Poor residents, city no match for San Jose’s huge ‘faceless, corporate slumlord’
Foxdale Village, a 287-unit apartment complex on San Jose's east side, is owned by KDF Communities, which is based in Newport Beach (Orange County). Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

Kashana Ashford spent the sweltering Labor Day weekend moving her family out of an extended-stay hotel.

Ashford is a 41-year-old cafeteria worker and former bus driver for the Mountain View Whisman School District. For more than five months she’s been bouncing from one temporary housing arrangement to the next with seven children because their apartment at Foxdale Village has been uninhabitable since March.

Up until then, she was paying $2,277 a month for a four-bedroom on San Jose’s east side. It’s all her family can afford on a single income. They’ve lived in that apartment since 2015 and for four years before that they stayed in a different unit at the same complex, just off Capitol Expressway. Two separate leaks earlier this year caused water damage that seeped into her walls, allowing toxic mold to grow — and forcing them out.

“My apartment was a dump,” Ashford said.

Water damage caused toxic mold to grow inside the walls of Kashana Ashford’s apartment, forcing her landlord to tear it down to the studs. Photo courtesy of Kashana Ashford.

She and her family, including an 18-month-old toddler and four school-aged children, were living out of their suitcases while the landlord refurbished the unit.

“My son took his first steps at an airbnb,” she said.

Ashford said they were finally able to return home last weekend. But the inadequate maintenance that made their home unlivable for so long is symptomatic of bigger problems at the complex, according to Ashford.

The owners “are getting rich off of poor people,” she said.

Seeking justice

Jaime Angulo, the founding director of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County’s Responsible Landlord Engagement Initiative (RLEI), has been organizing tenants seeking justice from slumlords in San Jose since 2012.

Angulo told San José Spotlight he started working with tenants at Foxdale Village about three years ago. But RLEI didn’t have much luck getting the landlord to take responsibility.

“They don’t take care of their tenants,” Angulo said. “And they have a thousand excuses.”

The tenants’ rights advocate also said the owner and property management company that runs Foxdale discouraged tenants from organizing with RLEI by targeting them with petty lease violations and charging them bogus fees.

Those tactics don’t scare Ashford, especially after everything she’s already been through. She told San José Spotlight she moved back to Foxdale not just because it’s all she can afford. She says she wants to get her neighbors organized so they can use collective action to get their landlord to address the awful conditions they are all living in.

“I’m not moving,” Ashford said. “I’m staying right where I am and I’m going to empower my neighbors.”

Kashana Ashford’s family bounced from one hotel to another this summer after their apartment was contaminated by toxic mold. Photo courtesy of Kashana Ashford.

Her landlord, KDF Communities, owns nine low-income apartment complexes in San Jose with a total of more than 1,600 units — making them one of the largest affordable housing providers in Silicon Valley.

The company has tenants in 120 two-and three-bedroom apartments at Villa Monterey and 143 similar units at Regency Square. KDF also owns 180 one-and two-bedroom units at Casa Real and 288 at Orchard Glen, which are mostly studios and one-bedrooms.

“They’re a faceless, corporate slumlord,” said Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco, who represents the district where Foxdale is located. “We have a lot of problems on the east side of San Jose but KDF has been the bane of my existence.”

Carrasco described the Newport Beach (Orange County) company as “slippery eels,” saying it was nearly “impossible to hold them to account.”

Neither KDF Communities nor its property management company VPM responded to requests for comment.

Checkered history

Valley Palms in San Jose is the landlord’s biggest property in the city with 354 mostly two-bedroom units. KDF gets a hefty $1.5 million annual subsidy from the federal government for keeping the complex as affordable housing. But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the number of tenants KDF has statewide.

A 2010 lawsuit, in which KDF sued the San Francisco Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, says the company owned about 9,000 apartments in California. KDF lost the suit and an appeal, which claimed the city’s rent board prevented the company from collecting a federal low-income housing tax credit.

KDF also has been on the other side of many lawsuits, most notably when more than 20 former tenants in Redwood City sued their landlord after a six-alarm fire destroyed the 72-unit Hallmark House Apartments in 2013. Ninety-seven people were left homeless by the blaze, 21 were sent to the hospital and one man died.

The lawsuit alleged negligence on the part of KDF which bought the 40-year-old complex in 2003 but did not upgrade it to include fire sprinklers. The suit was dismissed in 2015; the terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Seven years after the fire, KDF hasn’t rebuilt Hallmark House. But after getting a nod from the Redwood City Council earlier this year, the California Statewide Communities Development Authority (CSCDA) approved $22 million in tax-exempt bonds so the company can finally refurbish the property.

That followed CSCDA approval of $122 million in tax-free bonds for KDF to rehabilitate Valley Palms in East San Jose in April. As with the Redwood City property, the San Jose City Council was required to hold a Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TERFA) hearing before the CSCDA could approve the bond issue.

A fatal fire that tore through this building at Foxdale in Jan. 2018 killed a young mother. Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

Before the hearing in March, Councilwoman Maya Esparza, who represents the council district where Valley Palms is located, raked the landlord over the coals in a memo to her colleagues — saying KDF and its property management company “have not been acting in the best interests of their tenants at Valley Palms Apartments and have been systematically failing to address the stated needs of their tenants.”

“One Valley Palms resident, a mother of two, recounted having to wait eight months for a repair for a hole in the ceiling which limited use of the room, and over four months for repairs for a shower drain clogged due to old piping throughout the complex, during which time she and her family had to manually empty the shower water into the sink after each use,” Esparza wrote in the memo. “The resident also notes that two of her four stove tops function, and that they both emit sparks. She has reported this to management numerous times, but nothing has been done.”

The council gave its approval at the March 10 TERFA hearing, which cleared the way for CSCDA to issue the tax-free bonds for Valley Palms. But it came with some strings attached. Councilmembers insisted KDF address the rampant disrepair at the complex and provide improved maintenance and security.

KDF will have to go through a similar process next year for Foxdale Village to continue receiving its $1.8 million annual subsidy from the federal government for maintaining the complex as affordable housing. Perhaps when that happens the council will be able to extract similar promises for Foxdale residents — if the city can hold KDF to its commitments.

“In the meantime, people are suffering because the landlord won’t do the right thing,” Angulo said.

Contact Adam F. Hutton at [email protected] or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.