Home Front Festival Celebrates Richmond’s WWII History


By Anna Tingley

Flooding into the Craneway Pavilion, Marina Bay Park and the SS Red Oak Victory Ship, locals celebrated the ninth annual Richmond Homefront Festival this past Saturday, Oct. 10, recognizing the special role that the city’s shipyards played in World War II.

At the request of the British government, already at war with Nazi Germany, famed industrialist Henry Kaiser established the first Richmond shipyard in December 1940, at a time when many other captains of industry urged isolation from the war. As Kaiser applied mass assembly line techniques to produce ships in as little as four days, he also opened up job opportunities to unskilled laborers, women and minorities.

Eventually, the shipyards gave rise to the construction of 747 ships, more than any other shipbuilding complex in history. As people traveled from across the United States to work in the area, the Richmond population skyrocketed from 20,000 to 100,000 in just three years. Currently still diverse, cultured and progressive, Richmond commemorates its role in the war through its recently established Rosie The Riveter National Historical Park and reminiscent festivals such as the Homefront.

The festival began on a high note at Marina Bay Park as the Elite Jazz Band played patriotic classics by George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, along with old-time favorites from the era, such as “As Time Goes By.” From the traditional Mexican music of Los Cenzontles to the funky blues of Alvin And His All-Stars, the playlist for the day remained as diverse as the history it celebrated.

While Baby Boomers danced to the familiar tunes at the main stage, children indulged in other festivities, including bounce-houses, a train ride, colossal slides, a bicycle rodeo and a petting zoo. The event even included Zumba demonstrations onstage and a performance by the acrobatic team of the Golden State Warriors, the Flying Dubs.

“My family and I go the festival every year,” said Richmond resident Elsa Winslow. “It’s a perfect place to hang out with neighbors from all over the area, and it’s always incredible to find out more about our ties to the war. My kids love it too.”

Curious locals were also able to explore the Rosie The Riveter National Park Visitor Center at the Craneway Pavilion. Through exhibits, historical sites and specialized collections of artifacts from the war, the park emphasizes Richmond’s role in the World War II home front.

The day’s final destination was at the SS Red Oak Victory Ship. One of the many ships constructed under Kaiser’s watch, the vessel carried cargo and munitions to ships through 1945, and has since become a museum. At the ship, guests enjoyed screenings of cartoons from the war era, transporting viewers back 70 years.


Seniors Struggling with Affordable, Safe Housing in West County


News Report, Ann Bassette and Malcolm Marshall
Video, Ann Bassette

Deborah Stein says she feels desperate. Between flood insurance and property taxes, the 67-year-old San Pablo resident can no longer afford to stay in her home.

Stein says she’s living on $1400 a month and her house payments have gone up $300 in the two last years.

“It’s very stressful. $900 is going to my house payment and the rest I’m supposed to live on,” said Stein, who says she lost half of her retirement in the stock market crash.

Stein was one of about 130 seniors who packed the San Pablo Senior Center to discuss affordable housing and other issues affecting Contra Cost County’s senior citizens at a town hall meeting sponsored by the West County Senior Coalition and the City of San Pablo.

Inside the center, chairs were shifted to make room for canes and walkers as seniors gathered over hot coffee to listen and voice their needs.

County Supervisor John Gioia described senior citizens as the “largest growing demographic in our country, in our state and in our county.” Seniors now make up 14 percent of Contra Costa’s population (about 150,000 people), according to the U.S. Census.

Congressman Mark DeSaulnier said the rising cost of housing in the Bay Area is “leaving behind those who need housing and assistance the most, including the elderly,” adding that programs that provide housing assistance to these populations “benefit not only our seniors, but our communities as a whole.”

According to report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there are a total of 23 federal housing programs that target or have special features for the elderly.

Still, Gioia said there is a substantial shortfall of homes available to the low- and extremely low-income in Contra Costa County, where the  average monthly rent of a two-bedroom apartment is $1631.

“As we have more and more seniors who have more and more limited income, the problem will continue to get worse,” said Gioia.

The rising cost of rent leaves little left over for basic necessities for seniors who are on fixed incomes.

“I’m on a fixed income of less than $1,000,” said Betty Nicole Flowers, 68. “You build affordable housing for $800. How is that affordable? We really need to have a conversation about what’s affordable,” she said, as shouts of  “Yeah!” erupted in agreement.

Flowers said elected officials need to start thinking outside of the box to solve the housing issue, especially for seniors.

“Why couldn’t they turn the hospital that was closed, Doctors Medical Center, into affordable housing?” Flowers asked. “Another option would be looking at some of the warehouses and some of the spaces that have been abandoned and turning them into affordable studio units.”

“There’s also the old concept of affordable housing co-ops,” she added. “And I like the idea of intergenerational because not all seniors want to be in a senior complex.”

But affordability isn’t the only concern, said Ella Jones, 73, who is a member of the Contra Costa County Advisory Council on Aging, an advisory group appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Jones says many seniors in the county also struggle to find safe housing.

“No senior building I’ve visited here has any kind of security to monitor who comes and goes,” said Jones. “That’s an issue where I live at El Portal Gardens. Homeless people have been known to come in and sleep in the stairwells and hallways. I’m in the house shut in before dark unless my daughter or young friends take me, because I don’t feel safe.”

Other seniors recounted experiences of feeling that they had to compromise their safety in order to live in affordable housing.

“There is some housing in Richmond where the seniors have been coupled with young, addicted people where the seniors have to be in the house by 4:00 pm to feel safe coming in. And then, you have to get on the elevators with drunk, drugged up people in order to have affordable housing, and you don’t know if you’re going to make it to your floor with your wallet,” said one member of the crowd during a portion of the meeting reserved for comments from the audience.

Along with increasing wages and better-paid jobs, Gioia said more funding for affordable housing needs to be created. For example, some advocates have discussed a statewide bond measure that would help fund the construction of more affordable housing. So far, though, the measure has not gotten enough support to make it into the ballot.

For now, Gioia said, cities need to do their part to prioritize affordable housing. “Part of that is getting city councils to change the zoning to allow that to happen,” he said.

“Every city on the county needs to do its fair share,” said Gioia. “And that’s not happening.”

Hidden Poor Highest Among Elder Black and Latino Households

Hidden Poor Highest Among Elder Black and Latino Households

Photo: Courtesy of Susan Fleming/Justice in Aging

SAN FRANCISCO — Nearly one in five adults over age 65 in California, that is, around 772,000 elders, endure financial hardship, unable to afford basic needs, but often ineligible for government assistance, according to a new study out this week by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

The study highlights the plight of what it calls the “hidden poor,” which it defines as those who live in the gap between the federal poverty level and the Elder Index‘s poverty measure, which is considered a more accurate estimate of what it takes to have a decent standard of living. The Elder Index accounts for geographic differences in costs for housing, medical care, food and transportation. The national federal poverty level guidelines say a single elderly adult living alone should be able to live on $10,890 a year, while the Elder Index estimates that a person in California on average requires $23,364.

“Many of our older adults are forced to choose between eating, taking their medications or paying rent,” said Imelda Padilla-Frausto, a UCLA graduate student researcher at the center and lead author of the study.

The study was funded by the California Wellness Foundation. It analyzed the 2009-2011 American Community Survey Data and the 2011 Elder Index data that was released in 2013.

Padilla-Frausto said that in terms of sheer numbers, whites make up more than half of elders in the financially pinched group (482,000). Proportionately, grandparents raising grandchildren, older adults who rent, Latinos, women, and the oldest age group (75 and over) were the groups most affected.

Geographically, the researchers found that in all counties, between 30 and 40 percent of elderly adults who are single and 20 to 30 percent of older couples are among the hidden poor — those whose annual income is between $10,890 and $23,364.

In California, rent and health care are two items that soak up a good chunk of the elderly population’s income, she said.

The study found that older couples whose adult children live with them were six times more likely to qualify as being among the hidden poor according to the Elder Index, than those considered poor according to the federal poverty level (25.7 percent vs. 4.1 percent, respectively).  Similarly, single elders housing adult children were four times more likely to qualify as among the hidden poor by the Elder Index than those considered poor according to the federal poverty level guidelines (35.7 percent vs. 9 percent, respectively).

“Older adults raising grandchildren or housing adult children have taken on more financial burdens with limited earning capacity, and are living right on the edge of a cliff,” said Steven P. Wallace, associate director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and co-author of the report. “They have few options, and one unexpected expense can put them right over.”

The study found that the highest proportion of hidden poor among single elders who head households was among African Americans (37.4 percent) followed by Latinos (36.8 percent).

Single elders of color who are heads of households are more financially insecure than their white counterparts, the study indicated, with single Latino heads of household having the highest rate, (69 percent) of economic insecurity. Among all groups of elders of color, the total rate of economic insecurity for single-headed households was over 60 percent.

African-Americans couples in California households were five times more likely to be among the Elder Index hidden poor than to qualify as poor under the federal poverty level guidelines (21.2 percent vs. 4.2 percent, respectively). That ratio is true of older white couples. They were five times more likely to be among the hidden poor than among the poor (16.3 percent vs. 3.8 percent, respectively.)

One surprising finding for researchers, Padilla-Frausto said, was that single-headed elder Asian households had the highest proportion (40.7 percent) of those living below the federal poverty level; an additional 23.8 percent of them were in the Elder Index group. What this may indicate, she said, is that those who came to the United States as refugees have never been able to get out of poverty.

Padilla-Frausto said that policy makers use the Elder Index to shape their policies. Some of the suggestions researchers of the study made are raising income eligibility limits for housing assistance and using former redevelopment funds for construction of affordable housing; helping seniors with the cost of health care by raising income eligibility to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, from 100 percent; and expanding and updating food benefits.

“It’s very clear that income level is a major predictor of health outcomes — at any age. This research underscores that elders’ economic security is a health equity issue,” said Judy Belk, president and chief executive officer of the California Wellness Foundation.

Rosie the Riveter – Still Inspiring Women in Richmond


Story, Nancy DeVille | Photos, David Meza

They came from all over the Bay Area. Hundreds of women in navy blue coveralls, knee high red socks, black work boots and red and white polka dot bandannas. All to be a part of history and pay homage to the woman known as Rosie the Riveter.

The Rosie lookalikes gathered at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park to attempt to break a Guinness Book world record for the most Rosies gathered in one place since World War II. The previous record of 776 Rosies was set in Ypsilanti, Mich. last year.

For Yenni Velazquez, the Rosie rally was an opportunity to educate her seven-year-old daughter Yennell, who met one of the original Rosies at the event.

The original Rosies were workers at Richmond’s Kaiser shipyards who took jobs during World War II that were traditionally held by men. They earned the nickname Rosie the Riveter and worked as buckers, welders and electricians. The Rosies are renowned for redefining the women’s role in the workplace and inspiring women of all ages.

“The minute we got out of the car it felt like we were part of a scene back in the ‘40s, because there were Rosies everywhere,” Velazquez said. “It empowered my daughter for her to hear one of the original Rosies tell her, ‘You can do anything you want to do.’”

Ellen Seskin, a Richmond resident, said the event brought together a diverse group of women. “For just a few hours, there weren’t black women and white women and Asian women, old women and young women,” she said. “We were all just Rosie the Riveter, [coming] together for a common cause, just as I imagine the real Rosies did.”

Guinness must still validate the head count and ensure the women were dressed in the official Rosie attire before the record is official. But Rosie officials believe the record was broken because they sold more than 800 of the famed polka dot bandannas before the rally. During the event, organizers announced that 1,084 attended.

“It was important for me to get involved for something that was bringing positivity to Richmond,” added Velazquez. “We have some pretty awesome women that can come together and break a world record. It gave me hope that we can get together and continue to bring out the best in Richmond.”

After Charleston Shooting, Local Churches Stay Vigilant

Above: Sunday service at Kingdom Land Baptist Church in Richmond, CA


News Report • Nancy DeVille

The killing of a beloved pastor and eight churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. last month and the recent arson investigations at black churches throughout the South have raised safety concerns among local pastors.

Churches in Richmond are now reexamining their security plans and trying to figure out where to draw the line between welcoming strangers and protecting their flock.

“It’s a shame that it has to come to this but the word does tell us to ‘watch and pray,’” said Pastor T. Marc Gandy, pastor of Miracle Temple Apostolic Pentecostal Church on Cutting Boulevard. “We will have more of a male presence at the entrance of the church and I’m just really encouraging all the members to be more vigilant. But we have to also make sure we are a welcoming place to everyone.”

For Gandy, safety has been a concern for a few years. When violence was at its height in Richmond, a shooting erupted on Cutting Boulevard just before the church’s weekly Bible study was dismissed. The church was not the target and no members were injured, but a bullet is still lodged in the church’s front door.

“We put all of trust in God and pray that He is going to watch over us and protect us,” he said.

Traditionally black congregations have been known for their hospitality and enthusiasm when it comes to welcoming new worshipers. But in recent years more churches across the country have installed security cameras and hired off duty police officers for added security.

“We now have to secure the house of God just like we secure our homes,” Gandy said. “We have to be very cautious concerning the world that we live in.”

In the recent aftermath of the murders, pastors participated in a prayer vigil at St. Peter Christian Methodist Church in El Cerrito. Area police officers attended and urged pastors to ask their members to monitor who is entering the church for its services. At the meeting, the pastors committed to continuing the prayer vigil every third Monday of each month.

“This is a chance for us to hold each other in prayer while trusting God in the process,” said Pastor Cassandry Keys of Davis Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, who organized the June vigil.

“We have to hold on to our faith. “We know God is aware and many question why He would allow something like this to happen but there’s something about the sovereignty of God that we don’t know.”

For Keys, the events that led up to the Charleston shooting are relatable. The alleged shooter walked in for bible study and was warmly greeted by the now slain Pastor Clementa Pinckney and the faithful members. It’s common for people of all ethnicities to visit Davis Chapel, she said.

“The black church welcomes everybody in,” she said. “If they come in calm and sit down we believe they have the same beliefs we have. Typically we are not accustomed to watching people when they come in because in a worship setting we are a little more relaxed. But after this, we will at least pay attention.”

The June 17 shooting at the church known as Mother Emanuel is just one of the recent incidents targeting black churches in the south. There are three arson investigations underway and four other fires that have occurred since the Charleston shooting. While there are not threats to Bay Area churches, members are remaining watchful.

“Anytime there is violence against clergy or in a place of worship it just saddens me because it reminds me of the times we are living in,” Gandy said.

If you go: The monthly unity prayer vigil will be held from 10 a.m. – noon Friday, July 17 at New Direction Ministries, 2534 Andrade Ave. in Richmond. All are welcome.


Black Families on Front Lines of Displacement in Richmond

News Report, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Richmond resident J.C. Farr, 72, remembers the days black families populated his neighborhood in Richmond’s Southside. Walking through Booker T. Anderson Park, Farr points to a house where a black family used to live. It was sold, gutted and flipped by another owner, he says.

“We have people who come in and buy a house, renovate it, put in about $30,000 and leave with $200,000,” says Farr. “I tell everybody, ‘Don’t sell your house. Rent it. Make the money. You still own it and it’s part of you.’ But no, they sell it.”

This traditionally black neighborhood is changing as more Latino, Asian and white families move in. There is more diversity, Farr says, but he’s worried that with the way things are going, South Richmond will no longer be familiar to him.

Richmond’s black population dropped by a striking 35 percent between 2000 and 2013.

A study released in February by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society found that the black population of Richmond fell from 35,300 in 2000 to 22,800 in 2013. During the same period, the Latino population nearly doubled to 42,600, while the Asian and Pacific Islander population grew from 12,500 to 15,800.

The study found that Richmond is in the early stages of gentrification, as neighborhoods in the Iron Triangle, North and East, North Richmond, the Richmond Annex and Southside are seeing housing prices rise. These are the same neighborhoods that have seen a decline in the black population.

However, the study did not explore why black families are leaving Richmond.

“The Census data only tells you where people are at, specifically at the time. It doesn’t tell you where they moved to or why they moved,” explains Eli Moore, researcher and one of the authors of the study.

In order to identify the reasons for the decline, Moore says the city and community of Richmond need to engage in a serious effort – either through community forums, workshops or funding more research — to find out whether the black population is leaving Richmond for greater opportunities or if they are leaving because of pressures they face in the city.

‘It’s deja vu’

Anne Omura, director and attorney of the Eviction Defense Center, says 100 percent of her clients who are evicted from their homes in Richmond are low-income black and Latino residents.

A housing rights attorney for over 20 years, Omura says the same pattern she saw in Oakland, particularly the displacement of low-income black households, is about to intensify in Richmond.

“It’s deja vu from the late ‘90s during the dot-com boom, when all of a sudden we went from regular clients to a grandmother walking in with a 30-day notice when they have lived 40 years in the home,” says Omura. “We are seeing the exact same ingredients in Richmond. All low-income folks being evicted from Richmond are African American and are being priced out largely because there is no rent control there.”

Unlike some other Bay Area cities – including San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward, Fremont, East Palo Alto and San Jose – Richmond does not have rent control.

Nearly half of Richmond’s residents are renters, many of them low-income. According to the Haas Institute study, nearly 49 percent of Richmond households are renter occupied. That figure is as high as 80 percent in North Richmond, central and south Richmond. Among renters, more than one-third (37 percent, or about 6,740 households) earn less than $35,000 annually and spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

According to Omura, this leaves low-income renters, including many black families, more vulnerable.

“With a large working class base, why is Richmond behind other major cities? Why isn’t there rent control? They have those protections; why don’t we? Its about fairness, and the fundamental right that you shouldn’t just be able to lose your home,” says Omura. “Richmond would be on top of my list [in establishing rent control].”

‘There is no affordable housing in Richmond’

Stephanie Hervey, 42, a single mother of two teenagers and former North Richmond resident, was evicted from her home in May 2014. She and her children have been homeless and staying with friends until they can find housing in Richmond.

“For two bedrooms, there is no affordable housing in Richmond that we can find, that does not have a one year waiting list,” says Hervey. “And these are in not the best neighborhoods.”

Beginning in January 2014, Hervey was in dispute with her landlord for what she claimed were poor and unsafe housing conditions. She said the landlord did not fix home utilities and let pit bulls run into her space. Hervey was evicted by the Richmond Superior Court after a second hearing when, according to the judge, Hervey didn’t pay her complete rent.

Hervey says in order to find a home in Richmond, she and her family will have to share with other people. Yet her biggest challenge has been finding potential housemates who have good credit.

“It could be that I’m not looking in the right places,” says Hervey.

‘Once poor people are evicted, it’s really hard to stay’

Melvin Willis, community organizer at the Richmond chapter of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), sees a need for a just cause eviction ordinance and a rent control policy in Richmond.

“With things changing in Richmond, crime going down, new business in the market, it makes it seem that Richmond is thriving. Yet as rent goes up significantly, we have not seen an increase in living wages, which unintentionally forces people out,” says Willis.

“We want to work together and make sure we have rent control and just cause eviction so vulnerable tenants are not displaced, and so landlords are not allowed to jack up the rent as much as they want,” he says.

In January 2013, the Richmond City Council debated stricter just cause eviction protections, and establishing rent stabilization and a rent control board. According to a report by Richmond Confidential, the City Council did not vote on these, opting instead to allow the Planning Division to take all of 2013 to research eviction and demographic data, and the cost of maintaining a rent control board.

On Feb. 17 of this year, the City Council passed a motion for city staff to convene a working group to bring the Council clear policy recommendations or a draft ordinance. According to City Council minutes, the motion directs staff to “establish a Just Cause requirement for evictions and consider the use of a Rent Board or a smaller Tenant Protection Commission.” The staff has until mid-May to give their recommendations.

But for Mayor Tom Butt, rent control addresses the symptoms, not the root cause of the problem.

“I think it’s a solution that sounds really simple to people but by and large it doesn’t work,” said Mayor Butt in a phone interview. “I don’t think a day goes by that you don’t read about the housing crisis in San Francisco and Oakland and Berkeley.”

Instead, Mayor Butt advocates “attracting business, job developers and building affordable housing are the way to go.”

“Rent control and just cause ordinances just scare the hell out of housing developers,” he said. “It could turn around and bite Richmond.”

Meanwhile, Omura of the Eviction Defense Center says that whether the City Council passes an ordinance, residents organize a ballot measure, or the city pursues other methods, Richmond has to act now.

“In Oakland, we failed the first time to place [rent control] on the ballot, but succeeded the second time. But that only stopped the bleeding,” she says. “So much damage had been done, entire neighborhoods wiped out. Once poor people are evicted, it’s really hard to stay.”

For Hervey, who has been homeless for a year now, the future remains uncertain.

“I want to stay in Richmond,” Hervey says, “because Richmond is really about change. I have established roots here and I don’t want to throw it all away.”


Ceasefire Walks, Rain or Shine

Commentary, Leslie Basurto

It was 7 p.m. on a Friday night and I was attending my first Ceasefire night walk — a weekly trek where members of the community walk together through streets where gun violence has occurred in the hopes of putting an end to it. In recent years Ceasefire has received a lot of credit for Richmond’s reduction in crime and violence, and I wanted to learn about their approach.

The night was dark and pouring rain, I was thinking maybe they’d call it off because of the weather. But, I figured I would at least knock on the door of the Bethlehem Missionary Church — the meeting point — in case anyone was there.

To my surprise, the door opened and I was greeted by a group of people sitting in a circle. The mood was palpably serious. Rev. Donnell Jones, Community Organizer for the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, was telling them about recent deaths in the area involving gun violence. The men involved in the shootings were between 18 and 23 years old. “Babies,” Jones said, “robbed of the ability to dream.”

Jones explained the purpose of the walks and the strategy to end gun violence including “call-ins” where parole officers meet one-on-one with perpetrators, which has proven successful. Members of the group discussed the lengths they would go to get these youth help. Before we headed out, we gathered in prayer “for a generation of people that have been lost.”

After grabbing candles and signs reading a variety of things like, “Peace for Richmond” and “Honk to end gun violence,” we hit the streets, heading towards Cutting Blvd.

The signs we held suffered in the rain, but the enthusiasm and perseverance of the group persisted.

“I almost thought that maybe I wouldn’t come out to walk tonight because of the rain,” said Jane Eisenstark, a Richmond resident. “But then I realized that it was that much more important that I do.”

Throughout the trek the group chanted, “Ceasefire: Alive and Free,” and despite the poor visibility, drivers passing by honked in support.

We reconvened at the initial meeting point at the end of the walk, drenched from the rain. The gathering closed with a prayer and some words from Jones about taking the work to the next level outside of walking. The goal, he said, is getting at risk youth help through any means.

I left feeling overcome with emotion. I thought about peers who had been lost too soon and how senseless these deaths always are. Gun violence does not occur everywhere. We do not need it. It is hurting our community.

I also felt intense gratitude for the people who walk weekly, as well as those who are involved in the fight against violence in other ways. It is clear that these people have unconditional love for their community. Any of them would help if someone who needed it reached out.

Spotting and Avoiding Scams in Ethnic Communities

News Report, George White | New America Media

LOS ANGELES – To Lang Zhao, the business she expected to ship her valuable package to in China appeared to be legitimate. After all, the clerk at the shipping store in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park gave her a tracking code after she paid the shipping fee and the customs charge.

When the package was not delivered, she tried to contact the business.

“I called again and again and the line was always busy,” she said. “I went back to the (shipping) store and it was closed … I called customs in Shanghai and gave them the tracking number. They told me that the name of the store – not my name – was on the package.”

Zhao also later discovered that more than 100 people were also victims of that shipping scam. If any of the previous victims had been more outspoken about the ruse by, for example, relaying their stories to local news outlets, Zhao might not have been victimized. That is one of the messages the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is conveying in a campaign to warn and educate ethnic communities about scams.

Zhao and several other victims of recent financial stings joined representatives from the FTC, the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs and the Los Angeles Police Department to warn and inform ethnic communities – often the targets of scams – at a February 10 news briefing hosted by New America Media.

Many ethnic communities are now even more of a target because hundreds of thousands of undocumented residents are now coming out of the shadows following two executive orders by President Obama. The first, the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, allows children of parents who immigrated illegally to remain in the U.S. The other in 2014 offers a reprieve from deportation for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and for those who have resided in the country for at least five years.

“When there are new opportunities, scammers are ready,” said Thomas Syta, the Los Angeles-based assistant regional director of the FTC, during discussions at the news briefing.

The FTC says fraud and scams cost U.S. residents $1.6 billion in 2013 – the most recent tally – and that immigrants are frequently targeted because they do not fully understand English or U.S. law. Many of these schemes would have failed if scam targets had consulted friends or relatives, said Monica Vaca, assistant director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection.

“We collect reports from those scammed and those not scammed,” Vaca said. “We found that many of the people who paid the money to the scammers did not talk to anyone else.”

A warning could have helped Alba Montoya avoid a costly scam. She wanted to get a green card for her husband. She was contacted by a woman at a company that claimed it excelled at obaining green cards.

“She told me they were not going to charge a lot,” Montoya said. “When I went to meet with her, I was told to pay $500. But two weeks later they asked for more money.”

In all, Montoya paid $2,500 to the grifters. Her husband did not obtain a green card.

Other scams involve aggressive frauds that generate a lot more money, said Rigo Reyes, chief of investigations for the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs. He relayed the experience of a man who used his credit cards to borrow $29,000 to pay grifters who contacted him by phone claiming to be representatives of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). He realized he had been defrauded when he tried to reach the bogus IRS collectors by phone after making the payment. That phone had been disconnected.

“Our system does not allow the IRS to make such (collection) calls,” Reyes said, noting that the IRS sends collection notifications by mail. “He’s not going to get that money back. Scamming is difficult to stamp out. It’s like (a game of) Wack-A-Mole. One head comes up and we go after it and then another head pops up.”

Ethnic media can help government agencies and law enforcement identify scams, said Lt. Al Labrada, a community outreach liaison for the Los Angeles Police Department. He said a news producer at Univision recently contacted the police about a woman who had convinced a cancer patient in South Los Angeles to rely on her herbal treatments instead of medical care. The patient’s health declined dramatically. LAPD found and arrested the woman.

Labrada said all victims should report scams and that the undocumented can do so without fear of the police.

“We don’t care about their immigrant status,” he said. “We need them to come forward. There is no immigrant checkbox on our complaint forms.”


Scams: Warning Signs, Tips and Protections

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says scams perpetrated in ethnic communities are frequently framed as job offers, immigration assistance, mortgage modification, rental listings and sweepstakes. Some scams are used for identity theft. Here are some FTC tips for avoiding fraud.
• Do not pay to obtain employment or information about a job.
• Do not deal with anyone who says you have to act fast.
• Do not go to a notario publico (notary public) for legal advice because they are not lawyers.
• Get immigration information from U.S. government websites. If it is a legitimate government site, it includes .gov.
• Never sign a form that is blank and never sign a form that has false information.
• Do not let anyone keep important documents such as a passport or birth certificate.
• If you believe you have been defrauded call the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 or report it at the FTC website at www.ftc.gov/complaint.

Residents at Troubled Housing Complex to Soon Move Out

News Report, Malcolm Marshall

During the first week of February, newly elected Mayor Tom Butt announced that residents of the dilapidated Hacienda public housing complex will receive federally funded Section 8 vouchers to move into new housing.

At a press conference at the 150-unit Hacienda complex at 1300 Roosevelt Ave, Butt—along with Richmond Housing Authority Director Tim Jones and Congressman Mark DeSaulnier—announced the new developments.

The news came a year after the Center for Investigative Reporting published a series of articles detailing terrible living conditions in the complex filled with mold, roach and mice infestations and leaky roofs. A month after the stories broke, the Richmond City Council voted to relocate residents, many of who are elderly and or disabled.

The vouchers, which were recently approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), will allow residents to move to other public housing structures or private market housing.

The Richmond Housing Authority will help residents with costs associated with moving, and has opened a relocation office to assist tenants with finding new places to live.

After all the tenants have moved out of the building built in 1966, the Hacienda will undergo around $20 million in renovations, paid for by HUD. Jones estimates the renovation will take 18 to 24 months to complete and current tenants will have the option of returning after it’s done.

“The residents of Hacienda were in dire need of safe and improved living conditions,” said DeSaulnier in a statement. “I am pleased to have assisted the City of Richmond in expediting the issuance of vouchers which will allow individuals and families to immediately begin finding and settling into a better housing situation.”

Sandra Burell says she has lived at the Hacienda a little over ten years. She says the last year has been difficult, “waiting, not knowing what their going to do, not knowing how long I’m going to live here.”

“I’m the type of person that believes in action,” said Burell after the press conference. “Now they’re actually doing something, and I’ve heard it from the horses mouth, so I’ll believe it.”

Burell says she would like to stay in Richmond, close to the area she’s in now. “Hopefully right around Kaiser. All my doctors are at Kaiser and everything is a walk away for me and I’m in the chair now,” she said, referring to her wheelchair.

Jacobi Williams, 32, says he’s lived in the complex for the last five years and describes his last year at the Hacienda in the same way, “full of waiting, waiting, waiting, and waiting.”

“But not just last year,” he said. “This goes back to the relocation process that was happening in 2012.”

“There has been a few things changed,” said Williams. “They did the floor in here and they painted. You can change the comforter but if you don’t change the sheets your still going to get dirty,” he added, detailing the ongoing issues with health hazards that he said include rotting and mold growth on walls throughout the building.

Bernice Smith, a longtime Hacienda resident, said she’s heard promises of improvements at the Hacienda for years. “They been saying this for ten years,” she said. “I’ll believe it when I see it. They’ve disappointed us so much and I’m still paying rent.”

“What they say they’re going to do they don’t do it,” she added.

Edward Dunlap hasn’t lived in the building as long — just three years — but after losing a beloved dog because of, he suspects, the toxins in the building, he is ready to leave.

“I want to go somewhere else, I’m tired of this place,” he said. “All I want to do is live out my last days.”

A Local Leader, a National Movement

by Nancy DeVille

The decision was easy for Phil Lawson.

On a brisk morning in March 1965, he packed his car for a long trek from Delaware, Ohio to Selma, Ala. answering Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for people to join what would be the final and successful march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery to persuade white lawmakers of the need for a voting rights act.

Lawson, then a senior at the Methodist Theological School, understood the risks. Just weeks earlier, Black residents of Selma had attempted to peaceably march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge en route to Montgomery to demand equality in voting rights in the segregated South. They faced a blockade of state troopers who ordered the marchers to disperse, and when they refused, the marchers were attacked with tear gas, beaten unconscious and trampled by police officers as white onlookers cheered.

“Nothing had to spark me or set me on fire to go to Selma,” Lawson said during a recent interview at a coffee shop in nearby Hercules. “I was born black in America and I was living among racist white people. Every time I left home I was encountering a hostile racist world.”

IMG_6219 copyLawson traveled with three of his white classmates to join the last leg of the 52-mile march. Despite their backgrounds, they shared a common sense of outrage over the humiliation of Jim Crow laws. But it was a risky move for whites and blacks to travel together through the segregated South. Although Lawson and his classmates returned home unharmed, after the march civil rights activist Viola Gregg Liuzzo was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan while driving a black man from Montgomery to Selma.

“Driving down I didn’t think about the potential danger or the sense of peril that we may have faced,” he said.

Half a century later, Lawson, now 82, relived the memories of that march as he watched “Selma,” the Oscar nominated film that depicts the violent weeks when King led a movement for federal action to protect black voting rights in one of the most racist counties in Alabama.

“Watching some of the scenes was like I was living the experience all over again. There was never any doubt; I had to go to Selma. I didn’t have any choice.”

“Selma” was released at a pivotal time in American history. The “Black Lives Matter” movement continues to gain traction as protesters rally against police violence, sparked by the non-indictments of officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Lawson believes this kind of groundswell is important but says it doesn’t compare to the civil rights movement.

“A protest is not a movement,” he said. “A protest is saying, ‘Ouch you hit me,’ but a movement is developing a remedy for that. And you have to have a methodology. People have not decided on a firm methodology of dealing with issues they want to solve.

“You can’t have a protest every night,” he added. “It will wear you out, dissipate your spirits and you won’t get many recruits.”

A life long battle

Lawson was deeply rooted in the fight for equality long before the Alabama march. His grandfather was a slave who escaped on the Underground Railroad from Maryland to Canada. His father, James Lawson Sr. was a Methodist preacher.

By the time Lawson finished high school in 1950, he knew he’d follow his father into the ministry. Since moving to California in the 1970s he’s led three congregations – El Cerrito United Methodist Church, First United Methodist Church in Vallejo and most recently Richmond’s Easter Hill United Methodist Church. Before coming to California, Rev. Lawson was pastor and executive director of the Methodist Inner City Parish in Kansas City, Missouri.

But his vow to nonviolence began when he was 14 years old and a high school freshman in Massillion, Ohio. While trying to grab an after school snack with his white band members, Lawson was denied service at a local drugstore.

His four white classmates stood by him, saying, “If he can’t eat, we won’t eat.”

“They didn’t want to lose the money so they served us,” Lawson said. “But when he brought me a Coke, it was saturated with salt. And when my classmates threatened not to pay because of it, he brought me another Coke. That was my first time understanding how to combat racism in an nonviolent way,” Lawson said.

It was just the beginning of a lifetime of work in nonviolent resistance and the battle for freedom and equality.

Following his high school graduation, Lawson joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a national interfaith peace organization. As part of the organization, he traveled to Washington D.C., joining other youth from around the country where they experimented in non-violent direct action to integrate movies, swimming pools and drug stores in the nation’s capital.

“That was dramatic,” he said. “That was the first time I was attacked and hit with stones. I had to learn how to be nonviolent and I was only 17 years old.”

Although it’s been decades since Lawson had to worry about segregated public places he continues to help those who remain opposed. He still follows the techniques of Gandhi and King to combat nonviolence, ideals that were also endorsed by his order brother James Lawson, also a Methodist minister. The older Lawson, who now lives in Los Angeles, was drafted by King to teach the principles of passive resistance to Nashville college students, who waged a war against segregation with sit-ins, stand-ins at movie theaters and the Freedom Rides in which they integrated interstate bus facilities.

During the late 1960s, Phil Lawson’s ministry for justice took a surprising turn that brought him in close relationship with the Kansas City Black Panther Party following the assassination of King. When the U.S Internal Security Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives began its investigation into the Black Panther Party, Lawson was one of the first to be subpoenaed.

“I did not consciously decide or look for something to get in to,” he said. “My understanding is that God does that; He calls people to rise up.”

Lawson recently retired as the interfaith program director for East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), which works to expand affordable housing options in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. He currently leads EBHO’s initiative, the interfaith action in housing program and continues to work with several Bay Area organizations like Richmond Vision 2000, Northern California Inter-Religious Conference and the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP).

Lawson spent years advocating for justice for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, the homeless, immigrants and refugees. During the Occupy Oakland movement, Lawson offered training to dozens of ministers and participants. In 2012, the retired pastor joined his brother Jim Lawson and Vincent Harding, also an activist in the civil rights movement, to organize the National Council of Elders. The national organization supports equality for the women’s, immigrant justice, labor rights and the LGBT movements.

Rev. Lawson is a champion for social justice,” said Kia Croom, community relations director for GRIP. “He is a person who regardless of one’s color, creed or denomination, he advocates for civil liberties and rights for all people. And he’s just overall a great person.”

Even at 82, Lawson has no plans of slowing down.

“He who believes in justice cannot stop until it comes,” he said.


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