Repairs on the way for troubled apartments

Posted at 5:00 AM, Apr 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-12 18:36:32-04

CINCINNATI - A court-appointed receiver has recommended more than $4.3 million in “extraordinary” repairs to seven Cincinnati apartment communities that were the focus of a special report by WCPO last year and a lawsuit filed by the city of Cincinnati and low-income advocates.

A 2016 budget submitted April 8 by Jodi Ridings of Milhaus Management LLC prescribes “extraordinary expenses” like roof repairs and new boilers, doors and locks for the buildings, acquired in 2013 by New Jersey-based PF Holdings LLC.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Beth Meyers appointed Rider to manage the properties in February after the city presented evidence that PF Holdings ignored criminal activity and “willfully” concealed building hazards to cover up unsafe living conditions. All told, more than 1,800 health and safety code violations have been issued for PF Holdings properties, according to city records.

Ridings recommended $1.4 million specifically to address code violations in four of the properties, which house 483 apartment units in Walnut Hills, Avondale and English Woods. The seven properties house a combined 661 apartments.

The Feb. 1 receivership order requires Ridings to seek court approval for all budgeted expenses, including utilities, management, marketing and regular maintenance. The “extraordinary expenses” category includes maintenance deferred by PF Holdings. At a hearing Tuesday, Judge Myers set an April 21 deadline for parties to object to the budget. A hearing on its approval was set for May 3.

Here are the properties due for upgrades:

The city is “a little frustrated that the progress hasn’t been faster on these properties, now that we’ve had a receiver appointed,” said Assistant City Solicitor Mark Manning, in remarks to city council’s law and public safety committee.

“These properties really need significantly more money than (HUD rents) to become compliant with our building code,” Manning said. “I know a lot of the residents need immediate relief in this case.”

While owners did hire off-duty Cincinnati police officers for round-the-clock security at properties, Manning said there hasn’t been much physical change to the units.

“I think the primary reason for that is the money isn’t flowing from the lender quite yet to make so many of these substantial upgrades which were part of their initial plan to the court,” he said.

Manning updated the council committee on several property clusters that were covered in a series of WCPO reports last fall on residential properties that amassed high numbers of code violations.

RELATED: Problem Properties Special Report

“Our committee is honing in …  I’ve been trying to provide the leadership of a housing court even though one is not in place at this time,” said Councilman Christopher Smitherman, who chairs the committee. “We’re going to continue to look at these properties, continue to make sure that the human beings who are living in those properties are treated fairly.”

The second group of properties that Manning discussed was owned by The Community Builders, which include apartments on Hale Street and Ridgeway Avenue in Avondale and on Chapel Street in Walnut Hills.

While additional security has been added, Manning said it isn’t enough to solve chronic problems that have plagued these properties for decades.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is inspecting these properties this week, and city inspectors will conduct their own review next week. Afterward, the two groups will come to a final decision.

“Regardless of the outcome on inspections, I think the consensus among the city and Legal Aid and The Community Builders is that for the buildings on Hale and Ridgeway, the tenants should be relocated and the buildings should be ultimately demolished,” Manning said.

Smitherman thanked property owners, such as TCB president Bart Mitchell, for attending Tuesday’s hearing, and remarked that it may have been the first time an owner has ever attended.

Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, said he was glad TCB was “at the table” to find a solution.

“But it has been four years that they have owned these properties, and I am getting really tired of property owners coming in and saying ‘We haven’t had it that long,’ and 'It was bad when we got it,’” Spring said. “Move forward. The housing to us is like gold because people’s lives really depend on it.”