The Housing Authority of St. Louis County found water leaks, defective porches, bed bugs and electrical issues among the problems at Park Ridge Apartments in Ferguson over the last three years.
Agency records show inspections at Park Ridge Apartments increased between July and October of this year. At a Ferguson housing meeting in November, Park Ridge Apartments residents asked Housing Authority of St. Louis County director Susan Rollins about what they believed to be a surge in inspections after years of perceived neglect by the property owner.
Leaders at the meeting said the housing authority increased inspections of buildings owned by T.E.H. Realty after becoming aware of structural problems at Springwood Apartments in Bel-Ridge.
Rollins said red tape is one possible reason housing problems at the apartment complex hadn’t been addressed sooner.
“I do feel that sometimes in the bureaucracy of what we do, we don’t do as good a job as what we should do sometimes. We don’t listen as well as we should, either,” she said at the meeting with residents and activists. “I have tried to change much of the way things have been in the past and also be more accessible to the community.”
Rollins has been the director of the housing authority for 10 years.
The county housing authority condemned a building at Park Ridge Apartments in October. Residents complained in November about receiving eviction notices from property owner T.E.H. Realty telling them to leave their units. Rollins suspected the letters were a response to the agency stopping its portion of rent payments on Section 8 units — a practice known as abatement.
People who receive housing choice vouchers, or Section 8, were concerned their housing was in jeopardy.
St. Louis Public Radio requested records of Housing Authority of St. Louis County inspection findings at Park Ridge going back to January 2016. The agency is responsible for inspecting units belonging to Section 8 recipients as well as the property where they are located.
There are a few hundred units in Park Ridge Apartments. T.E.H. Realty says more than 100 tenants in the complex receive Section 8. The housing authority reports it inspected Park Ridge Apartments and select units more than 300 times in roughly three years. Reinspections are a part of that total number. However, it’s not clear how many of the problems were remedied because of how the county housing agency keeps records.
Many of those inspections happened in the last few months of 2018. More than 40 inspection notes refer to problems with the condition of stairs and porches. The housing authority recommended damaged concrete on steps, stoops or walkways be replaced.
Dozens of other recommendations include:
- replacement or repair of doors or locks for security reasons
- extermination of roaches, bed bugs and insects (It’s not clear from the record what kind of insects)
- replacement or repair of equipment affecting ventilation
Over the three-year period of inspection records requested by St. Louis Public Radio, Park Ridge units and property passed inspection 155 times and failed inspection 151 times.
John Dean of T.E.H. Realty told St. Louis Public Radio that the company is addressing problems the housing authority identified.
“It’s looking pretty good. We see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Dean said in regard to repairs, including replacing elevated concrete, gutter work and tuckpointing.
He said problems on the property are “a reflection of previous management.” T.E.H. Realty became the new owners of the property in May 2018.
Amid the confusion over evictions at Park Ridge Apartments, Section 8 recipients wondered if their vouchers would be renewed, or if new clients would be able to get funding from the housing authority to live there. Dean said that decision comes down to whether the housing agency approves repairs to the property the next time the complex is evaluated.
“We’re working to get the property in compliance and show what we’ve done and move the date (of the next inspection) to January,” to retain current Section 8 recipients, he said.
The Housing Authority had planned to inspect Park Ridge Apartments again in April.
An ongoing problem
Some former residents of Park Ridge now live about a mile away at the Northwinds Apartments, also owned by T.E.H. Realty. Among them are Pamela Johnson and her cousin Mary Boyd, who say they experienced some of the problems found in the inspection records.
“I had mold in my closet in one of the bedrooms,” Johnson said. “They did not treat the mold so I had to treat it myself. So I went out and got some bleach and a sponge and cleaned the mold off."
She said the building’s maintenance workers eventually sprayed the apartment for mold and fixed her leaking water heater and dishwasher.
Boyd said she moved from Park Ridge to Northwinds thinking the conditions would be a little better. But she said in the four or five months she’s lived there, the state of the property has been roughly the same.
“My ceiling is leaking in the bathroom in my shower. My ceiling is leaking in my living room and I told them people three months ago. They still ain’t came out to do nothing,” she said.
Residents in Northwinds, another building owned by T.E.H. Realty, also received eviction letters last month.
Activists in Ferguson said the housing authority, lawyers and non-profit leaders stepped in to help after last month’s meeting about the mass eviction letters.
“Basically, in Park Ridge a lot of those residents have moved,” said Southeast Ferguson Neighborhood Association President Latasha Brown, “But I have to say Ms. Rollins (of the housing authority) did create a fund to help those residents.”
Brown said some residents became clients of ArchCity Defenders and Legal Services of Missouri. As for tenants in Park Ridge and Northwinds who pay market rate rent, Brown said they can apply for rent assistance from The Salvation Army until Dec. 31.
“We still have trouble but we’re working on it,” she said. “Other than that we are going to have a Merry Christmas in southeast Ferguson regardless of what’s going on because we are one community. Togetherness is the key to our success.”
Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland (Oregon). Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.