CINCINNATI -- When Dorothy Smith moved to Regal Manor in the West End, she was excited about the promise of an affordable apartment in a building for senior citizens with good security.
But Smith said the building’s owner didn’t keep that promise of security, and now she’s too scared to go to the laundry room by herself.
“I’m extremely concerned about safety. There are all kinds of people coming in,” said Smith, who is 81. “I’m too old to fight somebody. And I’m too old to carry a weapon in my pocket.”
Smith is one of 11 residents of Regal Manor that have been paying their rent to escrow since May in an effort to pressure The Community Builders, the building’s Boston-based owner, to make changes to the 54-unit affordable housing development.
A local TCB representative said the company met with residents in July and has been working to address their concerns ever since.
“We take our residents’ concerns very seriously,” said Diane Wilson, TCB’s portfolio operations manager for the Cincinnati region. “Safety is our number one priority.”
Wilson said TCB has taken steps to improve the building’s security, including:
• Installing new cameras to monitor the building’s entrances;
• Ensuring that the garage door stays closed and secured day and night;
• Installing new locks on the building’s exterior doors and;
• Employing part-time police officers to provide roving security.
But a lawyer for the residents said changes haven’t been enough.
“It’s not rocket science. There are things you can do that aren’t outrageously expensive that TCB hasn’t been willing to do,” said John Schrider, director of the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio and one of the lawyers representing the residents.
And last weekend, even after TCB changed the locks, residents found a man and woman who had sneaked into the building and were sleeping in a hallway, said Rachel Anderson, a resident of the building. Wilson said had not heard about that situation before being asked about it by WCPO and was confident the new security cameras would help prevent such things from happening.
“They haven’t perfected anything,” Anderson said. “And the efforts aren’t good, and they’re not enough to make us feel comfortable we are safe in here.”
‘I know what’s missing’
Under Ohio law, tenants are legally entitled to rental property that is structurally sound and meets basic health and safety standards. There is a specific process that tenants must follow in order to pay their rent to the clerk of courts instead of to their landlords, and Legal Aid has helped the Regal Manor residents follow those steps.
Anderson has lived at Regal Manor for seven years and said she tried to get TCB to make improvements before going to Legal Aid.
“When you register a complaint, they’ll ask you, ‘Why don’t you move?’” said Anderson, who is 78. “I have a pat answer: I know what’s needed here. I know what’s missing. I know what it should be to live here. I know what it could be. And I’m going to stay here and help you get it right.”
Anderson said she moved to Regal Manor in part for the location. It’s on the same street where she lived as a child, and it’s close to her church.
She organized residents to form a council to advocate for changes and became the council’s president.
The building has an entrance where residents can buzz in visitors from their apartments, and the locks weren’t changed for a long time. So people had been able to slip in behind other residents or used copies of keys from former residents that had moved away, Anderson said.
“We have two community gathering rooms on each floor,” she said. “Many people were coming in and using those couches to sleep. The most recent person carries his own pillow and blanket with him.”
Now, even with the new locks, there are 10 exterior doors that all can be opened with one key, Anderson said, which tells her the key must be easy to duplicate.
Earlier this year, the door for the building’s underground garage was left open at all hours, Smith said.
Anyone who can get into the building through the garage can take the steps and go wherever they want, she said.
Hoping for happy residents
Resident Michael Harris showed WCPO a spot under some stairs near the garage entrance where cardboard was left as a makeshift bed.
Wilson said residents notified TCB about people sneaking into the building and sleeping under the stairs or on couches in the building’s community rooms.
“We believe that the security enhancements recently made will help prevent that sort of activity,” she said. “I hope that the residents will be happy with the changes we’ve made, and the upgrades and the problem will be resolved.”
But Schrider said the residents believe TCB should make more improvements.
“Residents think that frequent, random patrols are helpful but not enough,” he told WCPO in an email. “In order to establish control and security, the front entrance must be monitored by a person. Other exits should be locked and have alarms if opened.”
Schrider said the residents also want to ensure that the new cameras are monitored.
“Exterior lighting has been an issue, too,” he wrote.
Anderson said she and the other residents at Regal Manor simply want to feel safe in their homes.
They are grateful that TCB has made some changes, she said, but they still do not feel safe.
“You can do better by us,” she said. “Efforts are being made, yeah. We’re grateful. But you can do better. And if you’re doing the right thing, God’s going to bless it.”
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.