Problem Properties: A $50 million plan can't come fast enough for residents of Avondale apartments

How a Boston nonprofit tackled New York Group woes
Posted at 12:08 PM, Nov 24, 2015
and last updated 2016-07-08 07:41:50-04

WCPO has spent months covering the impact of problem properties on tenants, neighborhoods and the regulators who are struggling to keep track of them. This story is part of that series. Read the entire eight-part series here. 

CINCINNATI — A Boston-based nonprofit is spending $50 million to reinvent a one-mile stretch of Reading Road in Avondale, with sparkling new apartment units, mixed-income renters and a new neighborhood grocery store.

The change can't come fast enough for Phabeanne Bonner, a long-time tenant at Poinciana Apartments at 3522 Reading. On moving day in early October, Bonner said she was having breathing problems from a persistent mold infestation in her ground-floor unit.

“I told them back in April about the leaking,” she said. “They came out and looked at it. They said they fixed it. It stopped for maybe a week. After that, it started again. And then I started getting bubbles up over my cabinets in my kitchen.”

Bonner is among dozens of tenants relocated to temporary housing so The Community Builders Inc. can renovate problem properties it acquired in 2012.


The Poinciana Apartments on Reading Road. Emily Maxwell | WCPO


Poinciana endured “lots of neglect over time” and has “a significant need for rehab,” said Terri Hamilton Brown, regional vice president for TCB. Mold removal is “part of the full scope of work we’re going to do in this building.”

TCB is a 51-year-old low-income housing developer with 11,000 units in the Northeast and Midwest, including about 1,300 apartments in Cincinnati. It came to town for the $200 million redevelopment of City West, a public housing community in the West End that was razed and rebuilt in the early 2000s.

TCB is trying to work a similar transformation in Avondale, where it acquired a cluster of properties that fell into foreclosure during the recession. It’s spending $165,000 per unit on 318 apartments in Avondale, hoping to attract up to 80 market-rate tenants along with 238 who rely on federal subsidies to cover their rent.

“We’re optimistic in working with all our partners that we can create an environment that begins to change some of the impressions of Avondale,” said “With Children’s Hospital and all of its growth, might we compete for some of their employees to live here? We believe we have some amenities and positive things to offer.”

Poinciana is one of 19 buildings caught in a 2011 foreclosure by New York Group OH 1 LLC, an investor that is infamous in Cincinnati housing circles because of the problems documented in its portfolio. Researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found elevated levels of asthma, lead contamination and developmental delays in the children of tenants.

Cincinnati-based Downtown Property Management owned the buildings until 2007, when New York investors bought them for $19.3 million, a month before the start of the Great Recession.

In 2009, doctors noticed a pattern in referrals to primary-care clinics and dug deeper to find links to 16 New York Group properties. TCB emerged as a white-knight buyer in 2012 and partnered with Avondale leaders to win a $29.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. TCB won additional grants and tax-credits to bring the total to $50 million.

“In the two plus years we've owned the properties, we've fixed hundreds of building violations and addressed decades of neglect,” said Jeffrey Beam, TCB’s director of development for Ohio and Kentucky. “We're well under way to completely implementing the transformation in Avondale.”

Other pieces of the New York Group portfolio are caught in a kind of Purgatory for problem properties.

One example is the Eatondale complex at 925 Delhi Pike in Sedamsville. Built in 1972, the property had fallen into disrepair by the time TCB acquired in in 2012. Since then, it has been the subject of 15 complaints about mold, rodents and litter. It was the scene of two shootings in 2013 in which one man died and two others were injured. The city of Cincinnati declared the property a chronic nuisance in 2014, under a 2006 ordinance that allows the city to bill property owners for repeated calls for police service.

TCB has been working to sell the property for more than two years to Cornerstone Redevelopment, a real estate company co-founded by Charles Tassell, a Deer Park council member and lobbyist for the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Apartment Association. The Sedamsville property is part of a four-building package.

“We’d like to do a redevelopment,” Tassell said. “Convert it to senior housing.”

But the sale has been slowed by federal regulatory approvals and a March 26 fire at one of TCB's other properties that claimed the life of a Cincinnati fireman. Darryl Gordon fell down an elevator shaft while searching for fire victims at Kings Tower in Madisonville. TCB said a closing on the four-building sale has been delayed by fire restoration. The company is hoping to finalize the deal by next Spring.

Meantime, the Sedamsville property is not likely to see major investments from TCB.

“Safety, security and health are the number one priority,” said Beam. “But we don’t want to be spending bad money. We don’t want to be spending money on resources if the building is going to be replaced a year later.”

Back at the Poinciana, Phabeanne Bonner packed her belongings for her next home at the newly renovated Commodore building. She’ll miss the size of her old first-floor apartment, but not the mold.

“As soon as I get this done, I got to go to the doctor,” she said.

Check out the interactive below to search problem properties by Cincinnati neighborhood.