By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

OAK PARK – The realities of the intense gentrification of the city of Sacramento’s oldest neighborhood could effectively put a 71-year-old grandmother and janitorial worker out on the streets.

Wanda Clark’s home in south Oak Park is in court-appointed receivership because of housing code violations and the dwelling located right off 14th Avenue can be auctioned off after Nov. 3, if the proceedings are not halted. 

“The city has been constantly penalizing me and at this point they decided they are tired of dealing with me,” Clark said before an Oct. 13 news conference in front of the house.

“Now they would like to tear my home down and use all my equity in my home. As we speak, at the end of their project I will have nothing, no home, no money, and I will be put on the streets.”

Currently, the three-bedroom, one-bath dwelling has been deemed unlivable by the City. Interior damage, disconnected power, and severe mold growth has made it uninhabitable and dangerous to enter. 

Clark has been living with her sister across the street from the home that had a for sale sign in front of it that has since been removed as of Oct. 26. Since 1995, Clark says she has never missed a mortgage payment. 

In an Oct. 25 email, Clark was notified by the receiver’s attorney of the Kirk Rimmer Law Office, located in Old Sacramento, that she would need a minimum of $175,000 to keep the property. The estimated cost would cover code violations and attorney fees. The amount owed on the house, including attorney fees, is $110,000, which brings the total amount to $285,000. 

As the undesirable situation worsens, Clark’s property could easily fall into the hands of real estate developers that could finance a luxurious home or two right off 14th Avenue near Highway 99.

The process would fall in line with all the other gentrification activities that have taken place in the historic neighborhood — Sacramento’s first suburb — over the last 20 years. 

At the news conference, Clark’s sister Terri Austin explained the bottom line of the matter to supporters, friends, family and community activists that attended the gathering in an effort to salvage the house.

“It’s not like that receivership is set to help anyone. They already told her they can put two housing units on the property,” Austin said. “It’s all (gentrification). I understand (gentrification) is fine but if we’ve been taking care of our homes, we’ve been taking care of ourselves, raising our children here, and have been law-abiding citizens; well, it’s time for someone to step up and help our elderly. Enough is enough. Back up.”

Under California law, a receiver is an individual or representative appointed to “take over control and management of property that is the subject of ligation” and “ultimately to dispose of it in accordance with the court’s final judgment,” according to the California Business Law Practitioner’s Spring 2010 newsletter.  

 Many dormant lots, vacant buildings, and homes built in Oak Park between the 1920s and 1960s that were once partly owned by African Americans have been swallowed by real-estate investment opportunities. 

Clark, who is a custodian for the County of Sacramento, could be the next victim of gentrification in Oak Park and new city and state zoning ordinances created to build sufficient housing.

Leah Miller, the president and chief executive officer for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento, described the system as “elder abuse,” which she says is compounded by “archaic and punitive city policies intended for revenue generation.”

“They have the consequence of displacement of senior homeowners, which adds to the gentrification of communities like right here in Oak Park,” Miller said. “It’s not just here in Sacramento. Receivership is a legalized form of municipal, enforced gentrification. It occurs all over the country.” 

Habitat for Humanity provides affordable home ownership opportunities to low-income, hardworking families, as well as provides affordable critical repairs and preservation opportunities to vulnerable elderly and Veteran homeowners to help them stay in their homes and age with dignity.

According to the Urban Displacement Project (UDP), a research and action initiative of the University of California Berkeley and the University of Toronto, gentrification is “a process of neighborhood change that includes economic change in a historically disinvested neighborhood.”

Real estate investment and new higher-income individuals moving in from cities such as San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles also promotes “changes in the education level or racial make-up of residents,” UDP stated. 

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s (NCRC) 2019 report on gentrification and cultural displacement identified a “small group of boomtowns” that have experienced large-scale gentrification and notable displacement of longtime minority communities.

Between 2013 and 2017, the NCRC identified 954 neighborhoods with signs of gentrification. The studies were concentrated in “intensely gentrifying metro areas,” where a large percentage of low-income and low-home value neighborhoods were eligible for gentrification.

Nationally, half of all of the gentrifying neighborhoods were in 20 cities. San Francisco-Oakland, San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Sacramento were listed as five of the top 20 cities for intensity of gentrification in NCRC’s June 2020 report. 

The current movement in Oak Park, an area southeast of downtown, is in full swing. An increase in the economic value in homes, an invasion of businesses owned by non-Black people, and a growing rate of college-educated residents are changing the dynamics of the neighborhood.

Rashid Sidqe & Wanda Clark

Rashid Sidqe, executive director of the Sacramento-based non-profit organization Lift Up Love Always (LULA), said the proceedings against Clark are fraudulent and receivership is used as a front.

“Nobody wants to talk about it, but yes, it’s all about gentrification,” Sidqe told The OBSERVER. “The receivership is a scam and our elders are getting bullied. Another couple from the Arden Area is getting bullied by the same receivership group.”

Clark’s issue, Sidqe said, started 10 years ago when, unbeknownst to her, she hired an unlicensed contractor to make additions to the home. She wanted to build a section above the garage to provide more space for her children and grandchildren. 

Through a home equity loan, Clark paid more than $35,000 for the work to be performed but the person never completed the job and later passed away, leaving the northside of the home blighted and in disarray. 

That’s when the fines from the city began flowing in just about every other month and instantly put Clark in debt. 

Peter Lemos, the city’s code compliance chief said in a written statement that a staff worked with the property owner to bring it back up to standard, “waiving thousands of dollars in fees and helping multiple times throughout the process.”

Lemos also inferred that the house became “a location for illegal activity,” he wrote.

“At this phase, the court has ruled that the house should be put into receivership. Nevertheless, the city remains committed to continuing its work to help secure a positive outcome for the property owner,” Lemos stated.

The OBSERVER reached out to the City’s Housing Compliance Division to elaborate on the issue, however, calls were not returned.

Clark did admit that in the beginning she was told that she would obtain help to repair the home. But somewhere down the line she was told to stop making mortgage payments on the property. 

“The receivership started off with saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to solve your problem. We’re going to come out and fix your home,’” Clark said. “But no, instead they would like to tear my home down. They decided that I can’t handle my affairs.”

Clark’s woes arrive at a time when Gov. Gavin Newsom just signed Senate Bill (SB) 9, the California Housing Opportunity and More Efficiency (HOME) Act. 

Authored by California State Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), SB 9 will allow property owners to split a single-family lot into two lots and place up to two units on each newly created lot. 

A total of four dwellings could legally end up on properties that were limited to single-family houses. Clark’s property would be an ideal location to implement such lots or four-plex units.

“SB 9 will open up opportunities for homeowners to help ease our state’s housing shortage, while still protecting tenants from displacement,” Atkins stated, after Newsom signed the legislation following the Gubernatorial Recall Election. “And it will help our communities welcome new families to the neighborhood and enable more folks to set foot on the path to buying their first home.”

In January 2021, the city of Sacramento approved a preliminary plan eliminating requirements that only allow single-family homes on properties in traditional neighborhoods, too. Four homes in the form of duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes, could be built on one lot. The City Council is expected to finalize the plan at the end of the year or early 2022.

The plan is designed to offer lower-cost housing and inclusion in middle- to upper-class neighborhoods. Overall, Sacramento and the state is in the midst of a severe shortage of affordable housing and city and state officials believe that a change in zoning will uproot the problem.

Sidqe supports the city’s efforts to create affordable housing. But SB 9 and the city of Sacramento gives receivers additional motivation to prey on distressed properties, he said.

“This is really a law that is going to go against poor people or elderly folks who are having monetary issues to keep their properties up to code,” Sidqe said. “The (Clark’s house) is a cheap land grab for the city. The city is in cahoots with the receiver. Gentrification is about investment and receivers making money.”

Basically already homeless, Wanda Clark could officially lose her home by Nov. 3. Under the circumstances, she has little time to raise $175,000 to give to the receiver. 

Betty Williams, Sacramento NAACP President

Betty Williams, the president of the Sacramento branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said Clark’s issue is out of the city’s hands but she has been in contact with Sacramento City Manager Howard Chan to see what could be done next.

“The tricky part is that (the matter) has left the city and is now in the courts,” Williams said. “Nov. 3 is a court date. Now it goes in front of a judge. At this point, people must understand, the city manager cannot stop the court date unless the city attorneys are involved. If the city cannot stop the Nov. 3 date we will have to go into that court to advocate for her.”