Some tenants are moving out of the affordable housing provider’s units and paying double in rent to escape the site’s manager
By Scott Thomas Anderson
When television crews first showed up at the Glen Ellen Community apartments, Mutual Housing’s upper management and on-site supervisor Sharon Calkins may have thought that a bunker mentality would make the story go away.
But like a lot of stories that don’t sound pretty, it has not gone away.
A number of tenants living at this complex by 24th Street – all having called it home between 6 and 16 years without any known problems – say they’re suddenly immersed in nonstop issues. The drama started six months ago when Mutual Housing hired Calkins to supervise the affordable-living apartments. A collective paper trail shows that Calkins almost immediately began hitting longtime tenants with dozens of lease violations, citing them for tendencies as trivial as having brooms in their car ports, brooms on their front steps, religious insignias by their doors, or backing into parking spaces in order to have a safer view when pulling out around children at play.
Given that roughly 80% of Glen Ellen’s residents are Black, and Calkins is not, the manager’s take-no-prisoners approach to lease violations – papering them at tenants who dutifully pay their rent and generally look out for one another – began sparking major concern within the complex.
Some community members who have run afoul of Calkins voiced their concerns to television reporters, and within days they saw an Orwellian-type camera system get set up around their doors and car ports. Now, a number of them are moving out, while others desperately trying to. They all told SN&R that they’re moving to get away from Calkins, as well as Mutual Housing’s seeming indifference to the complaints about her.
These tenants also stressed that they know they’ll be paying far more in rent, but feel they have no choice.
Based in Sacramento, Mutual Housing California is a major partner to city and county leaders trying to tackle the region’s ever-worsening affordable housing crisis. The nonprofit recently enjoyed positive headlines around 100 affordable living units it created for agricultural workers in Woodland, as well as the near completion of its Lavender Courtyard in Midtown, which is meant to be an affordable complex for older members of the LGBTQ community. But now city councilmembers are being contacted and hearing a very different take on Mutual Housing – or at least its management style. And some Sacramentans are seeing a gofundme pop up on their social media to help Paul Nickson, a highly respected, 73-year-old resident of the Glen Ellen complex who says he’s been bullied so bad by management that he has to leave for his health.
Nickson, a former employee of Mutual Housing, has recently survived two strokes. He’s worried that if he stays in the unit that’s been his home for the last 16 years – at least while Calkins is overseeing it – it could lead to another catastrophic medical event.
“She knows if she accumulates a certain amount of lease violations, she can evict me, so she’s writing me up for anything,” Nickson said. “The way that she’s putting stress on me, I’m afraid that I might possibly have another stroke. My doctor’s telling me my heart is beating faster than it usually beats … and I can’t take this stress. I already went through the stress with, you know, with the strokes and the corona, and I don’t need this.”
By Mutual Housing’s own certified standards
Nickson is a former maintenance man and temporary on-site manager for Mutual Housing, which means he’s actually completed the company’s training on tenant harassment and has a certificate to prove it. Nickson says that’s partly why he knows Calkins should not be interacting with residents the way she reportedly has been.
“It says they cannot harass and discriminate,” Nickson recalled of the training.
He feels both things have been happening to him since December. That’s when Calkins first issued him a lease violation for a tasteful Jesus Christ statue that’s stood near his front door for 15 years – a move Nickson considered religious discrimination.
Calkins hit him with other violations, too. One was for having a broom in his car port. Another was for putting a piece of tape on the cement to clearly delineate his parking spot his visiting family members. Nickson soon learned that at least seven other Glen Ellen tenants were having similar run-ins with Calkins. That includes Diablo Nash, who’s been raising his daughter at the complex without problems for the last nine years.
That is, until Calkins showed up.
Out of nowhere, Nash was issued multiple lease violations. One was for the way Nash’s car-cover was pulled over his registration tags. Another was for Nash’s insistence on backing into his parking space, which happens to be positioned near a dangerous blind spot at the basketball court where the community’s children play.
Working with the Sacramento Tenants Union, Nickson, Nash and other renters sent a letter about the situation to Mutual Housing on January 31. When that was met with radio silence, Nickson and Nash did interviews with local television crews, the first being with CBS 13 on February 24. Calkins retreated from the station’s reporter when he tried to speak with her.
Nash was hit with an eviction notice the very next day.
CBS 13’s story aired on February 27. The next morning, Calkins had the property’s maintenance man post a single-page notice on all tenants’ doors, which detailed that additional cameras were being wired all over the complex. One was placed just outside Nickson’s front window and the other in his car port.
Nickson was baffled and disturbed, especially since the camera in front of his unit appears to gaze into his windows of his neighbors across the way.
Calkins could not be reached by SN&R, but was briefly contacted two weeks ago by reporters from Fox40. Similar to her reaction to CBS 13, Calkins refused to speak, closed herself behind a door and would only utter that she didn’t have a comment.
“I have no privacy whatsoever, and the people across from me, the camera can look right up into their apartment,” Nickson stressed. “She’s more or less a bully, and she talks to you as if you have no rights, and you’ve got to do what she wants you to do; but she makes up rules that aren’t in anybody’s lease – she just makes up the rules as she goes along.”
Nickson added, “I’m all stressed out. I don’t even like my music. I don’t eat good no more … It’s horrible.”
Video evidence, and better to face the unknown
On Friday, March 25, Nickson, Nash and their neighbor Angela (her last name is being withheld to protect the privacy of her grandkids who live in Glen Ellen) all stood and watched longtime community member Mychelle Franklin-Barker say goodbye to them before rolling away in a big U-Haul truck. Like everyone she was waving to, Franklin-Barker never had a problem at the Glen Ellen complex until Calkins arrived. Then, all at once, the status that she and her husband Ellington had as model tenants for 6 years, was erased overnight.
Franklin-Barker says it started with the way Calkins handled Mutual Housing’s annual re-certification for their unit, which the couple says they’d already completed under the former site manager. Calkins was insisting they do it again for her. According to Franklin-Barker, at first Calkins told them she couldn’t complete the process until she got another pay stub from Ellington. While the couple was getting that for her, Calkins started demanding three more paystubs, as well as bank statements they’d never had to provide before. The process got drawn out for weeks.
“She just kept adding things on,” Franklin-Barker remembered. “Everything we would give her, she’d just turn around and say, ‘I need more now … It finally got to the point where we had to send her an email saying, ‘We’ve been bringing what you asked for, but my husband is not going to take time off of work anymore to keeping bringing more.’ He couldn’t keep missing work just to go into her office, only for her to re-schedule – or say that she need something new, now.”
Franklin-Barker noted that Calkins started hitting her and her husband with lease violations for things like having a broom on their front step – and she displayed what they describe as hostility while doing it.
“She has yelled at my husband when she’s seen him backing into the stall,” Franklin-Barker explained. “Just being really irate with him. And she’s been really rude to me, to the point where I feel uncomfortable.”
The interactions got so tense that Mychelle and Ellington attempted to capture them with their cell phones. They say Calkins demanded that they not record her.
But other tenants have had more success on that front.
Nash showed SN&R a phone video of him attempting to discuss his safety concerns around parking – the lease violations he was getting for them – with Calkins, who in the video essentially won’t engage with him and refuses to answer his questions. Angela, on the other hand, has a more jarring video. Angela says that, like Franklin-Barker, her problems with Calkins started with chaos around the re-certification process. Having lived at Glen Ellen for 8 years, Angela was looking for support. She contacted the Sacramento Tenants Union. They sent a representative to a meeting that Angela had with Calkins and, the following Monday, Angela was hit with her first lease violation.
“With me, the first one was definitely retaliatory,” Angela said. “My rent has always been paid. I’d never been cited before, never had a lease violation – nothing, never.”
Angela says conflict with Calkins escalated, and on February 16 the manager tried to give her a three-day-or-quit notice. Angela says that when she tried to close her apartment door, Calkins stuck her foot in the door and wouldn’t let her. On the heels of that dust-up, the next time Calkins arrived – this time trying to return Angela’s rent money in an envelope – Angela made sure to take a video with her cell phone. The interaction she captured, provided to SN&R last week, shows Calkins literally throwing the envelop of rent money at Angela while her grandbabies are present.
“My family suffered death in this pandemic, and with this, now, it’s feeling emotional, it’s feeling anxiety, and it’s feeling threatened,” Angela muttered. “I’ve never in my life witnessed such disregard for human beings; and Mutual Housing has let this escalate so much. I don’t want to be here now. I feel exposed.”
Mutual Housing did not respond to interview requests for this story. Multiple tenants at Glen Ellen told SN&R that they’ve brought their concerns to Calkins supervisor, Jyl Card, only for Card to defend her and take no action.
As for Franklin-Barker, she went through with driving that U-Haul out of Glen Ellen on a sunny afternoon last week.
“Since we’ve been here so long, our rent is controlled,” she acknowledged. “The rent at where we’re moving to is two-and-a-half times what we’re paying now. That means my husband, who’s already working two jobs, is trying to pick up more hours because of the stress. I’m working, too. Even though we know rents are sky-rocketing, I would rather be comfortable than be here and feel like I have to walk on egg shells in my own home.”
She added, “Some of the other people who are here are older, and they can’t just get up and move like that because they’re on fixed incomes. So, I hope for their sake, there’s something that can change. It’s really getting out of control here.”