Silver Oaks residents to negotiate with attorneys

Photo by Dave LaBelle.

Nick Glunt, Lydia Coutre

Silver Oaks Place residents will bring 45 individual complaints to mediation Wednesday, three days before a move-out date ordered by property owner Tell Real Estate.

Residents of the 55-and-older senior community were notified in late July of Capstone Development Corporation’s pending purchase of the complex. Silver Oaks management asked all residents to leave the premises by Oct. 1 — giving them little more than two months to find new accommodation.

Capstone plans to renovate the facility for student housing after its purchase is finalized at the end of the year.

“I think it’s fantastic that we’ll have an opportunity to actually be heard,” said resident Mary Maske, 74. “To talk about what our needs are is phenomenal. I’m very pleased.”

Maske is among many residents and family members who will take a bus to the Lausche State Office Building in downtown Cleveland to meet with attorneys for Tell Real Estate and Capstone. Civil rights attorney Avery Friedman will represent the Silver Oaks residents.

“We need people to be there for them to pay attention to us,” Maske said at a Sept. 13 meeting at the Silver Oaks Silver Center. “Strength in numbers! We need people to go. Hell, I can’t even walk, and I’m going to go.”

Each resident who filed a complaint will have an opportunity to request their individual terms, such as monetary reimbursement and lease extension.

Residents were asked to list every inconvenience or health complication they’ve experienced since they were notified. This can include, among other things, moving and medical costs.

Capstone has already paid for Two Men and a Truck to help residents move within a 40-mile radius prior to the move-out date. Capstone granted some residents who asked individually the same service beyond that date.

A Capstone representative directed all media questions regarding Silver Oaks to Alton Irwin, Capstone executive vice president for marketing. He did not reply with answers to questions via email — which is how he told reporters he preferred to be contacted.

Friedman said there is no federal or state law prohibiting age bias in housing.

“If Silver Oaks symbolizes anything, it may be time for either the Congress or the state legislature, or both, to consider protecting the elderly when it comes to housing rights,” Friedman said.

He said he’s basing his legal argument on disability laws, which is why the Ohio Civil Rights Commission accepted the charges. He said this is where the “legal hook” falls in a largely moral issue.

“There’s no question that this is an absolute moral catastrophe,” Friedman said.

Robin Turner, at-large city council member, has been following the issue and speaking up for the seniors since July.

“I don’t know what kind of values a company has that views this strictly as a ‘business opportunity’ when you have basically forced over 150 senior people out onto the street,” Turner said.

Dave Ruller, Kent city manager, stated in an email that the city has been working closely with seniors to try to “facilitate as smooth a transition as possible.”

“No matter how motivated we were on moral grounds, the city had no legal standing to try to impose a different outcome for this private property sale between a willing seller and a willing buyer,” Ruller wrote.

Turner said even though he isn’t directly impacted, he’s “outraged.”

“Think of the pressure these folks are in. They don’t know if they stay there right now and fight if they’re going to lose their opportunity to have their moving taken care of,” Turner said. “And some people have said, ‘Well be that as it may, we’re fighting. And I think that that’s courageous beyond any courage I have.”

“The faces of Silver Oaks”

Wah-Chiu Lai

Wah-Chiu Lai has done everything he can to find a new place to live.

“I have no options,” Lai said. “I don’t know what I can do, but I just wait.”

The location of Silver Oaks Place was ideal for Lai. He is a custodial worker at Tri Towers and is currently working to complete his Ph.D.

With no car or family nearby, his only choice is to try to get a longer stay.

“I only feel hopeless, really,” Lai said.

He will attend mediation as one of 45 residents who filed complaints with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

He said the displacement of seniors is “predatory capitalism,” on behalf of Capstone.

“Many people feel there is nothing,” he said. “We cannot do anything.”

Lai is bipolar and suffers from severe depression. He said the events at Silver Oaks served to exacerbate his condition.

Lai moved to Silver Oaks in 2005. He said he wishes the residents could stay together.

“We are happy, like in a family,” Lai said.

Many residents moved out quickly, concerned about moving in the winter months, he said. He found a mobile home to live in, but the owner could not find a replacement apartment.

Lai said that even if the remaining residents were granted lease extensions, the issue still wouldn’t be solved. It’s a social problem that is happening nationwide, he said.

“Since the eviction broke our dream, everyone says that if we want to die here, it’s impossible. All have to go,” Lai said. “Capstone eviction destroyed our dream.”

Harold Brown

Harold Brown, 63, used to visit Silver Oaks Place two to three times every day to take care of his mother, Sleda Brown.

The 89-year-old resident was deeply affected by watching her neighbors move out one by one, which was made worse by her moderate to severe Alzheimer’s.

“It’s kind of upsetting because as far as I’m concerned, Kent is a peaceful town,” he said.

Harold Brown, who used to live at Silver Oaks as well, was “shocked” and “disgusted” to learn that seniors were being asked to leave.

He attempted to find a nursing home for his mother, but the cost was too high. He said the care would work out to approximately $133 a day; one year would wipe out two and a half years of his mother’s savings.

He and his brother decided it would be best if she moved in with family. Harold and his wife both work in health care — she works in an Alzheimer’s unit.

“So it was like a no-brainer after we put everything together,” Harold Brown said.

Sleda Brown moved in with him and his family in Ravenna two weeks ago. The transition has been smooth, but Harold Brown said his mother is confused at times.

He plans to go to the mediation and hopes the result will prevent displacement like this from happening again.

“For her, it’s just peace of mind that she doesn’t have to move anymore,” Harold Brown said. “No more transitioning. When she moved up there, that was supposed to be the last moving that she was going to do, and hopefully this will be the last one now.”

Andrew Kmetz

Resident Andrew Kmetz is distancing himself from the tension at Silver Oaks Place.

“I don’t care about it. I have nothing to do with it,” Kmetz said. “I don’t think anything’s going to come out of it whatsoever.”

The 80-year-old lived in the complex for 10 years before moving out this month. He said he misses almost “nothing” about Silver Oaks.

“The only thing I miss would be the camaraderie of the people in the apartment complex,” Kmetz said.

He moved to Pebblebrook with his Silver Oaks neighbor Robert Alexander, 81. The two remained neighbors.

Kmetz said he thinks the Kent community should have done more to help Silver Oaks residents from the beginning.

“All these people from the community… parade around and say senior citizens need so and so, but they didn’t do a damn thing,” Kmetz said. “They didn’t do anything. Come help the people pack. Help the people move. They didn’t do that.”

His new apartment is $85 more a month. He said he could afford it, but other Silver Oaks residents may have a harder time.

The new apartment is more spacious, which makes it harder to get around. Despite this, Kmetz said he’s happy where he is.

He has chosen to remain out of the mediation.

“I don’t need their baloney,” he said. “Going to court? For what? You can’t stay there. No matter who takes it over, you’re going to have to move.”

Contact Nick Glunt at [email protected]. Contact Lydia Coutre at [email protected].