Tour of Golden Gate Village Apartments Reveals Squalid Conditions

The dead rat lay next to a towel in the hall closet. A dying rat was in a trap in the kitchen pantry.

I observed the rodents, and many other issues, last weekend while touring a few apartments at Golden Gate Village, a public housing project in Marin City. By far, the worst problems I saw were in Lanesha Lynn’s unit.

Lynn lives in a two-story townhouse at Golden Gate Village with her sons, an eight-year-old and a 21-year-old. “Live” is actually a misnomer. The rats took over the apartment months ago.

The eldest son rarely stays at home anymore because of the rodents. Lynn and her younger child don’t use the downstairs area, which consists of the living room, dining room and kitchen. They live in their bedrooms upstairs. The hallway light stays on all night, and rolled up towels remain beneath the bedroom doors to keep the rats from entering. I looked at a towel. The rats gnaw on the fabric, leaving telltale holes and ragged edges.

Lynn, who loves to cook, no longer keeps a morsel of food in the kitchen pantry. While it’s not easy on the budget, the family now exclusively eats out or picks up prepared food.

Of course, Lynn lodged repeated complaints with the Marin Housing Authority (MHA), the agency which manages Golden Gate Village. The maintenance staff visits Lynn’s apartment every Wednesday to remove dead rats and set more traps. They once repaired a hole in the pantry. Clearly, their efforts are inadequate.

At her wit’s end, Lynn has resorted to withholding the rent. She also contacted an attorney at Legal Aid of Marin. The lawyer recommended she look into joining the pending lawsuit filed against the MHA by a group of Golden Gate Village residents, Lynn said.

The class action lawsuit, filed in August 2020, continues to crawl along in federal court. “Deplorable conditions” at Golden Gate Village are the basis for the complaint. Unfortunately, as the wheels of justice move slowly, it won’t offer relief anytime soon to Lynn or the many other residents living in squalor.

I’ve directly asked the MHA more than once about rodent infestations inside Golden Gate Village apartments. Lewis Jordan, MHA’s executive director, claimed resident concerns are the agency’s top priority.

This week, I emailed a photo of a rat in Lynn’s apartment to the MHA and asked why the rodent problem persists after months of complaints from the resident. The MHA acknowledged in a reply email that rodents are a health and safety concern. The proposed next step is Kafkaesque.

“To help us handle the rodent issues you alluded to, please provide us with the location of this unit or have the resident contact us as soon as possible,” MHA deputy director Kimberly Carroll said.

Barbara Bogard, a volunteer for the Golden Gate Village Resident Council, isn’t surprised by the MHA’s response. Still, she’s frustrated.

“These folks could teach master classes in obfuscation,” Bogard said.

A resident in another apartment I visited showed me a leaky wall-mounted radiator in the living room. A pitcher beneath it catches dripping water. This resident, who spoke only under the condition of anonymity, also complained to MHA. Maintenance resolved the problem by turning the radiator off. I sent a photo of the full water pitcher to MHA and explained the situation.

Carroll agreed the radiator should be repaired and said the resident should make a maintenance request.

I also saw what looks like wood rot and mold beneath the kitchen sink in the same unit. The resident complained about that issue, too. Ditto for the mold in the bathtub caulking. Maintenance added more caulking, but the mold grew through it.

Royce McLemore, president of the Golden Gate Village Resident Council, has lived at the complex for decades. If anyone’s work order should be taken seriously, it should be McLemore’s, as she also is one of the residents who filed the lawsuit against the MHA. Nope. Although maintenance staff inspected her bathtub after she complained about rust, no action was taken.

McLemore took me on a tour of the exterior of Golden Gate Village, which occupies about 32 acres and contains 300 units. Completed in 1961, the development is on the National Historic Register and houses about 700 predominantly Black residents. It is the only public housing complex in Marin that accepts children.

I saw black plastic rodent control boxes next to many of the buildings. Trash clogged the trenches beneath the drainage grates I peered into. The traffic noise is loud, and the playground equipment looks worn. But for the most part, the setting is lovely, with the property bordering the Marin Headlands.

No one is arguing about whether Golden Gate Village needs to be revitalized. However, the MHA and the Golden Gate Village residents have dueling plans.

The MHA’s current proposal consists of hiring a private developer based in New Jersey, The Michaels Organization, to demolish 16 existing units and replace them with two new high-rise towers containing 156 units. After the new construction is complete, renovations will begin on the existing Golden Gate Village apartments.

The Golden Gate Village Resident Council opposes the demolition of any of the buildings in the complex. Their plan includes the “deep green” renovation of Golden Gate Village and a route to home ownership through a community land trust.

But the MHA has dragged its feet on moving forward with any revitalization plan. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) last month threatened to defund or take control of the MHA due to repeated “failing or near failing physical scores” at Golden Gate Village.

At HUD’s direction, the MHA submitted a corrective action plan last week, which included a timeline for the revitalization of the complex. It didn’t indicate a start date for the renovations. The last item on the timeline showed that the first financial closing, including a construction loan, will take place about two and a half years from now, in the first quarter of 2024.

The Golden Gate Village Resident Council sent the MHA a one-sentence letter stating their opposition to the MHA’s corrective action plan.

Obviously, Lynn can’t live with rats until 2024 or beyond. McLemore’s tub will likely rust through before then. The resident with the leaking radiator will need heat.

Who knows if the residents’ lawsuit against the MHA will have wended its way through the federal court system before the revitalization begins? It took the judge almost a year to rule against the MHA’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

In the meantime, I don’t know how the Golden Gate Village residents will continue living in the appalling conditions the MHA has allowed to persist. It seems even more shameful because Marin is one of the wealthiest counties in the country.

“It’s ridiculous,” McLemore said. “We need our deferred maintenance done now.”

Nikki Silverstein
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