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Are renovations a 'win-win' or a painful lesson for Pinecrest residents and CMHA?

West Price Hill tower is being transformed
Pinecrest_exterior.png
Posted at 11:10 AM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 18:38:44-04

CINCINNATI — Willis Nibert thought things were looking up in March when he moved from the Pinecrest apartment tower in West Price Hill so Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority could make major renovations to the property.

It didn’t take him long to realize how wrong he was.

When he ran water in the bathtub of his temporary home at a nearby CMHA property, he said, he discovered a major leak. When plumbers came to fix the leak, they found floor vents stuffed with trash and debris. And when he tried to use an air conditioner on the first floor of his unit – provided by CMHA because of Nibert’s health problems – he said the air conditioner blew hot air into the room as it cooled because it lacked a part to draw the hot air out a window. Nibert documented a temperature of 92.5 degrees inside his place at 11:40 p.m. on July 7.

This photo taken by Willis Nibert shows the dirt and debris he found beneath a floor vent in the apartment where he's staying. A dirty pencil is visible in the photo.
Willis Nibert took this photo of a the dirt and debris he found beneath a floor vent in the apartment where he's staying.

“I’ll be glad to get back to Pinecrest,” Nibert said. “I thought Pinecrest was worse. This place is worser than Pinecrest.”

A CMHA spokesperson said the housing authority didn’t have a record of Nibert’s problem with the air conditioner but had addressed his other concerns. Nibert said he called to report the air conditioner problem on March 27. The housing authority replaced the first-floor air conditioner on July 16 with one that works, four days after WCPO 9 contacted CMHA about Nibert’s complaints.

But Nibert and his lawyer said problems with the Pinecrest project extend beyond any one resident’s maintenance headaches.

The Pinecrest is among CMHA's first high-rise properties undergoing renovations as part of the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD, program. The RAD program is designed to help local housing authorities tap into private funding to make much needed repairs to public housing. The RAD conversion at Pinecrest includes the installation of energy-efficient mechanical systems, new kitchen cabinets, lighting, appliances, flooring and refurbished elevators, among other improvements.

These two photos show the air conditioners that Willis Nibert had in his temporary home. The photo on the left shows the second-floor unit that worked because flexible tubing was attached to the device to draw hot air out a window. The photo on the right shows the air conditioner located on the first floor and flexible tubing sitting next to it. But the air conditioner lacked the part needed to attach the tubing to the device.
The photo on the left shows the second-floor air conditioner that worked in Willis Nibert's place because flexible tubing was attached to the device to draw hot air out a window. The photo on the right shows the air conditioner that had been on the first floor with flexible tubing next to it. But the air conditioner lacked the part needed to attach the tubing to the device.

CMHA views the work as “a great example for forthcoming projects,” Lesley Wardlow, CMHA’s senior communications coordinator, wrote in an email response to questions from WCPO 9.

“The renovations are ahead of schedule and under budget," she wrote. "The final renovations are expected to be completed three months early. The CMHA transformations are providing stable affordable housing for years to come.”

Nibert and his lawyer said they view the project less positively.

“The conversion and the renovation at the Pinecrest has been very difficult,” said John Schrider, director of the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio who represents Pinecrest residents. “The thing that was the most frustrating for our clients and the tenant group is CMHA seeming, not really wanting to engage with the residents.”

Win-win or painful lesson?

Wardlow wrote that CMHA has communicated with the people who call the Pinecrest home.

“As a way to keep residents informed and excited, an open house was held in the first completed phase of the project,” she wrote. “Residents have received a firsthand look at the upgrades to be done in their future homes and were excited to see the beautiful renovations. Residents have been kept informed on the transformation through multiple meetings, fliers and newsletters.”

She noted that the RAD conversion has resulted in exterior improvements, too, including “a repaved parking area, improved lighting, sidewalk upgrades and minor improvements to the exterior of the building like tuck pointing.”

This photo shows the new air conditioner that CMHA placed on the first floor of Willis Nibert's apartment after WCPO 9 contacted the housing authority.
CMHA placed this new air conditioner on the first floor of Willis Nibert's apartment after WCPO 9 contacted the housing authority.

“The RAD conversion is a win-win for the families and CMHA,” Wardlow wrote. “The sustainable work that has been completed provides a new home for nearly 200 families and decreased the number of work orders the agency will receive.”

Schrider said he hopes the project will serve as a lesson to CMHA as the housing authority works to complete other RAD conversions on its properties.

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“The Pinecrest was probably the first high-rise building that CMHA converted to RAD and has done substantial renovation on it,” Schrider said. “I think there was a lot to be learned, and hopefully going forward when CMHA works on the other developments, they will have learned some things from this experience and do a better job.”

Nibert has learned a lot, he said, adding that he hopes other CMHA residents preparing for a RAD conversion can benefit from his experience.

He recommended checking everything as soon as residents move into a new unit, even if it’s a temporary relocation. He suggested running the water in sinks and bathtubs for a few minutes in any new unit to make sure there are no visible leaks and that the water is clear and checking the vents for garbage and debris.

In this photo, Willis Nibert is looking straight into the camera. He is wearing a black Bengals ballcap and a black shirt.
Willis Nibert

He also recommended that residents contact the U.S. Postal Service directly to make sure they will be able to get their mail during their temporary moves. Nibert and at least three other Pinecrest residents struggled for weeks with mail delivery before getting it resolved, he said, delaying important medical and banking information.

“I hate to say it, but you need to check your stuff,” he said. “I don’t want nobody to have to go through the pain in the butt.”

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. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.