Stevenson House shakeup boots director, staff

Low-income senior housing facility brings in management agency

A major shakeup at senior-housing community Stevenson House has resulted in the dismissal of its longtime executive director and several other staff members.

Executive Director Thomas Pamilla was given 15 minutes of notice that his position had been terminated after the board of directors hired an outside management agency to run the facility, which provides low-income housing to some of Palo Alto's neediest seniors, he confirmed on Thursday.

Board members allegedly told Pamilla that the new management, The John Stewart Company, a San Francisco-based corporation, "won't accept you" as the reason for his dismissal, he said.

Pamilla's swift exit is part of sweeping staffing changes since the board elected to hire the management company to run the Charleston Road facility, which has 120 units. The movement toward letting outside management companies lower the ax on longtime employees in favor of lower wages or reduced benefits is a growing trend, a labor attorney said.

Persons who are not employed at Stevenson House contacted the Palo Alto Weekly with concerns regarding the seniors' welfare after learning of reported dismissal of much of the staff, many of whom worked for Stevenson House for a decade or longer.

Reached at his home, Pamilla confirmed the reports. He said that some of the dismissals occurred after a temporary employment agency found that five or six employees had discrepancies on their Homeland Security Employment Eligibility Verification forms, or I-9s, such as nonconforming Social Security numbers. Those employees were given until Feb. 18 to contest the findings or to show proof of their eligibility to work, or they would be terminated, but they were dismissed instead in early February. Those staff members held maintenance and kitchen positions, he said. Pamilla said he was not one of the employees with an I-9 issue.

But more heads have rolled, he said.

"It was announced just before Christmas that as of Jan. 1 the entire staff would no longer be working for Stevenson House. All employees would only work for (a temporary employment agency)," Pamilla said.

Employees were also informed that no provisions had been made to preserve their health care benefits, although the board would look into how to potentially mitigate that loss, perhaps with employees paying part of the costs, he said.

Stevenson House's 990 nonprofit tax-exemption filing for 2013 shows the organization remains in the black under Pamilla. The organization had $1.8 million in gross receipts, with net assets of $2.1 million.

Although its revenue less expenses dropped from $362,521 in 2011 to $92,233 in fiscal year 2012-13, the drop was largely due to a difference in public support, which decreased from $1.1 million in 2011 to nearly $970,000 in 2012. But the 2012 figure still far surpassed support it received in the previous three years prior to 2011, which was in the high-$600,000 range for 2008 and 2009, according to the exemption filing.

A 2013 independent auditor's report by Holden & Company also did not find any malfeasance or "deficiency in internal control over financial reporting" or any "material weakness."

Pamilla said three years ago the board of directors hired a consultant to help plan a renovation project. Stevenson House is 46 years old, and the building was showing its age. The plumbing was breaking, and it became obvious that the facility needed a major overhaul, he said. The consultant, Related Companies of California, recommended the board hire a real estate broker to help it secure Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Tax Exempt Bonds, which it sought as part of the $36.8 million financing. The board hired John Stewart Company to guide them with the tax credits, and eventually as a broker, Pamilla said.

After John Stewart was hired, in November or December 2014 Pamilla was no longer invited to executive committee meetings, he said. He was told that John Stewart was being signed on as managing agent for two years. But that changed before Christmas, when he learned that the company would be hired permanently.

On Feb. 9, three board members came into Pamilla's office and told him he was on a paid leave of absence, without explanation. When he returned on Feb. 18, he was informed he was being let go immediately. He was not given a reason other than the management company told the board they did not need an executive director, he said.

"I feel very bad that I was told to leave so many vulnerable seniors without the opportunity to say farewell. I feel even worse that they might not receive the personal attention that they need and deserve," he said in an email provided by a source.

Before he came to Stevenson House, Pamilla spent 13 years as executive director of Community Services Agency of Mountain View and Los Altos. He has held managerial positions at agencies working with seniors in San Diego and New York. He said by phone he feels betrayed "in so many ways." For eight years, he built relationships with the staff and seniors, he said. But he is not so concerned about himself. The seniors are the ones he is most worried about, he said.

"I've been a social worker my whole life, and for most of that I've worked with seniors. When I came to Stevenson House, I thought I'd see a lot of people in wheelchairs or with walkers. But the biggest issues were the mental health issues. These were people who had no place to live. I just worry if they put a bureaucrat in there who doesn't give a damn about anything but the bottom line, these people are going to be lost," he said.

Pamilla also fears the seniors will lose their emotional support.

"Picture somebody 90 years old who has an issue or has lost somebody. They are all alone. I was there seven days a week to give them a hug. I'm not sure that's happening anymore."

He also fears the seniors will lose many of the programs he helped build that gave them reach into the community, such as the intergenerational program and a Parkinson's disease group that grew from four to 45 members.

Stevenson House is also losing wonderful staff, he said.

"These were dedicated people who really cared for the seniors, and caring for the seniors was a passion. It wasn't about the money," he said.

Board President Patrick O'Regan, Vice President Bob Wachs, other board members and representatives from John Stewart Company did not return requests for comment. But in a Feb. 11 letter to residents, O'Regan confirmed the management transfer.

"The reasons for the changes are varied and are not disclosed to maintain the confidentiality of the individuals involved.

"The board is fully committed to maintain, or improve, the level of support of you, the residents of Stevenson House," he wrote. The changes would be discussed at the March 9 residents' meeting, he said.

Carole Vigne, an attorney with The Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center in San Francisco, said that switching to management companies, dismissals of staff, reducing or eliminating benefits, and hiring back formerly full-time workers to part-time or temporary positions are becoming more commonplace practices. And employees have little or no protection.

Generally speaking, California is an "at-will employment" state, where anyone can be terminated at any time unless they are part of a union with collective bargaining, she said. But employees can sue if everyone who is let go is over a certain age or if workers who are coming together asking for benefits or rights are terminated in retaliation, for example, she said.

"But those cases are backed by fact. Many cases are difficult to prove," she said.

This past week Vigne met with a group of warehouse workers who were let go; at least one of them has since been rehired through a staffing company, she said.

The labyrinth of companies involved in managing an organization can be perplexing.

"So much of low-wage industries are mazes of entities. There is one company on the application form, another on the paycheck and another on the disciplinary warnings," she said.

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6 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2015 at 8:40 am

Isn't Stevenson House a PAHC property? If so, why isn't PAHC mentioned?

Talk to the residents, they know what's going on.

10 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2015 at 8:47 am

Amid this lengthy article it states that some staff were discovered to be working there with "nonconforming Social Security numbers" as in STOLEN from others? I would think that would be grounds for immediate dismissal and prosecution, rather than having time to dream up an excuse. [Portion removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by also a neighbor
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 28, 2015 at 9:50 am

In response to a posting by "neighbor".
I find the following words: "stolen" and "illegal aliens", threaded with non conforming Social Security numbers offensive. An error in entry may lead to a non conforming SSN. This is common. There are also any number of other reasons why a person, irrespective of legal status might use a SSN not their own, ex: tax, child/spousal support payment evasion. But to attempt to criminalize a group of people here without having all the facts is extremely offensive and petty. In addition, choosing to go off on a bigoted tangent, under an article that presents a situation where long time employees have lost their wages with little to no notice is petty and has unfortunate effect of being perceived as reflective of this community's views. Please think before you post.

5 people like this
Posted by Sue Dremann
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2015 at 10:20 am

To clarify the story, Stevenson House was built by the Unitarian Senior Housing Association as a way to provide the Unitarian Church's senior congregation with affordable housing. It was incorporated in 1967 as the Palo Alto Senior Housing Project Inc,, according to the Stevenson House website. Stevenson House is not part of Palo Alto Housing Corporation (PAHC).

9 people like this
Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2015 at 1:34 pm

The take over of Stevenson House is directly related to changing the purpose of the project from primarily serving the residents to primarily serving the beneficiaries of low income housing tax credits that result in rents being set to guarantee the investors a return on their investment in addition to the tax credits. To facilitate the take over, the Palo Alto City Council needs to make a determination that the property's Planned Community zone district regulations are being met despite the fact that the lease holder will no longer be a non-profit corporation. The City Council will be asked to take that action on their Consent Calendar at their meeting on March 9, 2015: Web Link

16 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2015 at 2:07 pm

> I find the following words: "stolen" and "illegal aliens", threaded
> with non conforming Social Security numbers offensive.

Plezzzeee! The idea that more than one mis-entered SSAN in a organization this small is beyond ridiculous. But having illegals with stolen SSANs is common place in America today.

I find myself offended by anyone claiming that stealing, and using, someone else's SSAN, or driver's license, or credit card, to be nothing to be concerned about. We are awash in a sea of illegals in this country--and we have people like this one who probably has no idea what damage is being done to our country as we turn away from a people whose culture is based on "the rule of law" to one that has its head in the sand.

12 people like this
Posted by Shallow Throat
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2015 at 2:18 pm

There's got to be a better way for independently managed low-income housing to obtain funding for a major rehab. The current way brings in many players from those who provide funding through multiple loans and tax credits to all the various governmental agencies who regulate how each piece is done. The result is typically a take-over by a for-profit management company with no first-hand knowledge of or deep commitment to the institution, nor any incentive to develop these. Profit comes from reducing the number of staff and pay.

The whole business is so arcane that even well-meaning boards cannot possibly understand what's going on. The result is fear-driven decision making that takes a huge toll on those most committed to the well being of residents.

11 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 28, 2015 at 7:39 pm

A for profit management company running a not for profit senior housing complex seem destined to diverge in their primary interests and concerns: money vs quality of life. Profits will be extracted from Stevenson House in one form or another.

The John Stewart Co has a bit of a following on Yelp Web Link

14 people like this
Posted by Cassandra
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2015 at 8:44 am

"The consultant, Related California, recommended the board hire a real estate broker to help it secure Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Tax Exempt Bonds, which it sought as part of the $36.8 million financing. The board hired John Stewart Company to guide them with the tax credits, and eventually as a broker, Pamilla said."

Deep throat and Shallow throat, you have hit the nail on the head. HUD has an unfortunate history of wanting to encourage behavior through tax credits but setting up rules that do the opposite. They know that concentrating low income people rather than distributing low income housing throughout a community is bad for both, yet their rules have been creating concentrations of low income people and they don't fix it.

The situation at Buena Vista and Maybell, and now Stevenson House should set off alarm bells and get us setting our priorities straight.

The mess that happened at Maybell, and the conflict that still divides the neighborhood, came about because PAHC and the City were chasing those tax credits. The tax credit rules are structured supposedly to encourage local investment in affordable housing because that's seen as rewarding an existing value of affordable housing. Instead, what it did was create incentives to steamroll a community that was reaching out for a way to do a working group as had worked before to achieve the actual goals, and dismiss them in favor of chasing those tax credits. It meant the City chased, hard, a convoluted financing scheme at Maybell while completely ignoring the neighborhood and what could be done for existing residents at BV. It created fertile ground for abuse by for-profit entities and conflicts if interest as we are seeing now.

The Maybell property was portrayed to the state in the applications as having a huge local investment in affordable housing. The 60% of the property that was a for-profit endeavor benefitting a for-profit developer was not mentioned in the tax credit application, nor were the various schemes to create money for the application (in order to win the tax credits against other applicants) that were represented as public investment such as the public investments at 801 Alma, but were not similar public investments. PAHC could have made more money for the affordable side if they had developed and sold the single-family homes and made money from the homes within zoning. Marc Berman asked them why they didn't just do that, and Candace Gonzales made an excuse that should have applied equally to what they were doing but didn't since they prioritized the tax credit deadlines above all else.

At BV, we have the most compelling and most significant case for what investment in affordable housing is supposed to do, help the low-income among us remain autonomous and productive and stable. The moneys that have finally been made available recently are in large part the same exact public moneys used to purchase the Maybell property. Yet when neighbors in the midst of that publicly called for the City to focus on saving the affordable housing at BV and Terman Apartments as the priority, they faced yet more abuse. Why? The whole setup chasing the tax credits made everyone set aside all reason and sense of priority, and made us susceptible to manipulation by development interests.

Now we see at Stevenson House, chasing the tax credits is destroying personal relationships again, and making us susceptible to losing the purpose of the tax credits to begin with while for-profit interests benefit. This is only going to do more damage in our community - and to affordable housing - if we do not get wise to it.

7 people like this
Posted by slippers on the ground
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 1, 2015 at 11:37 am

Obviously, the report is based only on the statement of the aching, former Executive Officer at Stevenson House. [Portion removed due to potentially defamatory statement.] Stevenson House was run by bureaucracy worthy of Washington, D.C. [Portion removed.] The firings were highly appropriate, even the office "boots" should have been dismissed. They have been trodding for too long and weaving their nets of influence. [Portion removed.] Staff should be changed every 4 years like the Congress and the President, without a second term possibility. We look ahead with trepidation, how the " for-profit" management will run our beloved house. Recommendation: HUD's close supervision of SH's operations by a a competent, decisive person, questioning the management's policies, not loading the office with paperwork>justifying the house's bureaucracy.

19 people like this
Posted by Carroll Harrington
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2015 at 10:02 pm

I volunteered at Stevenson House for about four years working closely with Tom Pamilla to develop a newsletter and many other projects. His concern and caring for the residents was boundless and indeed compassionate. I am deeply dismayed by these latest happenings there because it is the residents who will suffer.

Carroll Harrington
(Formerly from Palo Alto)

10 people like this
Posted by Nancy Neff
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2015 at 10:44 pm

The members of the Stevenson House Board of Directors who I know are people of the highest integrity and compassion.

Like this comment
Posted by Klara
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 2, 2015 at 9:24 am

Stevenson House in last couple of years was run by inertia.Sinking like Titanic.Somebody has to be responsible for this.Just ask the residents about.

4 people like this
Posted by Ann
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 3, 2015 at 1:38 am

I visited Stevenson House 3-4 times per week since I helped an elderly friend move there in 2011. SH is a delightful affordable senior housing community and a crown jewel for Palo Alto. Staff were helpful, friendly, hard-working and always professional; residents considered them family. It breaks my heart to learn now that 2/3rds are gone and those left are being worked even harder as "temps" without security or benefits after years of service. The John Stewart company is clearly making predatory moves on SH that far exceed the original pretext under which they were hired. A simple yelp review of JS raises huge red flags. Yet the SH board appears to have selected them without due diligence, consideration of other funding alternatives -- or of the residents themselves. The kind of money involved identifies a "for profit" motivation. If the City of Palo Alto allows this take-over to go forward, the community will lose a very special and valuable place.

3 people like this
Posted by social worker
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2015 at 8:20 am

Stevesen House has beeen a valuable rsource in our community which was afforable, and staffed with compassionate long term employees who fostered independence for elders in a low tech setting. These lkinds of resources are not only limited, but quickly diminshing as other elder options and Mom and Pop retail are disappearing.

Everyone should check out The John Stewart Co. YELP reviews, how did the Stevenson Board allow this to happen? What kind of corporate cold hearted folks have now infested our community?

Such a shame.

5 people like this
Posted by Ann
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 3, 2015 at 10:19 am

[To slippers on the ground] I can't stand by and allow Tom Pamilla and the Stevenson House staff to be maligned. I visited SH 3-to-4 times each week for over 4 years. Every visit reinforced that SH was being well-run under Tom's able and caring leadership and a dedicated, responsive staff were going above and beyond to serve the needs of the residents. I question claims that imply SH or staff were lacking. As the "new" board president Patrick O'Regan had some of the board members recently scrambling to serve meals, due to loss of staff, I have to wonder if the longer-serving volunteer board members even saw and understood the changes coming? A chaotic slipshod takeover that keeps residents in the dark seems to imply they did not.

6 people like this
Posted by slippers on the ground
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 3, 2015 at 3:06 pm

To the Downtown Ann,

"Tell me who your friends are, I'll tell you who you are," former EO surrounded himself with "Yes" people: staff and residents. Staff had to agree on everything (their checks depended on that, and that's why they survived–just "boots" in the office; residents, too–those who benefited by covert financial "stipends")or the status of being in the leader's aura. Those "mourn" him, but they'll easily adapt to the new management and find profitable niches for themselves.

What was entirely missing at SH for 8 years, a sense of freedom, of speech and movement. [Portion removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Neighbors Helping Neighbors
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2015 at 9:00 am

Dear Neighbors and Friends,
NHN and our volunteers are saddened at this news. The residents of SH and remaining staff deserves our sensitivity and support. The challenges & stressors of being an older adult today is un-presidented. NHN knows well that there are folks who live at SH that do not have family and or friends with resources or emotional stablity to support them when they have daily ups and downs. Tom Padilla offered these seniors that support. Now, he is gone and there is a void.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors is a local service provider for basic needs and guidance with life's challenges. We have just set our 2015 Community Outreach Series Event dates. Should there be any seniors from SH that feels they would like to meet with our peer counselors or case managers, we will give them priority for 30 min. consultations, Spring Series Thursdays; April 2nd, May 7th and Jun 11th. Soon details will be published in PA Online Calendar.

Additionally, I would like to ask the community to sign up to volunteer for roles with NHN to help these seniors in this transition and on-going. They are our most vulnerable residents. We must take care that they receive the programs/services and friendship they need. Please contact us,

Very Concerned,
NHN PeerCounseling Team

4 people like this
Posted by SH Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2015 at 9:30 am

This article is filled with inaccuracies [portion removed.] Tom Pamilla, ex-administrator, was given at least 3 days notice, not 15minutes that he was fired, and the writing was on the wall for the last year at least, when he was proven unable to Administer the reconstruction project. He used the Board to administer, raise money when he couldn't be bothered to seek alternatives or to stay within budgetary realities.
John Stevens co. is NOT San Francisco based...
I believe Slippers on the ground definitely understands the situation accurately.
[Portion removed.]

Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Mar 6, 2015 at 1:45 pm

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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North

on Mar 6, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

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Like this comment
Posted by Understanding
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 8, 2015 at 4:09 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by JoAnn
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 8, 2015 at 5:13 pm

The City Council will be asked to take that action on their Consent Calendar at their meeting on March 9, 2015.

This should come off the consent calendar and be open to discussion and questions. Too many contradictory points of view here.

One thing I will say is that moving from not-for-profit to for-profit works in only two ways: screwing the staff and screwing the clients. I don't believe all the crap about inefficiency and economies of scale.

2 people like this
Posted by concerned resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 8, 2015 at 6:39 pm

I looked online and I found this:
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Melinda Rosenaur
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 14, 2015 at 2:17 pm

All these unfortunate changes at Stevenson House are stressful and very uncomfortable for the elderly that reside there. I had a dear 86 year old friend that used to live at Stevenson House, (before she passed away in August 2015), that was often very troubled, stressed, and full of anxiety about her future at Stevenson House. She saw many of the sad changes that occurred with the firing of Tom Pimilla and the kitchen staff. She told me that the quality of care there really sank after the changes in management took place. I think it is shameful that this is the way things are handled when dealing with the elderly that may have mental and physical health challenges. I must say that I am also dismayed that after she died, the management didn't hesitate one minute to get rid of all her personal belongings to a dumpster that they had put outside the building that she lived in. It was stated in her Will that I and my husband, upon her death, were to be the ones to clean and sort out her personal belongings. They never let me go into her apartment to do that. I was horrified to see all my friends personal treasures, papers, and clothes, carelessly tossed into that giant dumpster. I thought a "Will" was a legal document. This is a terrible way to treat the elderly. Shameful!

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