Since residents voiced concerns last month, Gateway Village Apartments management has pledged to support a renewed Community Watch program and will submit weekly progress reports to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on tenants’ maintenance concerns.
The changes follow visits from Michigan by Gateway’s parent corporation president, a visit from Maine by a vice president from Gateway’s management company, and a Community Watch meeting with five Hillsborough Police Department officers.
Last month, a group of residents worked with nonprofit Orange County Justice United and local pastors to deliver a list of demands to Gateway management. The demands including re-starting the Community Watch program; addressing mold, bedbugs, and sewage overflow problems; and repairing or replacing faulty appliances and furniture.
Orange County Justice United organizer Devin Ross said he had seen problems in at least five of the eight Gateway buildings.
Gateway, on Lakeside Drive in Hillsborough, receives federal subsidies to house low-income residents, through HUD’s Section 8 Program. By their contract, owners and management must maintain decent, safe and sanitary housing.
“We take these issues very seriously,” said Joe Phillips, public affairs officers for HUD’s Region IV. “Bringing this to our attention is important.”
HUD’s Greensboro office is now monitoring the Gateway’s local management agency, Preservation Management Inc. As Preservation Management submits weekly work reports, HUD will follow up with tenants to ensure the issues were “properly resolved,” Phillips said.
“Ultimately, the owner is responsible,” he said.
Robert Diedrich, president of Gateway’s parent corporation Preservation Housing Partners, visited Gateway last month. He did not speak with residents about maintenance concerns but sat in on the Community Watch meeting.
“We’re concerned with the health and safety conditions at Gateway, and with ensuring that there are good, habitable conditions there,” he said.
“What we spend on maintenance (at Gateway) is significantly more than industry average,” he said. “Part of it’s because (Gateway) is old, and part of it’s because tenants have been abusive (to the apartments).”
Gateway Village Apartments were built in the 1980s. Diedrich did not have numbers for Gateway’s maintenance costs, but said since Preservation Housing Partners became the parent corporation in 2010, it has gutted and rebuilt four units and renovated Gateway’s laundromat.
Geoffrey Green, vice president of Employee and Resident Services with Preservation Management, said the tenants’ letter was the first he’d heard of any concerns since his company began managing Gateway a year ago.
“The most important thing we want residents to know is that we will address any maintenance issues they have – we need to know about them, though,” he said.
“We take a lot of pride in having a high-quality place where people want to live. We are anxious to partner with the residents here to make that happen, and with the Orange County (Justice United) group.”
‘The right way’
Despite the commitments to making changes, some residents expressed frustration with the quality of recent repairs and lack of open communication with the management.
“I feel like we need to have a meeting where we can talk about maintenance issues, about the health concerns we have,” said Shannon Blue, a 27-year-old mother of four.
Many of the problems began under Gateway’s previous local management, according to both residents and management. Work orders were never confirmed and closed out in the record system, Green said. Since September, regional manager Debra Iafrate has been filling in, until Preservation Management can hire a permanent local manager, likely in early 2015.
“We’re looking for someone that wants to do things the right way,” Green said.
At the Community Watch meeting, Cpl. Tereasa King of the Hillsborough Police Department called on residents to choose building captains and commit to meeting quarterly. Two of the eight residents at the Community Watch meeting have already volunteered as building captains.
“I actually think that it went very well,” King said. “I just think that the main thing with them now is once (Gateway) hires someone who will be the permanent manager, if that person is actually committed to following the rules.”
Angela Clapp, a 39-year-old mother of four who’s volunteered as a building captain, said she’s cautiously hopeful
“At least somebody knows that we are concerned about where we live … but it has to keep going for us to feel safe,” she said.
As for maintenance concerns, Iafrate said Preservation Management should be able to fix every problem in a timely manner. Iafrate said she’s personally followed up on the specific requests in the letter sent by residents and Orange County Justice United.
However, since the previous manager left, she said management is still not following the company’s own protocol of checking with residents that the work completed satisfactorily.
“We should be doing that. We have not been, due to lack of staff. We’ll start getting into that again,” Iafrate said.
Resident Matesha McLeod said she’s hesitant to place work orders after seeing her own and her neighbors’ issues frequently go unresolved.
“It seems like when you were doing it in the past, you weren’t getting a good outcome,” she said. “Now you want to keep your distance.”
Green said he understood the “lingering distrust.”
“I don’t think words are going to cure that,” he said. “I think we just need to put our heads down and keep working and doing the right thing, and that’s what it will take to turn those attitudes around.”
McLeod said she hopes management will follow through “doing the right thing.”