CINCINNATI — It has been two months since residents of a public housing development in West Price Hill called a news conference to complain that the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority was forcing them to move during the coronavirus pandemic.
Residents of the Pinecrest apartment tower gathered again Thursday before television cameras to say conditions have gotten so much worse that lawyers have filed a complaint on their behalf against CMHA with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“The Pinecrest Resident Council asks HUD to investigate this very serious situation and do whatever is necessary to get CMHA to comply with its obligations,” the complaint states. “CMHA must provide decent and safe housing and carry out the RAD conversion in a safe and fair manner that minimizes displacement.”
Dozens of residents who live on the upper floors of the Pinecrest have received notices to vacate their apartments so CMHA can begin extensive renovations as part of the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD, program. On April 28, residents gathered to request that CMHA delay the moves to avoid the potential spread of COVID-19.
A housing authority spokesperson told WCPO that the agency had decided to delay the start of construction at the Pinecrest until at least July 1 because of the pandemic and would delay resident relocations until May 15 at the earliest.
She reiterated Thursday that CMHA is striving to work with residents.
“The health and safety of Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority residents and staff is of great importance. During these unprecedented times Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority has taken measures that increase safety and reduce exposure to COVID-19 as well as other potential hazards,” Lesley Wardlow, CMHA’s senior communications coordinator, wrote in an email to WCPO sent Thursday afternoon. "Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority requires all movers to follow social distance guidelines and to wear PPE. CMHA heard the concerns of residents and postponed relocation for those households in the first phase who did not want to move prior June 1, 2020. Face-to-face contact has been limited as much as possible, relocation meetings take place on the phone and residents can take a virtual view of units that are offered for the relocation period."
But Willis Nibert, treasurer of the Pinecrest Resident Council, said many residents have had movers enter their apartments without wearing masks, adding that CMHA has refused to adjust relocation plans as residents have requested.
“We want to have a safe and clean area,” he said.
Lawyers for the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio filed a formal complaint June 12 with HUD executives in Cleveland and Columbus, asking HUD to require CMHA to “meet its obligations to residents.”
“CMHA has to get its act together and treat the residents fairly,” said John Schrider, director of the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio. “We expect HUD to act quickly and come to the aid of the residents.”
The complaint asked that HUD require CMHA to:
· “Negotiate in good faith with the Resident Council to enter into a memorandum of understanding to facilitate a safe and fair relocation of residents.”
· “Implement a written relocation plan with specific protections related to COVID-19.”
· “Adequately maintain conditions at Pinecrest in compliance with HUD and local standards.”
· “Provide for Pinecrest residents’ safety by providing useful information and training to Pinecrest residents about fire safety and by cooperating with the Cincinnati Fire Department.”
Nibert said the Cincinnati Fire Department has trouble accessing the apartment tower with the key card system that’s in place. Residents have been asking for months for a fire safety plan and still don’t have one from CMHA, he said, and residents haven’t had any fire drills either.
The building also has terrible problems with leaks and dampness that create mold in people’s apartments, he said.
“The management of the building has been the real crux of the problem,” said Pinecrest resident Alice Smith. “We live here and know what’s going on and could contribute to the safety and health of our building.”
Ella Adams, another Pinecrest resident, said the apartment tower also has serious problems with mice, bed bugs and other pests.
“These are health and safety issues,” she said.
Nibert said that trash from people moving piles up outside the building to the point where Dumpsters are overflowing, which adds to the problems with mice and other pests.
“We just want to be safe and want to be protected and stuff,” he said. “It’s sad how they treat us.”
Wardlow responded to those concerns in her email, too.
"Requests for pest control are addressed whenever they are received by Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority. In addition, the building is treated for pests once a month and follow-up appointments are scheduled if an infestation is found in a unit. As a matter of fact the Pinecrest was treated this week," Wardlow wrote. "On May 5, 2020 two key cards were hand delivered to the Fire Department for direct access to Pinecrest. Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority has not been informed of a problem with access to the building. On May 6, 2020 the Pinecrest Fire Plan was reviewed, via phone conference, by a former Cincinnati Fire Assistant Chief and presented to several residents. It was found to be a great plan. Furthermore a fire drill has been scheduled for July 1st at Pinecrest. Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority has been responsive to all written and oral resident requests and we continue to be open to discuss any ongoing issues that have not been addressed."
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 Lucy and for WCPO. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.