By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

OAK PARK – Area advocates are rallying behind a local grandmother, calling the City’s grab of her Oak Park home tantamount to elder abuse.

Leaders flanked Wanda Clark outside her home last week, calling for support. Clark, 71, is about to lose her three-bedroom house if she can’t come up with thousands of dollars she owes in fines and fees.

The nightmare started from the desire to do a good thing. Clark was already housing a number of grandchildren when her daughter, Kyla Murray, moved in with her own children after her husband was killed. 

“Everybody was on top of everybody, so I decided that I would add two bedrooms, one bath and have an extra space for everybody because I had a whole bunch of little kids,” said Clark, who often slept on her couch in order to make room for others.

A contractor ran off with her money, leaving the job unfinished and Clark’s home open to the elements. She began getting warnings from the City of Sacramento. Fines started racking up and Clark was placed in a receivership, a move her supporters say was designed to aid in the gentrification of her neighborhood.

The City deemed the property uninhabitable and Clark and all those who called her house “home” had to leave. Clark’s house is slated to be auctioned off next week, unless that action is blocked. In the meantime, Clark still works full time as a janitor for Sacramento County, to pay her mortgage and the receivership fees. She’s currently sleeping on a couch at her sisters’ house, directly across the street from the one she isn’t allowed to occupy.

“To go out that door every day and watch somebody else (in that house), that will take my sister’s life. That’s what we’re fighting against,” said another of Clark’s siblings, Terri Austin.

Austin says Clark deserves help. “My sister has done a lot. She’s taken in people off the streets, not only children, but adults, and there was no assistance for her. She was the assistance.”

According to Austin, after the City ordered Clark to vacate the property, they didn’t assist her through the process. “They didn’t say, ‘Hey, you can go here. You can go there.’ The City knows where the resources are. They know who can help,” she continued.

The family is hoping someone, anyone, can step in and help.

Speakers called on other community leaders, housing advocates and professional athletes to join them in working collectively to save Clark’s home.  Greater Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams thanked Kendra Lewis, executive director of the Sacramento Housing Alliance and a board member of Sacramento Investment Without Displacement and Rashid Sidqe, president and founder of the local nonprofit organization Lift Up Love Always, for bringing Clark’s plight to her attention. Williams said she planned to “show up and show out for Clark” and is seeking a meeting with City Manager Howard Chan prior to Clark’s Nov. 3 court date. 

“The NAACP and the rest of us are not playing with this. We do not put our seniors out on the street. We do not put our folks under bridges,” Williams said. “She moved in (this house) in 1995. She hasn’t missed a mortgage payment, she works as a janitor, 71 years old, every day, 12 hours to maintain this house, the very least we can do as a community collectively, is to make sure that she keeps this house.” 

Williams said what’s happening to Clark is a “shame.” 

“We want to make sure that what’s happening to Ms. Clark doesn’t happen to anybody else. I also want to make it clear that we as Black folks, we care about our Black seniors. We are family oriented, we take care of each other,” she said.

Leah Miller, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento, says in the last few years the organization has repaired more than 120 homes predominantly for seniors and veterans to help preserve affordable housing in the community and enable them to age in place.

“One of the most frequent forms of senior abuse in our nation happens at the hands of illegitimate predatory private contractors,” Miller said. “In our repair work here locally, we have found that at least a quarter of the home repair inquiries received are a result of predatory or unpermitted contractor work. This abuse is compounded by archaic and punitive city policies.”

These such policies that Miller says are intended for revenue generation, and have the consequence of displacement of senior homeowners which adds to the gentrification of communities such as Oak Park. 

“As a city, we must do better for senior homeowners like Ms. Clark. She deserves more dignity than she has been given by the systems and by the many people who have failed her,” Miller continued.

Sidqe agrees.

“Clark has worked a lifetime to keep her property, never missed a day of work, never missed a payment. She’s here now, almost homeless. She’s living across the street at her sister’s house on the couch. Is this how we take care of our elders? No,” he said.

Clark’s daughter, Kyla Murray, is worried about the stress her mom has been under. Clark recently recovered from COVID-19, after spending 13 days in the hospital.

“They did the same thing to my grandmother’s house on 3810 16th Avenue, same type of scenario. I just want her to have peace; she’s 71 and should be relaxed,” Murray said.

The situation is also an emotional one for Clark’s granddaughter Alliyah Stone, who burst into tears while talking about what they’ve experienced. 

 “My nanna is like my best friend. She’s always there,” said Stone, who was forced to move to Hayward when they were made to vacate the home. 

 Clark, she said, often took in her friends when the then teens felt they didn’t have anywhere else to go. She did the same for her other grandchildren’s friends as well. 

“This really hurts because she’s literally there for everyone,” Stone continued. “It just saddens me to see her having to go through such a hard thing. She shouldn’t have to go through something like this. Not at her age.“

Leaders say the City should place a moratorium on placing homes owned by the elderly into receivership during the pandemic until it has resources to help them.

Photos by Jameel Pugh and Antonio R. Harvey