San Jose nonprofit faces accusations of bedbugs, mildew in apartments
Zack Anderson, a Downtown Streets Team tenant living in South San Jose, holds up the filter from his air conditioning unit. He claims the air in his apartment is polluted with mildew. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    Zack Anderson only pays about $350 a month in rent thanks to housing subsidies from a local nonprofit—but not for the past eight months.

    He said he’s been holding off on payments because his South San Jose apartment is infested with bedbugs, mildew and needs urgent maintenance.

    The apartment is managed by Downtown Streets Team, a San Jose-based nonprofit that provides housing assistance and other services to low-income and homeless people all over the Bay Area, while empowering them to help peers through volunteer work. Anderson previously volunteered with the group.

    “Downtown Streets Team is a great organization. They help a lot of people get off the street,” Anderson said. “But I decided I was going to stop paying my rent because of the bug problems and all the bug bites I had, and just the overall nastiness of the apartment.”

    Director of Program Operations Chris Richardson said Anderson raised the latest concerns to him only days before contacting San José Spotlight, and management hasn’t found any bug infestations since the building was fumigated about a year ago.

    They’re also looking into Anderson’s claims of mildew, mold and other maintenance issues. A mold inspector hired to take a look at the apartment on Monday concluded there was no mold, according to Richardson.

    Anderson lives at the Glenbrook Apartments in south San Jose.

    “(Anderson) has raised other concerns all the time, not necessarily about the apartment. (He’s talked) about mildew, and the broken window upstairs that we’re already getting fixed,” Richardson said. “The only reports we’ve had out of the 12 units … is from Zack’s room.”

    Zack Anderson has had stable housing since February 2019 when San Jose-based nonprofit Downtown Streets Team subsidized most of his monthly rent at the South San Jose apartment building. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    The San Jose-based nonprofit took on most of the cost of Anderson’s room, along with a handful of other newly-housed tenants as part of its aim to end homelessness.

    Since moving in back in February 2019, Anderson said his two-bedroom apartment has been riddled with problems.

    Downtown Streets Team gave Anderson a roof over his head. He said he doesn’t want to strain the relationships with people in the organization, but conditions in the apartment continue to fall short of his expectations. Though he said he has the money, Anderson won’t make rent payments until he is satisfied with the response.

    Zack Anderson claims the brown stains on his ceiling are mildew, the result of water seeping through his upstairs neighbor’s floor. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    According to Glenbrook Apartments, which leases the units, his shared apartment would normally cost about $2,599 a month.

    In the years they worked together in the Downtown Streets Team office, Anderson and Richardson developed a mutual respect for each other.

    “First, you know I love you guys. You guys saved my life, and I don’t want it to come to this,” Anderson told Richardson in a recent phone call. “You know I want to pay my rent. I want to be able to live here. But I can’t live here, we have cockroaches and bedbugs.”

    Richardson said management has fought bedbugs, like everybody else in San Jose, for years. According to Santa Clara County, reports of bedbugs have increased in recent years.

    It’s something no one should have to deal with, he continued, and he’s considering another bug inspection to appease Anderson.

    But it’s not just about exterminating the bugs. Anderson said it’s about making sure they won’t return—which involves getting some of his neighbors to be more hygienic and throw away rotting trash and food.

    Management can’t force tenants to take showers or throw away food, Richardson said, and some of the people Downtown Streets Team houses are still adapting to new living situations and the lifestyle changes that come with it.

    Anderson’s roommate, who requested to only be identified as Roger, said he agreed with Anderson that there’s mildew and mold in the building.

    “S— is coming apart in here,” Roger said. “(Management’s) response to me has been, ‘There’s nothing wrong with the apartment, (management) is getting the funds to get it fixed.’ There’s still mold coming out my damn air conditioning unit because there’s mold behind the drywall in my room.”

    Anderson’s roommate Roger said the gap above the kitchen cabinet is a result of it dragging from the ceiling. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    While Richardson said he’s dispatching people to fix the window and lay down new carpet—bugs have not been found in the building since it was last inspected.

    “We’ve done a ton of work in most apartments,” he said. “I don’t know what the story is here, (but) it feels very, very unfair. You know? It feels like a grudge.”

    Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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