Thursday, July 12, 2007

Elderly say the city is letting their homes rot

By MIKE LEE - Star-Telegram Staff Writer - Wed, Jul. 11, 2007

KYEV TATUM FORT WORTH -- Like many people in retirement complexes, the residents of the Villas at Eastwood Terrace loved getting together with their neighbors.

They held bingo games, potluck suppers and other activities in the meeting room of the city-supported apartment complex for senior citizens.

But when residents began complaining about conditions -- the leaks, the mold, the need for energy-saving screen doors -- the bingo games and other activities came to an abrupt halt.

"They didn't have anything to do; they'd sit around at home and watch television," said Bobby Allen, 59, who moved into the complex to be close to his mother.

Residents believe the complex managers canceled their activities for about six months in retaliation for complaints, and they want some answers from the city.

Complex managers did not respond to a request from the Star-Telegram seeking comment.

High praise

It was billed as "the miracle on East Berry Street," a city-backed housing development for senior citizens that would help revitalize the Stop Six neighborhood in southeast Fort Worth.

The $10.5 million, 160-unit complex opened in May 2003 on 14.5 acres at 4700 E. Berry St. with amenities that seniors could appreciate: carpeting, covered parking, major appliances, and a beauty salon, game room, library, exercise room and swimming pool.

The complex is owned by the nonprofit Villas of Eastwood Terrace, which was set up by the city to oversee the development, and was funded through the sale of tax-exempt bonds issued by the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corp., an arm of the city. Today, the Villas board of directors includes city Housing Director Jerome Walker.

Calls unheeded

Residents say it didn't take long for the problems to begin.

Pearl Gordon, 81, was one of the first to move in. She thought the complex was supposed to have full-time security guards, but the guards stopped working soon after the units were filled, she said.

Maintenance men charged her $25 for services such as hanging pictures and unlocking doors. And the managers have ignored her complaints about a water leak around her front door that has led to mold along her baseboards.

"I turned it in, but no one ever came," she said.

Across the way, Allen said water leaks under his front door when it rains because of the way the landscaping was graded. He, too, has gotten no response.

"I've been through three managers about this," he said.

Bonnie Burns said one of her bedrooms flooded from a leaky outdoor faucet. The manager fixed it by screwing a cap over the end of the faucet and telling residents not to use it, she said. Burns had to replace her bedroom furniture.

"I left for three weeks; there wasn't anything done," she said. "I tolerate it because I like my neighbors."

Screen doors

The latest squabble has been over screen doors. The residents want them so that they can catch breezes and avoid running their air conditioners.

Both city staff and the management company have turned them down. Walker, the city housing director, said screen doors would clash with the complex's design and cost too much to maintain.

But Walker said he wasn't aware of many of the other complaints, and officials from the management company, Quest Asset Management, could not be reached to comment.

The Rev. Kyev Tatum, a community activist whose father lives in the complex and who volunteered to represent the residents, said the city has a history of ignoring complaints from low-income residents.

"The buck stops with Mike Moncrief and the City Council," Tatum said. "They wouldn't allow this on the west side."

Walker denied that the city is responsible for the problems, but he said the complex has had a hard time bringing in enough revenue to cover its expenses, despite occupancy rates typically higher than 90 percent.

Walker wouldn't say whether the city or the complex managers were considering raising the rent. But Quest is scheduled to present options to the City Council this month.

Going to City Hall

About a dozen residents took their complaints to Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

After listening to Tatum, who spoke for the group, Mayor Mike Moncrief said the council will look into the complaints.

"I don't think any member of this council would condone any of our senior citizens, regardless of where they are, being intimidated," he said.
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