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‘There is no heat’: Residents at Harriet Tubman Terrace are frustrated with living conditions

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The terrace is a federal affordable housing complex, run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with 91 units along Adeline Street.


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MARCH 14, 2023

For senior residents of Harriet Tubman Terrace Apartments, heating has been a luxury — not a basic service.

Older residents have been experiencing these problems for decades, and so have recent tenants. According to Jon Toussaint, who has lived at Harriet Tubman for about three months, many residents share his personal grievances with the lack of heat and said it is not an issue isolated to a single unit.

“There is no heat in many of the apartments, I can tell you there is none in mine,” Toussaint alleged. “In my case it is simply not working, I even had the maintenance guy look at it and he said ‘yours doesn’t work at all.’ ”

For Toussaint, his experiences at Harriet Tubman came as a surprise. He was shocked by the lack of heat and later by the fact that this seemed to be an ongoing issue, according to residents Toussaint spoke with.

Toussaint’s heater stopped working after an attempted fix that occurred about three weeks ago, he said. An attempt to change baseboard heating systems that have been slightly faulty led to maintenance partly replacing the heating, and Toussaint claims his heating hasn’t worked since.

However, problems with heating have been occurring for far longer. David Schooley, a resident at Harriet Tubman for about 30 years, said that during his whole time living there the heating system has always been an issue. Schooley said the heater in his room is “busted” and he is “cold and angry” about the constant lack of warmth.

“If there is one thing tenants are entitled to, it is heat,” said James Chang, chief of staff to Vice Mayor Ben Bartlett, who has been advocating on behalf of the residents of Harriet Tubman.

The terrace is a federal affordable housing complex, run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, with 91 units along Adeline Street. According to Chang, there has been advocacy by the city and Bartlett to do what they can, yet much of the issue is outside of their jurisdiction.

Tenants have shared their complaints with Chang and Bartlett. Chang said he has been visiting Harriet Tubman once a month as part of a larger effort to assist tenants.

Chang added that he has been “aggressively reaching out” to Foundation Housing, the management group for Harriet Tubman, regarding the lack of heat.

“As a city, it’s our responsibility to prioritize the wellbeing of our most vulnerable residents,” Bartlett said in an email. “We are taking action to address the concerns raised by tenants at Harriet Tubman Terrace, to ensure that they receive the respect and dignity they deserve.”

Harriet Tubman Terrace Apartments declined to comment on the lack of heating as of press time.

Part of the problem stems from limitations the city faces in terms of jurisdiction, according to Chang. Because Harriet Tubman is a federal building, it is run by HUD, and the traditional resources the city would use to assist residents, such as the rent board, do not apply to tenants living there, Chang explained.

According to Chang, the city has assisted residents as much as it is able to, including sending out a request for proposal to hire a tenant advocate. The tenant advocate, once hired, will  investigate past actions and attempted solutions to the problems at Harriet Tubman while acting as a communicator between the tenants and management.

“The city of Berkeley does care and we take these things very seriously,” Chang said. “We have been aggressively advocating for them, that is why we have earmarked a tenant advocate specifically for Harriet Tubman.”

In the meantime, according to Toussaint, tenants are holding community meetings to discuss their problems. Toussaint said these have been going on for quite a while and are led by a community leader.

Additional complaints by residents include Toussaint’s frustration with the noise from the constantly-on air purification system that sucks air out of his bathroom, and the loud sounds of trucks in the morning at Berkeley Bowl. According to an email shared by Chang, other residents have complained about soot, constant repairs, faulty locking systems, draftiness and dust accumulation.

With recent weather, Toussaint relied on portable space heaters to warm his room. Schooley said he loves the rain, but said it has been freezing in his apartment.

Contact Rae Wymer at 


MARCH 14, 2023