartment residents is criticizing a $3.3 million project to renovate a federally subsidized housing complex for seniors, with some saying the management company has engaged in wasteful spending and has not communicated well with residents about why the project is taking place.

According to a press release from the involved management company, CSI Support & Development Services, the renovations are meant to improve the “community, buildings and grounds” of the Redwood Gardens Apartments, a 169-unit complex that houses largely low-income senior residents and residents with disabilities. The renovations, which residents have disputed for more than a year, will likely be completed in July.

The residents have now met three times with representatives of CSI Support & Development Services and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, according to Eleanor Walden, co-chair of the complex’s residents’ council. She said that before the residents organized, their voices were ignored.

“They’re treating us like children,” Walden said. “We are adults, we are seniors, and we have years and years of professional experience, knowledge and wisdom behind us.”

Mary Kirk, property manager of the complex, said in the press release that the project “was definitely a team effort.” Improvements include upgrades to apartments, common areas and the courtyard of the complex, which used to be run as a cooperative and is located at 2951 Derby St.

“The improvements have been communicated to residents prior to the start of work and throughout the renovation of the community,” Kirk said in the release.

Residents first met with the representatives in October but still have no ability to make their voices heard, according to Walden. She also said there was wasteful spending, recounting one instance where relatively new ceramic floor tiles were torn up and replaced with similar ceramic tiles.

Eduardo Cabrera, regional spokesperson for HUD, said there is room for improvement in communication on both sides, stating that the tenants have been complaining about the management’s style of communication “for quite some time.” He said he was not aware of any substantiated allegations of wasteful spending.

“I know Redwood Gardens is no longer a cooperative,” Cabrera said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to communicate, so we continue to encourage management to be open with communications, and I think management has been receptive to that.“

According to Kirk in the press release, the company will hold a “celebration event” once the renovations are completed in July.

The residents’ council, however, plans to keep organizing to get resident voices heard. Walden, along with Gary Hicks and another member of the residents’ council, went to a National Alliance of HUD Tenants conference in Washington from Saturday to Tuesday.

As the renovations come to an end, Walden said she hopes to continue this activism on a national scale.

“I am interested as an activist in what is going to happen to senior housing nationally as a larger question than just Redwood Gardens,” she said. “I am going to build a group to advocate for housing as a civil right.”

Contact Alex Mabanta at [email protected].