Local Poet and Teacher Struggles to Regain her Home

Opal Palmer Adisa

It’s a story you’ve probably heard before and maybe discounted. Or, you thought, it can’t happen to me.

Many of us Oakland progressives have spent most of our adult lives fighting for tenants’ rights so when things go so wrong for a landlord or, in this case, a homeowner who is a single parent, we have trouble believing it really happened this way.

Believe it. Opal Palmer Adisa, author, teacher, poet, radio parenting expert, has found herself outside her home looking in, wondering what has happened to all her family memorabilia, her writing notes, books, and art collections since she cannot enter her home to check on, much less retrieve them.

Her saga started when she took a visiting professor position at the University of the Virgin Islands, one of many visiting writing-professorships she has enjoyed all over the world.

She left home for a year because she could earn more money that way-money she needed to help put her children through college. The first thing she did was to contact the realtor that she had used on previous trips to find tenants for her 4 bedroom home in the Millsmont area of Oakland.

Ms. Adisa had realized that her house was “upside down” in value to mortgage, as many in her neighborhood were, but was determined to preserve the home she had raised her three children in for the last decade, for their future.

A few months after she left, she began to hear that the family she had rented to was falling behind in the rent ever more frequently. She asked her property manager to check with them and find out whether they would be able to keep up the payments for the remainder of the one year lease.

During that period she also began to seek a loan modification and, in a familiar story of the American Dream gone wrong, the bank responded by ignoring her requests and/or losing her paperwork  month after month. Finally, with the help of Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office, she signed up for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and began that process.

But Chase Bank had bought her mortgage holder during this time and the paperwork was reshuffled yet again. During the mix-up Chase foreclosed and quickly “sold” her home before the folks at HAMP discovered the problem.

She found out because her property manager called her and told her the tenants were completely refusing to pay rent, saying that she no longer owned the house. Ms. Adisa contacted HAMP which notified Chase to rescind the sale and it did. But they told her she would have to start the modification process all over again. She was, however, subsequently able to obtain a modification.

Unfortunately, somewhere during that time everything else started to unravel. The manager who was supposed to be evicting the non-paying tenants moved away and abandoned her responsibilities while the tenants refused to pay anything. At this point, the lease was up and Adisa was on her way home to reclaim her house.

Opal Palmer Adisa has been back for months but she’s not home yet. The tenants have overstayed their lease while refusing to pay rent at all or to even let her visit the premises to check on her things.

She has sent certified letters which have been refused. In response, she has received threatening phone calls from the tenants and even been arrested sitting-in on her own doorstep.

Ms. Adisa is a small Jamaican-American woman with a gentle nature. If you ever heard her lilting voice on the former KPFA Morning Show, giving advice on positive parenting, you would know that she’s never been a threat to anyone, except maybe bad parenting practices.

She can no longer pay her mortgage, modified or not, if she is to pay her daughter’s tuition and keep body and soul together. At fifty-six, Opal Palmer Adisa is getting tired of this struggle.

She has been told that it could cost her up to $10,000 and six months to get her family home back and even then that she will not recover any of her hard-spent money; and that “if they trash my house, I will not recoup anything.”

She has been trying to finish a book of short stories she is supposed to be working on this summer but cannot concentrate and has “lost countless sleepless nights.” When asked how she keeps going, she told me that she still walks and meditates in order to keep her spirit in its usual optimistic bent.

In her typical fashion, she has written about this struggle. The first issue she addressed was her belief in tenants’ rights and her desire to not see them breached.

However, as a single Black woman who has worked hard to build a home for her family, a home she hoped to pass on to her children, she is feeling violated. She says that she has had her “sacred space snatched” from her and wants it back, even if only to lose it again. If she is going to lose her home, she says, she wants to be the one that moves out.

Opal Palmer Adisa would like to see this struggle end by bringing “fairness and equity to tenants and homeowners alike.” She has even engaged in fasting as a protest against the laws that protect bad tenants over a single homeowner.

You can read more at housejackedoaktown@gmail.com or go to opalpalmeradisa.com.


6 Comments on "Local Poet and Teacher Struggles to Regain her Home"

  1. That’s horrible!! She can’t get the police to kick the tenants out?

    Thanks for sharing this Pamela. I am going to tweet about it. Maybe the publicity will get her the help that she needs. 🙁

  2. Hi Pamela- The East Bay Rental Housing Association offered to help when we were contacted by Nancy Nadel. We havent heard back but would be happy to assist in determining what needs to, and can be done.

  3. Irwin Fletcher | July 28, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Reply

    Unfortunately there are many homeowners in Oakland that have the same plight. This is a vicious side effect of just cause eviction and rent control. Unfortunately if Ms. Adisa (and other Oakland homeowners with tenants) try to evict tenants (even with cause), it becomes a very long, expensive, and exhaustive process. There needs to be an effective, efficient process that restores the dignity in owning homes in Oakland, and keeps people like Ms. Adisa here.

    Rent & Eviction control are broken in Oakland & we need to stop it. It has caused homeowners to stop caring, streets are getting worse as a result, and the criminals (such as her tenants) are taking over.

  4. Tenants can’t just decide to stay in a house without paying. So how are they able to stay there so long without paying and without being evicted? There must be more to this story.

  5. Rick Philips | July 29, 2011 at 2:25 am | Reply

    77% of apartment buildings in Oakland are 2-4 unit buildings.
    Unfortunately, many homeowners and small landlords in Oakland have found out the hard way how ‘unjust’ the so called ‘Just Cause’ ballot measure worked out in real life. No, ‘tdlove’, the police will NOT kick the tenants out! Go online and read the Measure EE law you voted for!
    Unlike laws passed by the City Council that require hearings and dissenting views to be heard, a ballot measure is written by one side, in this case tenant attorneys, with no open process to improve it. And while laws can be amended by the City Council, ballot measures like EE can only be changed by another ballot measure.
    So what went wrong? EE won by a handful of votes. It has backfired, protecting bad tenants and making neighborhoods more dangerous and blighted. Ms. Adisa is the tip of the iceberg.
    What surprises landlords is how shocked Oakland voters are that the supposedly ‘Just’ ballot measure is working out exactly as landlords warned it would. Why the surprise?
    Why didn’t we have an open conversation about this during the election? Because the 30 year hate campaign succeeded against Oakland small apartment owners. Over half the voters refused to listen, believing instead the hate campaign and smears. Cartoons are easier to grasp.
    There were NOT lots of unjust evictions. There was NOT a problem. The problem was eviction attorneys needed more cases and Measure EE helped them a lot. Before Measure EE, Ms. Adisa could have gotten her nightmare tenants out for $1000-$2000. Now it will cost her $15-$20,000. How do small landlords do it? They can’t! (How is crime in your neighborhood?)
    Kudos to Pamela Drake for having the courage to speak up about this individual injustice!
    Oakland apartment owners and neighborhood safety activists look forward to her future articles on how the so-called ‘Just Cause’ ballot law visits injustice on ALL of Oakland neighborhoods every week.
    If ever there was a poster child for NOT using ballot measures to legislate, Measure EE is it!
    If you want a safer Oakland, restore to Oakland landlords the power to control their properties!

  6. Hi Pam,

    There is a group in Oakland working with people who are in danger of losing their houses. (I think it is Just Cause). Is Opal in connection with them? Can we work with them through WDRC?


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