Berkeley resident returns to home with help of community, city

Leonard Powell/Courtesy

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Longtime South Berkeley resident Leonard Powell was able to return to his home May 28 once he was able to pay for the necessary renovations to meet health and safety codes with the help of the community, according to a post by South Berkeley resident group Friends of Adeline.

Powell is a Berkeley senior citizen, veteran and retired postal worker, according to the GoFundMe campaign created on his behalf, which helped raise money so he could regain ownership of his home. After the city’s code enforcement unit inspected Powell’s residence, Powell’s property was placed in receivership April 17, 2017, because of violations of the Health and Safety Code and Berkeley Municipal Code, which, according to a staff report by City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley written in March, “substantially endangers the health and safety of the public.”

“We are very pleased that Mr. Powell is back in a safe home,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko in an email. “The fact that many people supported him speaks to one of the strengths of our community.”

According to the staff report, the Peace and Justice Commission and the Housing Advisory Commission have expressed concern over the code and the effect of its enforcement on low-income homeowners such as Powell, a sentiment reflected by other members of the community as well. Williams-Ridley said in the staff report that she believes that current city policies, practice and records “demonstrate the proper mechanisms in place” and that additional recommendations are not needed.

The Friends of Adeline cited the high price tag that Powell had to pay to return to his home in the post. According to the staff report, the Superior Court of Alameda County appointed Gerard Keena as the receiver, and Keena initially estimated that it would cost $175,000 to correct code violations. On further inspection of Powell’s property, serious foundation issues were discovered, and with the added work needed in conjunction with other fees, the amount Powell owed was raised to $680,000.

“While we are celebrating we also need to realize that this fight is not over,” the post said. “We see a city where the building department serves the police in punishing people by forcing them out of their homes unless they are able to pay for major repairs.”

According to Chakko, Powell received a $100,000 loan — the maximum allowed — from Berkeley’s Senior and Disabled Home Rehabilitation Loan Program to help him stay in his home. Chakko said in his email that the city also helped Powell gain a loan from the Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, to help him pay his debt and that the city agreed to subordinate the loan so that the VA would be paid back before the city.

According to the GoFundMe campaign, $88,871 was raised by more than 1,800 people.

“The City’s efforts to support Mr. Powell … demonstrate the City’s commitment to assisting our community members with staying in their homes, and improving their health and safety,” the staff report said.

Emily Hom is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hom_emily.