By Rachel Livinal
Feb. 7, 2023
LONG BEACH, Calif. — It’s a hot and humid summer day in June. Sharon Buckley sits down at a small round table in the middle of Burnett Neighborhood Library, a couple blocks from her home. Setting a large tote bag next to her, she reaches into the bag and pulls out a heavy stack of papers. She starts ruffling through each page, explaining tenant’s receipts, original and updated leases, and letters.
Buckley, 65, lives in the Long Beach and 21st Apartments that are accepted as Section 8 Housing, meaning she and the other tenants receive rental assistance via vouchers.
In April 2019, the building’s management changed. According to the owner of the complex, MetaHousing, the management is run by Western Senior Housing. Buckley and many tenants would soon find themselves at odds with the on-site manager.
“When she came in, everything started changing,” Buckley said. “We’re all evil. We’re liars. We’re mentally sick. Excuse me, I think if we were mentally sick, we’d be in a hospital.”
Many tenants struggled with their mental health while under the manager’s supervision.
Buckley has bipolar depression, which increased the stress she felt towards the harassment she faced.
She said she was almost driven to suicide from the harassment.
Buckley said she thinks the manager picked on people who had a history of mental illness. The manager had access to every tenant’s records, so she was able to see who was referred to the complex by Long Beach Mental Health and what their diagnoses were.
Many tenants moved out because of the manager. One woman even moved out in the middle of the night for fear of eviction and retaliation.
“A common issue that I see with a lot of the residents in the low-income housing and Section Eight programs is that management tends to play off on the fact that they’re very low-income, and they’re threatened with their homes at any given chance they get,” Mayra Fernanda Garcia-Cortez said, a community organizer for LiBRE. LiBRE is a non-profit organization that assists with tenants’ rights.
“Some of these people have been on a waiting list to get into their home for 20 years-plus, and some people end up being on the waiting list for even longer,” Garcia-Cortez said.
This harassment comes with a long price too. Most people who end up there feel trapped.
“And the thing with Section Eight… it’s a really big slot that they have,” Garcia-Cortez said. “A lot of residents when they finally get into a HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) unit, unfortunately, they stay there until they die.”
Along with harassment, security became a major issue for the tenants. Between 2019 to June 2022, over 45 calls for service were made from the building to the Long Beach Police Department, due to “group disturbances” or “unwelcome guests” in the complex.
The union brought security up as a main concern, because it wasn’t addressed while the manager was there, and many times, the manager contributed to it.
The harassment for the tenants came to an end in July, when the regional property manager, announced that their manager was terminated.
“She’s not very happy about it… Going around slamming doors, because she’s cleaning up [her] apartment,” Anna Reyes, another tenant from the complex said.
The 21st Street Collective, a “HUD-protected union” that was formed on the property, celebrated the termination on August 5, 2022.
During the celebration, Garcia-Cortez said that she was oftentimes in places she shouldn’t be, but the breaking point that caused the manager’s termination, was that she wasn’t really ever in the place she needed to be.
“I think what kind of [was the] glass tipping was the manager was gone for about three or four days from her office,” Garcia-Cortez said. “And she had put up a sign saying that she wouldn’t be in and that she would be in training by management and we called the supervisor to come down… and she said there’s no training.”
“[The tenants] received attorney letters [from the manager] after having a meeting with the manager’s supervisor,” Garcia-Cortez said.
Attorney letters were often a form of harassment from the manager during her time there.
Garcia-Cortez said the meeting was to discuss incidents that had occurred between the residents and the manager.
This harassment is very common for those living in low income or Section 8 Housing.
“It becomes a place of hell,” Buckley said. “And as you get older, you can’t really have that, you can’t really do anything for yourself on your own… so you end up becoming even more depressed because you’re stuck here now.”
Since her termination, two temporary managers have taken the original manager’s place. The regional property manager sent out a letter apologizing to tenants that said “efforts to recruit/hire a new manager are ongoing.”
The last three years have been hard for tenants. As they reminisce on all of the events that have taken place in the last three years, several tenants feel they are in a constant state of confusion and unrest as the search for a new manager has become stagnant.
“This is a common issue that has overtaken Long Beach, and this is what we’re here to fight against,” Garcia-Cortez said. “We have rights and we have a right to exercise them whether management likes it or not.”