Duct tape lines the cracks and crevices inside Terri Williams residence at 2525 Victory Parkway in Walnut Hills- everything from small cracks in the baseboard to gaps in the kitchen cabinet doors and even the vents for the heating ducts.
“I have tape all over my house” said Williams, 45, “because I can’t stand bugs.” Williams moved into The Alms Hills apartments almost 6 years ago and since PF Holdings LLC of Lakewood, N.J. purchased the building in June of 2013 and others like it in Cincinnati. Since then, she and other residents say the living conditions within the building have steadily declined.
Water damage from a prior leak in another apartment has been untouched as mold grows in the walls of her bathroom. Just down the hallway, the ceiling fell down months ago as a resident was exiting her apartment. The ceiling was replaced, yet leaks are still apparent from the water stains that adorn it. The walls remain soft and bubbled much like those in Williams apartment just down the hallway.
On Feb 1, the properties were put into receivership as ordered by Hamilton County Judge Beth A. Myers following a suit filed by the city against PF Holdings LLC. The Homeless Coalition worked with Residents to form official Resident Associations at the five primarily affected buildings. These Associations joined the suite, represented by the Legal Aid Society.
Residents of The Alms have seen their fair share of crime in recent years, owners and their previous management companies would not hire full-time security nor maintain the locks on the front door despite complaints regarding safety from Residents. Residents believed they should feel safe in their own homes, but in several cases, when Residents complained, the previous management instead targeted them with harassment and threats.
Court documents show that in September of 2014, officers responded to calls of shots fired within the building. While their officers witnessed health and safety concerns such as mold and water damage within the building. They referred their concerns to the police departments Neighborhood Liaison Unit to follow up, but little progress was made to address their concerns. Instead, the owners prohibited police from entering the building unless they obtained a search warrant.
In January, a man was shot and pistol whipped at the apartment complex. Since February, the building has been put into receivership and the new managers, Milhaus Management LLC, have added a security guard and keyed entry into the building which has slowed down crime within the building dramatically, residents say. Though Williams is searching for a new place to live, if it wasn’t for the addition of a 24-hour off-duty police officer, “I would have moved out and put myself into a shelter” she said.
She fears not only for her own life, but for the children, the elderly and the 144 other households, representing hundreds of people who also live there. Williams describes the building currently as being “in chaos.” It is not just the deplorable living conditions that the residents live with day to day, she said. It’s not knowing what is going to happen next in a building where children may find a stash of drugs behind a fire extinguisher while roaming the hallways.
In 2006, the City of Cincinnati passed the Chronic Nuisance Ordinance “to target the 50 highest offending properties at any given time” said Jon Harmon, legislative director to Council Member Chris Seelbach. These offending properties use up a disproportionate amount of police resources because landlords have failed to provide reasonable security in the buildings and around them. Many tenants have also approached the city about the deplorable conditions they live under. Under the ordinance, once a property is declared a nuisance, the owner must abate the nuisance within 30 days. If the nuisance is not abated during that period, the owner may be billed up to $10,000 for the cost of law enforcement.
Historically these sort of laws have not been favorable to people with low-incomes in need of affordable housing because they have in the past lead to blaming the Residents, condemnation and housing loss. It may have stopped the problems with that specific building, “but then you have 150 people who have just become homeless” said Harmon. The Homeless Coalition recently began working with local officials to improve properties such as The Alms apartment building in Walnut Hills. This work is changing the tune of the public nuisance ordinance because Residents have been in leadership roles, proper responsibility has been placed on the property owner and the need to save affordable housing has been a top priority. This improved strategy resulted in the largest granted receivership in the city’s history and one of the largest in the country.
The landlords, PF Holdings LLC, who declined to comment, had been neglecting The Alms and six other properties involved in this particular case (they own several others not named in this case) to the point where they were cited with more than 1800 health and safety violations over the past year, court records show. The owners and their partners had been receiving $500,000 a month in subsidies from the U.S. Department of Urban Housing and Development while the ceilings were falling in around the tenants.
“Just because an individual lives on a low income,” says Justin Jeffre, editor of the Streetvibes, does not mean they “have to live in deplorable conditions that they certainly don’t deserve.”