BERKELEY (KPIX) — A crowdfunding campaign to raise $70,000 for a Berkeley man at risk of losing the home he has owned for 45 years, has gone viral.
By Thursday evening, a campaign to keep Leonard Powell, a veteran and retired postal worker, in his South Berkeley home, had raised more than $77,000.
Powell said the house is full of memories for him.
He and his wife raised six kids in the home and she died there in 1997.
After her death, he said his home fell into disrepair. In 2015, Powell said city of Berkeley officials entered his home and told him he would need to make massive repairs.
“They brought city code enforcement. Guy comes in my house and starts finding all these discrepancies,” said Powell.
The problems ranged from wiring to plumbing and heating. Powell said he scrambled to make fixes, enlisting his sons to update the house but they weren’t making the changes fast enough and, in 2017, a judge appointed a receiver, Gerard Keena.
Powell, still the legal owner of the home, was forced to leave his home while Keena made renovations for which Powell would ultimately be responsible. Powell said once the renovations got under way, he became concerned.
“It was obvious that they were doing work that I could not afford to cover,” he said. “Italian tile in both kitchens, $1,200 stoves, $1,000 refrigerators, marble counter tops, red-oak hardwood floors.”
Once renovations were complete, Powell said he owed roughly $600,000.
Powell’s neighbor, Margy Wilkinson, a member of the community group Friends of Adeline, said she believes Keena remodeled the property in hopes of taking over ownership and making a profit.
“[Keena] remodeled the home not for Mr. Powell but to make it a saleable item,” said Wilkinson.
KPIX 5 reached out to Mr. Keena to get his side of the story but he did not return a call or e-mail.
Wilkinson said Friends of Adeline began working with Mr. Powell, sorting through paper work with him and attending court hearings. Another friend helped Powell obtain a $600,000 owner-occupied loan with the Veterans Administration. But Wilkinson said that, when Powell went back to court, it still wasn’t enough.
“He’s told that [he owes] another $70,000 and that it’s increasing,” said Wilkinson. The additional fees, Powell said, were charged by the receiver to pay staff and cover insurance and storage fees.
To help pay the fees, Wilkinson and Friends of Adeline set up a GoFundMe account for Powell. Within a week and a half, it went viral, surpassing its goal.
“Wham! It mushroomed,” said Powell. “I am more than grateful.”
On Twitter, Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguin encouraged people to donate to Powell and clarified, “The city is not trying to take his home. The court appointed receiver is. I have pleaded with the court to work with Mr. Powell to keep his house and we are working on a fair resolution for him to stay housed.”
Wilkinson said she is “cautiously optimistic” that Powell will be allowed to return to his home soon. Powell’s next court appearance is scheduled for March 11. He said he won’t be confident he’ll be allowed to return home until he hears it from a judge.