Seniors protesting at Burbank Heights. Marylou is bottom right, seated on walker.

Seniors protesting at Burbank Heights. Marylou is bottom right, seated on walker.

(note from Penny: a small plumbing issue in my mom’s apartment was willfully neglected by management and turned into a three month long nightmare. Instead of calling in a clean up service to deal with a wet carpet, ASAP, they moved my mom out, closed the apartment up, and left it for 5 days. What should have been a simple clean up turned into a 15K mold remediation nightmare, with my mom being displaced into a studio apartment for almost three months. This is but one incident in a long list)


Sonoma West Times and New, June 24, 2015

by Tony Landucci, staff writer (used with permission)

List of complaints denied by landlord

A broken hip was the last straw for residents at Burbank Heights and Orchard Apartments Senior Housing in Sebastopol. In May, an elderly resident negotiating a newly replaced door in the senior housing complex’s community building fell and broke her hip. The fall, coupled with concerns about management, led to a picket line and protest by more than two dozen residents of the facility on Wednesday, June 17.

The morning picket line was formed at the center’s board of directors meeting, which was held at the community building near the center of the apartment complex. Residents gathered to block the front entrance with signs displaying grievances such as, “Hire Competent Staff” and “No More Missing Paperwork.”

At the heart of the complaints by residents of the senior community apartment complex is a distrust and lack of confidence in management and the temporary Burbank Heights Administrator, Jill Niebuhr. “She is not mature enough for her role and does not have the training and temperament to deal with seniors and residents,” said Lauralee Aho, a resident who helped organize the protest.

Owned by two local churches, management of the senior housing complex has been in the hands of Christian Church Homes of Northern California for about three decades. The non-profit organization runs 55 properties on the West Coast. Burbank Heights and Orchard is one of two in Sebastopol.

Residents accuse CCH management of losing paperwork needed for residents to get, and keep, subsidies that allow them to afford their rent, including Section 8 housing assistance. However, Niebuhr, in a formal statement, said that no paperwork has been lost and that “Due to an unanticipated employee leave of absence, there have been some delays in processing paperwork but CCH has worked to mitigate this issue.”

“Occasionally, it has been necessary to request updated supporting documents when CCH is in the process of completing certifications. While this may give the impression that the documents have been lost, the truth is HUD requirements dictate certain documents, which have time limits, be updated to reflect the most recent circumstances regarding an applicant seeking affordable housing,” Niebuhr said in the emailed statement.

On the picket line, last week, the group chanted, “Broken hip, how many more – CCH, fix that door,” calling attention to the double door leading to the main community building. The door, on the back side of the community building, was recently replaced in a larger renovation project and residents said the doors are no longer ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) compliant. Judith Kinsey, the Resident Representative on the Board of Directors, said that the door in question does not need to be ADA compliant because the building’s front entry fulfils the requirement, but adds that it is an often-used entry and would be more user-friendly with an ADA compliant door opener.

The old door had an electric powered automatic door opener that allowed residents to push a button to gain access the building. The newly replaced doors do not have this feature and residents believe that this led to the injury of their neighbor, who is currently back at home, at her apartment, in recovery. Niebuhr said that the old door was not automated but that “we are currently taking steps to install an automated door as soon as possible.”

In addition to the door, Aho said there are a number of other issues and problems that developed as the property went through renovations.

While landscaping was being removed, ground level lighting for a few walking paths was removed and replaced with solar fixtures. According to Aho and Kinsey, the lights that now illuminate a small but heavily used section of the maze of paths that lead to the community building, cast a “star pattern” that some residents find disorienting. Kinsey and Aho said that vision and mobility issues are made worse by the pattern cast by the small lights and some residents are afraid to walk after dark in the area where these replacement lights are, at the hub of the apartment complex.

“As you get older your sight isn’t all that great and I know people that do have (vision impairment) that are very afraid to walk over there at night. It has a star effect – it’s very pretty – but totally useless when it comes to trying to see that sidewalk,” said Kinsey.

According to Niebuhr’s statement, “CCH is seeking bids for the replacement of these lights as well as repairing lights on one of the buildings.”

In addition to the lighting, Aho said that a recently paved path that connects several apartment buildings to the community building has no railing despite being somewhat steep. Aho said residents with mobility issues avoid the path because it feels too steep to safely ascend or descend. “We have just learned about the issue regarding the connector path between Buildings M and L. We have dispatched CCH maintenance staff to review the situation and take needed steps to resolve the problem,” said Niebuhr in the statement.

Some residents also said that management had taken months to sort out damage from broken sewer pipes and mix-ups with paperwork that left one woman wondering if she had a place to live at all.

Shira Hadditt said that on Martin Luther King Day, this year (Jan. 18), the sewer backed-up into her apartment causing it to flood. According to Hadditt, it took several hours for a plumber to arrive and she was temporarily moved to a studio apartment while hers was cleaned up. However, Hadditt’s apartment was sealed shut for the three-day weekend with the heater running, causing mold growth, including her clothing, furniture and other possessions. The damage was cleaned up and Hadditt was reimbursed for cleaning costs. She said she spent about two and a half months in the studio apartment while her one bedroom apartment was cleared of mold and repaired. Hadditt said she believed management would have left her in the smaller apartment.

“They would not have done anything if my daughter had not got on the phone three times a week,” Hadditt said.

Burbank Heights’ management sent out a letter addressing concerns about turnover in management positions but the letter said nothing about last week’s protest.

About the change in staffing, the letter read, in part: “It is our hope that the community will welcome management staff member(s) and seek a genuine opportunity to connect with this person.”

 The letter presumably refers to Niebuhr but no names appear in the letter.

“We hear the concerns voiced by residents and appreciate their patience as we take steps to address current challenges,” Niebuhr said at the end of her statement.

The press was not permitted to attend the board of directors meeting, nor were residents, who are represented by Kinsey, who is elected by the residents of the community.

In spite of the complaints about recent events, residents say they are happy with their home and their community. For example, a farmers’ market was set-up in the community building just after the protest.