RICHMOND, Va. – During prolonged stretches of freezing weather, when temperatures even dipped below zero, hundreds of Richmond residents – in both government and privately-owned housing complexes — have gone without heat and faced deplorable living conditions.
Residents are scrambling to find new places to live as the City of Richmond condemns units at The Flats at Ginter Park, a sprawling 4.5-acre Northside apartment complex built in the 1940s, and other nearby properties. Most of the buildings flank Chamberlayne Avenue and Old Brook Road, and some are sprinkled through Ginter Park. Though some buildings are in different locations, they are under the same ownership.
Cedar Grove Partners LLC, a New York-based company, owns the estimated 24 properties, according to city records.
“This is certainly one of the bigger projects that we have undertaken,” John Walsh, Richmond Code Enforcement Operations Manager, said.
So far 12 buildings and at least 44 units have been condemned, with more placarded; the process used by the city to flag unfit or unsafe properties. Walsh said that the city is working to do this in a way that “does not overwhelm the system,” as other agencies will provide aid and assistance to tenants left in a lurch.
CBS 6 first reported on this apartment complex in January 2017, when multiple residents were without heat. Since then other residents have come forward. The issues abound: falling ceilings, no working heat or water, mold, and unsafe structures.
Cedar Grove Partners LLC, a New York-based company, owns the properties.
As the dire situation unfolds, here are some answers to explain how the issue became so bad, how many places around the city have been highlighted, and what steps the city are taking to help residents.
How many properties does this company own?
Locally, they have over 800 to 1,000 units, according to Walsh, and around 25 buildings.
How many buildings have been condemned?
Currently 12 buildings have been condemned and at least 44 units. The City of Richmond said inspectors met with Flats management and explained the seriousness of the hazards tenants are being exposed to and the potential catastrophic failure the properties are undergoing. More will be condemned but the city is trying to establish a pace as to not overwhelm the system.
When did they acquire the properties?
Cedar Grove Partners LLC moved into the Richmond market in late August 2015 when they first purchased 12 apartment buildings along Chamberlayne Avenue, according to city records. According to RichmondBizSense.com (RBS), they bought the properties in three different transactions. At the time of the sale, a broker told RBS that he would “expect them to hold onto the properties, add value, and then sell them maybe within 10 years.” The first reporting CBS 6 did on the apartments was in January 2017, when residents didn’t have heat.
What are some of the issues?
According to Property Maintenance Enforcement Inspector Andre Smith, there are numerous and varying issues. The construction issues: the exterior and interior of many buildings are unsafe, due to a lack of maintenance; structural members (roof to ceilings/floor to walls or columns) have been compromised and could collapse; defective surfaces throughout the property are in disrepair –windows and frames, doors and frames, wood surfaces, mold, painting. The electrical, plumbing, HVAC, are all in significant disrepair. Also, there is water leaking, uncapped sewer lines, rodents and an accumulation refuse in units, crawl spaces and basements.
There are sink holes that pose trip/fall hazards throughout the properties. All are adversely affecting the Premier Garden rental community and other rental districts owned/managed by the Flats.
What happens to residents when buildings are condemned?
In some cases, people found out they had to relocate with just one days’ notice. Walsh maintains that they gave the required seven to 10 days’ notice to the management company, but they did not notify tenants.
“It may create short term hardship, but sometimes it occurs, and we can’t do anything about it,” Walsh said. There are currently multiple families who don’t have money or ability to rent UHauls, put down deposits on new homes, and relocate to new housing.
How do city agencies work together?
Human Services visits the complex and offers people who qualify vouchers for hotels and temporary housing; though not everyone will qualify. Right now, the city is working on a schedule and time frame to condemn the other units, so that they don’t “overwhelm the system” and so that agencies can still provide aid and assistance. The Richmond Department of Social Services is a recipient of a grant to operate the Housing Code Enforcement and Counseling Program, in support of the city’s Code Enforcement Unit. The purpose is to provide housing counseling and immediate interventions to citizens who have been displaced or are at risk of being displaced because of code enforcement activities of the city’s housing inspectors.
The program provides for emergency hotel stays if they are a 18-year-old U.S. citizen and a Richmond resident with a current lease, and were displaced due to landlord neglect. The tenant’s rent must be current, able to verify escrow accounts, and/or landlord/tenant agreement. And they must qualify as low income according to HUD.
The current available funding for this grant to serve eligible clientele is $22,000, according to the mayor’s office.
What does the mayor say about the rampant housing issues?
Mayor Stoney has said he “believes the state of affairs for many residents in our poorest neighborhoods is just unacceptable.”
“The road to One Richmond passes through our housing courts, through The Flats at Ginter Park and by the homes of all our residents, regardless of income, race, circumstance or misfortune,” the mayor’s office said in a statement to CBS 6. “In his State of the City address, he issued a challenge to create 1500 new affordable housing units over the next five years. The city will also remain steadfast in taking on an irresponsible, out-of-town property owner of The Flats, for example. But he believes that we must also redouble our efforts in Social Services and in every way we can to meet this challenge without overwhelming our resources, to see it through and to lessen the pain born by those affected in the process.”
How did it get this bad?
The law says that the city has to allow a reasonable amount of time for repairs. That can be six to eight months, said Walsh. Walsh said they noticed that The Flats were not acting, like filing for work permits or submitting plans.
That’s when they began moving forward with litigation. “We’ve given them time,” said Walsh. “We’ve given them every bit of leeway.”
Multiple tenants have previously put their rent in escrow over issues.
Has the city been proactive?
Walsh feels like they have been “relatively proactive.” “We continue to move forward and vacate properties,” he said. Walsh said that in dealing with the property, management switched four times. “By the time we think we have a working relationship, they change management,” he said.
What are the legal repercussions?
“The hope is that by doing this we spur some activity and the owners will take us seriously and invest some more money,” Walsh said.
Walsh said more charges are likely as more units are condemned. Though only the local property manager has been charged, Walsh said the city is pursuing all legal options against the owner, with the city attorney’s office. The property manager has declined multiple interview requests with CBS 6.
South of the river, Congressman Donald McEachin is trying to get HUD involved over what he called “unconscionable” condition at Midlothian Village, owned by a New Jersey company and subsidized by taxpayer money. A CBS 6 investigation also uncovered problems at other local Section 8 properties in the area, Woodland Crossing, Essex Village and Hope Village.
What the city wants tenants to do.
Walsh pointed out that they did not have the number of calls or issues one would expect for the wide-scale deterioration.
“We can’t help you if we don’t know about it,” he said. “There are protections for consumers; there are a number of other protections available.”
“I understand people worry, but quite frankly it’s hard to tell [what’s happening] inside a brick building,” Walsh added. “We need the public’s cooperation; things happen from time to time that you have to protect them.”
Are all rental units having these issues government run?
No. However, hundreds of units in city-owned, taxpayer-funded housing complexes – Creighton, Gilpin, Mosby Court — are without working heat, and an investigation determined that the problems stretch back for months. Repairs are currently taking place, residents are living in hotels and leadership at the agency that oversees local housing complexes stepped down.
Midlothian Village is a federally subsidized Section 8 complex in South Richmond. Congressman Donald McEachin called the conditions there “unconscionable;” there are bullet holes in windows, bugs streaming out of the walls, mold, leaks, no heating, and falling ceilings.
Woodland Crossing is owed by the same management company who handles the Section 8 Essex Village housing complex in Henrico. They have barely passed inspection amid violations and residents cite issues with roaches, mold, and lack of responsive maintenance.
The Flats are Ginter Park are privately-owned by Cedar Grove Partners LLC in New York.
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