February 24, 2024
Residents will rally at council, which will consider forming committee to solve issues at The Oaks

OAKLEY — One family at The Oaks sleeps with the lights on. Not because they are afraid of the dark, but because they fear the cockroaches that come out of their hiding places at night to forage for food – on the counters, table, chairs, cupboards and showers. Everywhere.

Even after an exterminator sprayed their apartment this summer, the family, who asked that their names not be used for fear of retribution, was horrified when one daughter found an army of the nocturnal insects invading the kitchen when she got up for some juice one night.

“When you spray, you agitate them and it brings them out more,” the mom said. “So it’s kind of a Catch 22. You don’t want more to come out. So what do you do?”

The family has had to throw out many of their kitchen items and the bunk beds where roaches had nested. The couch also will be tossed as live roaches were seen walking across it, the mom said.

“I have to get rid of the rest of the couch now because my daughter had one crawling on her,” she said. “I can’t let my family sit there anymore. … My table is going to end up going. I’ve seen them on my dresser, my nightstand. I’ve seen one on my bed.”

Another tenant, Brittany Aiello, never experienced bugs until she moved to The Oaks five years ago. Now she spreads sticky bug traps in front of her door in a futile attempt to keep the roaches – which she thinks are coming from a nearby community garbage disposal room – away.

“I have to spray my door down with Raid every day, making puddles of bug spray, to keep them at bay,” she said. “We call and call and beg the office for help; no one helps.”

Aiello said she can’t do her laundry at her building anymore, either.

“The roaches were all over the laundry room walls and door and all over the washing machines,” she said.

WinnCompanies, the property manager, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

The tenants are hoping that they will get some answers when they go to Tuesday’s Oakley City Council meeting, where they plan to share their stories and when council members will consider forming an affordable housing advisory committee to look at the problems.

It won’t be the first time, though, that residents will tell the council about the ongoing problems at their affordable housing complex on Carol Lane. A month earlier, they laid out the troubles, which included roaches and vermin and an overall lack of maintenance in some of the buildings there.

One senior’s apartment was treated and she was able to move back in after weeks away, but for others in the nearby family apartments at The Oaks, nothing has changed, they say.

That’s why Mike Dupray, a volunteer tenant advocate, said he is rallying residents to tell their stories and hoping the council can set up an ad hoc committee to find solutions for The Oaks. A visit to an infested apartment prompted him to take action, he said.

Sticky bug strips are placed near a door and along the door frame to catch the cockroaches coming into an apartment at The Oaks in Oakley, Calif., on Sept. 2, 2023. (Brittany Aiello) 

Developed by the Corporation for Better Housing nonprofit, the 500-unit complex in central Oakley is part of the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, which offers tax credits for those who build or rehabilitate low-income housing. State inspectors visited the site on Aug. 29, and found roaches and other compliance issues, but the full report will not be ready for 45 days, according to Christian Daly, a communications specialist with the California State Treasurer’s Office.

The city’s code enforcement division has also visited one apartment there recently. The report reveals officers only found one live roach in the shower — one live roach during the daylight constitutes an infestation as dozens more are likely hiding in the walls and pipes — and a dead roach attached to tape that the family had put on a wall and ceiling to cover a gap where they fear insects were nesting.

Dupray thinks officers should have taken a better look to find the roaches, which he clearly saw two weeks later. Code enforcement officers were scheduled to return on Friday but did not show up.

“I want to make sure they inspect the place properly and go hunting instead of just walking in the door, looking and seeing only one roach and calling it a day,” he said. “I want to be proactive. I want aggressiveness.”

Another neighbor, John Gonzalez, had problems with mold in his walls. He first told management about the stench he smelled in 2021. The walls were later painted, but it wasn’t until this spring that code enforcement inspected the room and management later pulled out the moldy insulation and fixed the problem in late July after several delays. During the work, which went on for 10 weeks, Gonzalez and his mother were given a motel room.

Gonzalez did lose many of his clothes as a result of the mold, something his renter’s insurance would not cover, he said.

As for the roaches, Gonzalez says he and his mother use store-bought roach treatments but the problem is “starting to get worse.” He also bemoaned the mice and rats that he occasionally sees in the hallways.

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“The garbage room is absolutely atrocious in there; it’s unbearable,” he said. “You have to walk by it because that’s the first room that’s in there to walk into the hallway. And when you walk by it, the whole hallway smells like garbage and death.”

Gonzalez said he plans to attend Tuesday’s council meeting to see what can be done. “I’ll advocate for something, with what’s best for everybody there.”

Councilwoman Shannon Shaw, meanwhile, is gathering information on what city code enforcement can and cannot do and hopes to find solutions to the issues at The Oaks, including through the advisory committee she hopes her fellow council members will support.

“I’m hoping to have maybe a couple of council members, several community members – and hopefully get some meetings with management and kind of really dive into what the issues are,” she said.

Shaw said having a committee will allow members to really focus on the issues.

“Hopefully, we can really make a difference,” she said.