By SAM CHOLKE
Tensions boiled over last week over relocating tenants from the Sutherland Apartments.
About 40 people from the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization picketed in front of new owner MAC Property Management’s 53rd Street office on Aug. 20 calling for better treatment of the 43 households being relocated from the apartment building at 4659 S. Drexel Ave.
“It is clear that MAC Properties values profit over people,” said Jitu Brown of KOCO. The residents are being “treated like animals,” he said.
KOCO and MAC parent company Antheus Capital have been in negotiations over what services would be extended to residents since the building was purchased on July 29 from Heartland Housing and all residents were told their leases would not be renewed.
At the beginning of last week, KOCO and Antheus continued to negotiate benefits for residents moving out of the dilapidated apartment building. Residents have been promised their first month rent and security deposit and moving expenses will be paid. They will also receive financial assistance for up to 12 months if they cannot find an apartment at an equal or cheaper rent.
On Aug. 17, Antheus gave residents a five-day eviction notice and negotiations stopped and the dialogue has turned bitter.
The eviction notice is a “scare tactic,” Brown said. “Their main purpose is clearing the building like the tenants are cattle.”
Antheus Capital said it issued the eviction notices because only three of the 43 households has paid August rent.
“The entire relationship with the tenants is based on us providing housing for them paying rent,” said Peter Cassel, director of community development for Antheus Capital and MAC Property Management.
Cassel said discussions had been productive up until the protest and Antheus had offered additional benefits to residents the day before the protest.
“We were in dialogue and they chose to end that dialogue and protest,” Cassel said. “At this point, I have no interest in meeting with KOCO.”
On Aug. 19, Antheus had agreed to refund August rent to tenants after they moved out and would clear up any damage to residents’ credit score from the eviction notice.
“We will also provide personalized letters and/or personal telephone calls detailing the circumstance of this filing for you to share with future landlords or other creditors,” Cassel says in an Aug. 19 letter to tenants.
At the protest, Brown said residents did not have faith Antheus would follow up on its promises after the residents have moved out. He also said Antheus has not gone far enough in guaranteeing residents the right to come back to the building once the rehab is complete.
“The only reason I want to come back is it’s a historic arts location to me,” said resident Leroy Bowers, who also sits on the programming board for the building’s historic ballroom.
Bowers was one of only a few residents to turn out for the protest. KOCO said residents were afraid to openly challenge Antheus.
Applications from former residents will be given a priority, but Antheus will not reserve any units, according to Cassel.
“If I can get a resident back for free because they want to come back, that’s very valuable,” Cassel said. “Among the things I can’t do is hold space and wait for Sutherland residents to come back.”
Sutherland residents at the protest said in the back and forth between Antheus and KOCO they were now confused what their responsibilities were and what offers remained on the table.
“Do I pay rent or do I move?” Bowers said.
Cassel said all services and benefits Antheus had agreed to as of Aug. 19 remain available to tenants.
For KOCO, the fight on behalf of the residents is not over.
“This is just the beginning,” Brown said. “We can make MAC’s lives very miserable.”
Cassel said Antheus and MAC would no longer meet with KOCO.
“Right now, we are glad to speak with tenants,” Cassel said.