In the spring of 2015, residents of the Forest Hills Apartment complex complained about their air conditioners not working, mold in their apartments, outdated fire extinguishers, broken electrical outlets and slow response times from the management company.
Now after about 18 months of renovations, things are starting to improve, residents say.
“They’ve got a new manager, Ms. Eunice, and she is really, really trying to get some stuff done here,” Joyce Mosley, a long time resident of Forest Hills, said. “She has repaired several apartments, taken care of mold issues. They’ve sent in painters and plumbers.”
Resident Keith Miller agreed. He said on a scale of 1 to 10, he’d give the new management an eight, primarily for their effort. He said things are not perfect, but he sees some improvement.
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Forest Hills has had a history of troubles in recent years.
The 136-unit apartment complex is on Seventh Avenue and has 96 apartments reserved for residents who receive federal housing subsidies.
Because of that, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducts routine inspections of the living quarters. Two years ago, inspectors found holes in apartment walls, damaged roofs, water damage, paint peeling, exposed wires, outdated fire extinguishers and combustible materials improperly stored, among other violations. The apartment complex received a score so low on its inspection, that HUD would not let people apply for an apartment at Forest Hills.
They also took away the apartment’s subsidy.
Stabilis, a private New York City-based investment company, bought the apartment complex for $5.3 million last February. They hired Multi-Family Select, a Matthews-based management company, known for turning around troubled properties.
Lucinda Williams, senior vice president at Multi-Family Select, said when the property was purchased by Stabilis last February, Forest Hills was in disrepair. The previous management company hadn’t kept up the property. The buildings, inside and outside, had detriorated. She said there were units that had been vacant for five or six years.
“We found that there was a lot of deferred maintenance and there were a lot of units that were offline,” she said. “I guess the funds weren’t available for them to do a lot of the work that needed to be done. So the staff, their hands were tied.”
Eunice Barnwell, the site manager, said because of that residents didn’t trust the new management company to get the job done. She said the toughest challenge was to gain the residents’ trust back.
Now things have changed. New pool houses were put in, fences were replaced, a basketball court was added, outdated HVAC units were replaced, and residents were being served much quicker. Williams said HUD recently inspected the property and they received a passing score, and they were able to get their subsidy back.
“It’s been an uphill battle,” Williams said. “I’m not going to pretend it ain’t been.”
Williams said she couldn’t really speak on the prior owners or management company, but “something fell through the cracks.” And the residents were paying for it, she said.
Williams said the company felt it was important to address the tenants’ needs.
“As an individual, you never know where you might find yourself,” Williams said. “So if I found myself in a situation where I needed affordable housing, what should I expect? Should I think that because I’m in affordable housing that I’m not supposed to expect sanitary, safe, affordable housing?”
“If you’re here, we have an obligation to them.”