Fire and Fortune 

A year after a fire killed four people at a San Pablo Avenue building for low-income people, many of the former residents are still suffering. The owners of the building? Not so much.

Page 4 of 8

In April 2012, he started renting units in 2551 San Pablo. At that point, there was no evidence of dangerous conditions in the building. The Oakland Fire Department inspected it on April 18, 2012 and found no deficiencies.

At the time, the building was still run by the East Bay Community Recovery Project, but the organization was in the process of moving its Project Pride substance abuse program into the Ashasha hotel next door. The organization had once hoped to purchase 2551 San Pablo. "Unfortunately, Mr. Kim's debt on the building surpassed the appraised value at that time," Executive Director Marta Rose wrote in an email to the Express. "In the meantime, the Ashasha hotel next door became available and we were able to work with the nonprofit developer to purchase and rehab that site."

click to enlarge A former resident of the San Pablo Ave. building, Byron Anderson now lives in a homeless camp. - PHOTO BY LANCE YAMAMOTO
  • Photo by Lance Yamamoto
  • A former resident of the San Pablo Ave. building, Byron Anderson now lives in a homeless camp.

Lowery had arranged to rent space in the building with Jabari Herbert, an Oakland developer. Herbert, in turn, had signed a 55-year lease with DCSI Holdings for his nonprofit organizations, Dignity Housing West Inc. and House of Change Inc. Herbert's lease called for paying the Kims' company $28,550 monthly, which would rise to $38,000 over the next five years. Under the lease, the tenant was responsible for maintaining the heat, electrical, plumbing, and doors for the building while the landlord was responsible for the roof, foundation, exterior walls, and common areas. Keith Kim signed on behalf of DCSI Holdings.

Keith Kim's bankruptcy case finished on Oct. 2, 2012. Two days later, Herbert signed a formal agreement for Lowery to rent space on the second floor to provide housing services at a rate of $250 per person or $10,000 per month, whichever was more.

Problems cropped up at the building not long after Dignity Housing West and Urojas took over. In February 2013, a resident complained to the city of Oakland that there was no heat or hot water in their unit, city records show. But city officials had a difficult time reaching a representative of Keith Kim's company Mead Avenue Housing Associates. For the phone number and address on file, the voicemail was full and letters were returned. A letter sent regular mail was marked "return to sender" and certified letters were unclaimed, according to city code enforcement records. City officials were unable to reach the owner for five months to address the complaints. Other residents complained to the city over the next couple of months about leaking pipes, according to city records.

Keith Kim signed a lease renting the first two floors to Lowery on Sept. 30, 2014. It was only effective between Nov. 1, 2014, and Oct. 31, 2015, and monthly rent started at $8,000 and would increase to $18,000 over the course of the next year. Lowery was responsible for building maintenance, except for the exterior walls and roof. (The Express reviewed copies of the leases.)

Keith Kim later said that by that point, Dignity Housing had left the building entirely in Lowery's control. "For clarification sake, Dignity had the Master Lease for the whole building but it placed Urojas into the building and basically walked away," he wrote in a Feb. 23, 2017 email to Oakland City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who was trying to mediate a dispute with Lowery. "I didn't want to release Dignity from its lease with me but also didn't want to have Urojas in the building without a lease. The result is the one-year commercial lease with Urojas, which expired in 2015. Urojas doesn't have another lease or an amendment to this lease."

Complaints continued in 2015. Residents complained about rodent, bedbug, and cockroach infestations throughout the building and mold and mildew from water leaks, according to interviews and city records. City code enforcement records indicate that the property owner — who was not identified in the records — responded to some of the complaints personally.

Richard Myers moved into the second floor of 2551 San Pablo shortly after getting out of jail in 2014. He recalled in an interview that he bought his own traps and poison to deal with the mice and roaches in his apartment. "There was vicious roaches," he said. "We went to war."

The carpeting in the building was full of bedbugs, Myers said. His attorney, Wooksun Hong, who provides legal representation for low-income clients through the Bay Area Legal Incubator, said that before the fire, a resident of the building approached him with a vial of bedbugs.

By December 2015, Keith Kim was officially the secretary and CFO of DCSI Holdings Inc. Around the same time, he hired San Rafael firm BASIS Architecture & Consulting to do a capital needs assessment of 2551 San Pablo.

Keith Kim personally accompanied Matthew Bolado, an analyst with BASIS, on an inspection of the property on Dec. 22, 2015, according to a copy of the final report obtained by the Express.

The assessment recommended $7,800 in immediate repairs and $1.7 million in other repairs. It found much of the building's infrastructure dated back to Keith Kim's original rehabilitation in 1992 or earlier, including the exterior paint, windows, heaters, hot water heaters, and plumbing. Water had intruded in an exterior wall next to a drainage pipe, causing extensive damage and likely necessitating structural repairs. While the inspector didn't open the wall, the report noted that the leak could be growing mold or damaging electrical components and insulation.



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