Berkeley resident sues city over alleged negligence, housing discrimination

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In 1987, Berkeley residents Kevin and Lisa Gilmore were set to move into the low-income duplex that they won in a housing lottery. Instead, Lisa Gilmore became homeless and Kevin Gilmore began a decadeslong struggle with the city of Berkeley.

More than 30 years later, on Oct. 18, 2018, Kevin Gilmore filed a complaint against the city of Berkeley, claiming, among other allegations, discrimination and negligence.

Lisa Gilmore, who was Kevin Gilmore’s sister, suffered from sickle cell anemia. She spent her savings on the house, according to the complaint, and when the two could not move in on time, Lisa Gilmore became homeless.

In July 1988, while she was homeless, Lisa Gilmore’s body was found in the basement of an abandoned house in Oakland. The cause of her death is still unknown, according to a police report.

Kevin Gilmore’s complaint contains seven allegations, including negligence, housing discrimination, violation of the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, and violations of Section 18 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, which handles demolition of public housing.

Kevin Gilmore claims that relocation expenses were not provided to him and his sister when they could not move in, and the duplex was demolished by the city in 1988 and had to be rebuilt completely.

According to the complaint, Kevin Gilmore did not know that the house needed to be demolished when he purchased it, but claims that the city of Berkeley knew the extent of its degeneration. He included in the court filing the report from an inspection done by the city of Berkeley in 1978 that noted fungus damage “beyond repair,” dry rot and beetles in the house.

Kevin Gilmore claims he had to pay for the rebuilding of the house, for which he had to take out loans.

The property, located at 1646 Fifth St., originally belonged to the Berkeley Redevelopment Agency, or RDA — an organization that no longer exists. The city of Berkeley had taken over from the RDA.

Steve Barton, former housing director for the city of Berkeley, said one of the goals of the RDA was to tear down old, dilapidated buildings and rebuild. The agency was required to build a certain amount of low-income housing. Barton is unfamiliar with Gilmore’s specific complaint, but spoke to general practices in selling below market-rate housing.

“If it was specifically restricted as low-income housing and the city was selling it at below-market rate, then good program design suggests that you also make sure that the property is thoroughly inspected and that there is a plan in place to fix any problems,” Barton said.

Kevin Gilmore is representing himself in this case. After detailing his situation to the city of Berkeley, he now requests a jury trial to determine the compensatory damages as well as special and general damages.

Igor Tregub, a member of Berkeley’s Housing Advisory Commission and a City Council District 1 candidate, said currently, most home inspections are complaint-based. This means that while residents are required to conduct inspections and obtain permits to build houses, there is no requirement for inspecting homes before standing houses go up on the market or new tenants move in.

The city of Berkeley said it is unable to comment on pending litigation.

Madeleine Gregory covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @mgregory_dc.