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 firstname.lastname@example.org or go to opalpalmeradisa.com.