Berkeley residents start GoFundMe to help senior veteran regain housing

Leonard Powell/Courtesy

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Friends of Adeline, a South Berkeley neighborhood organization, started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for retired Berkeley resident Leonard Powell in order to help him regain access to his home.

Powell is a retired senior veteran who moved into his home with his wife and six children in 1974. In 2015, housing inspectors found code violations in Powell’s home in need of repairs such as heating, plumbing and wiring. According to the GoFundMe page, city-approved contractors quoted that the cost for the house’s repair would come out to cost between $150,000 to $200,000. The city summoned him to court, and in 2016, Powell entered an agreement with the city in which he would pay $350,000 in order to complete the work to the court’s satisfaction.

According to the GoFundMe page, the city moved Powell’s house into “receivership.” At this point, a judge assigned the property a “receiver” who would be given the power to make decisions regarding the house’s repairs. Powell and his family were asked to leave their home on June 22, 2017.

“I was told by the receiver that I would be out of my house no later than September, maybe October 2017 at the latest,” Powell said. The project wasn’t finished until the following September. The receiver hired Habitat for Humanity. … Habitat for Humanity did not talk to me. They didn’t seek me out. … I never talked to them officially.”

The finished house was converted back into a duplex with Italian shower curtains, marble countertops, a new refrigerator, oven and other changes that “(were) not called for,” Powell said.

According to Powell, he was charged more than $600,000 after the renovation, due by March 15.

“How does this happen in United States in the 21st century, where I have no influence?” Powell said. “My wife died in that house. I miss my house. Because not only did they take off what she loved, they took off her spirit.”

Mari Mendonca, a member of Friends of Adeline who was born and raised in Berkeley, said Powell is a “humble person” who was forced into receivership while he was in the process of repairing his home. Mendonca added that members of Friends of Adeline have been researching and helping Powell find legal and financial support to help with his situation.

Mendonca said that when the members of Friends of Adeline went door to door in Powell’s neighborhood for help, his neighbors, previously unaware of Powell’s situation, became willing to come to court with them. As of press time, the GoFundMe page has raised about $22,000 in the past eight days and will close March 11.

“It’s amazing to see people when they find out issues like this,” Mendonca said. “People really do care about things — it’s just that they don’t hear about it. … It gives you hope to see that there are people who care. … It’s just inspiring, and it feels great to see the community come together on something that’s meaningful like this.”

Bella An covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @BellaAn_dc.