Affordable housing replacing deplorable Oakland hotel

A dilapidated hotel in Oakland is undergoing major construction and will soon reopen as affordable housing, free of code violations and deplorable conditions.
Empyrean Towers is more than a century old and was exposed by 2 Investigates several years ago for holes in the walls, leaky ceilings, and extension cords used as permanent wiring. That’s all changing now after  Resources for Community Development (RCD) bought the building more than a year ago, after city liens forced the owner into bankruptcy. 
“It’s a little bit of partnership for the community to see this building change like this coming from what even you guys did in the media,” executive director Dan Sawislak said.
The Berkeley-based nonprofit buys and renovates, or develops new homes and buildings for people who need affordable housing. The group currently provides rental homes to 5,000 people in 24 cities in the region, about one third of which are reserved for people with special needs.
But Empyrean Towers was in a class of its own when RCD acquired it.
“It was the worst I’ve ever seen and I’ve been doing this stuff for 30 years,” Sawislak said.
In fact, planners said they were surprised that the seven-story building was even still standing.
Now, builders are up against a clock to gut, remodel and replace the plumbing, electricity, heating and roof.
“We’ve been under construction here for about nine months,” associate director of real estate development Jessica Sheldon said. “It still feels a little nerve-racking.”
Hallways with hustling workers are converting and reducing 99 apartments to  66 units for more space and private bathrooms. 
Unlike before, where there were all kinds of serious safety violations, now fire alarms, smoke detectors and sprinklers are brand new and fully functional.
Many of the former tenants are staying at nearby hotels with plans to get the first group of people into their new apartments in February. 
Of those 40 low-income, elderly or disabled residents, some will pay as little as $150 or $200 a month rent and will also have access to other social services at the building.
Program organizers said there were an extra 25 affordable apartments, but they’re all filled up after receiving more than 4,000 applications.
“There are many, many other places like this that can use this kind of work,” Sawislak said. “This is why we’re in the business. We’re going to have something here that’s going to last for generations.”