Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fallen Tree Leaves Ojai Man Homeless

With the fallen oak tree resting on his van, Mel Williams and grandson Jesse wait for city crews to remove it.

Photo by Scott Wintermute

By Lenny Roberts

Mel Williams has lived in a rented duplex on Franklin Street for 18 years. Now, an act of God, he says, according to the city after a tree fell into his house, has left him temporarily at a local motel paid for by the Ventura County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
To make matters worse, Williams has no renter’s insurance and the owner of the four duplexes on the property — two of which the city reportedly would like to condemn — has moved away, making it difficult for Williams to pay his monthly share of the Section 8 housing costs. The checks he has sent to the property owner have all been returned for the last several months. But an official at the Area Housing Authority for Ventura County said Tuesday all the checks they have sent to him at an out-of-state address have been cashed.
Sunday night, Williams and his 13-year-old grandson, Jesse, were watching television in the living room of the modest two-bedroom home when the tree came crashing down during heavy winds.
“It sounded like a tornado,” Williams recalled. “I dived onto the floor and the ceiling came. And all the bees,” he added, referring to a hive that was in the 4-foot-diameter oak tree.
Williams contends the tree that blew into his living room Sunday night was rotten, on city-owned property, and should have been removed long ago. Both Public Works director Mike Culver and building inspector-code enforcement officer Brian Meadows were out of their offices and unavailable for comment.
Linda Fisher-Helton, representing the Area Housing Authority, said Williams receives a voucher which guarantees approximately 70 percent of his living costs, including rent and payment for utilities, and he can use that voucher in any of the six cities or the unincorporated areas of the county served by the agency. Fisher-Helton said a list of acceptable rentals is available on the AHAVC web site, ahavc.org. “He doesn’t lose his subsidy,” she explained, adding there is no requirement for the owner of AHA-subsidized property to provide insurance.
But Williams said he checked on one place — a one-bedroom rental for $1,000 a month — and the lady told him she didn’t accept Section 8 rentals.
“It’s very unfortunate, but there’s nothing we can do. We’re here just to subsidize the monthly rent,” Fisher-Helton said.
With his home uninhabitable and his van crushed by the tree, Williams must now look for a place to live after his Red Cross assistance stops later this week.
At least for now, the Ojai motel where he is staying while his future is decided allows him to keep his 2-year-old boxer-pit bull mix , Jake.
“He wouldn’t hurt anybody and loves kids,” Williams said.

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