The owners of the Greenbelt Place apartment complex in downtown Toledo receive rental subsidies and other benefits from the federal government. They have a legal and moral responsibility to maintain the property on tenants' behalf -- and need to be called to account for their apparent shirking of that duty.
A recent report by The Blade cited tenants' complaints about safety and sanitary conditions at the 176-unit complex. They say it is infested with bedbugs, mice, and cockroaches, which can aggravate children's asthma.
Other complaints include unlocked outer doors, demands for rent that already has been paid, and unresponsive management. The Toledo Fire Department says it gave Greenbelt's owners 30 days to correct a lack of fire extinguishers. They failed to do so.
Greenbelt is managed by a California company. Its owners get as much as $140,772 a month in payments from the federal government to provide housing for low-income residents.
Sadly, Greenbelt's problems are not unique or even unusual. Other projects with even worse maintenance and management records have eluded enforcement action by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, says Spencer Wells, tenant outreach director for the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO).
Greenbelt Place is a part of HUD's Section 8 program, which was launched in the 1970s to expand affordable housing, to offer greater choice for tenants, and to avoid the problems of concentrated poverty and neglect that often plagued sprawling urban housing projects.
It was a sound idea. Given the nation's acute public-housing shortage, the federal government should expand Section 8, which generally requires tenants to pay 30 percent of their income for rent. Waits for Section 8 housing nationwide can stretch for months, even years.
Before the federal government expands Section 8, however, it must do a far better job of inspecting and maintaining the more than 3 million units it already subsidizes. HUD is failing to inspect units adequately, or to hold private landlords accountable to standards meant to ensure that low-income families have a decent, safe, and sanitary place to live.
Mr. Wells of COHHIO notes that HUD has not updated its inspection scores for Greenbelt Place since 2009. HUD should consider carefully any move to call in a mortgage or suspend rental subsidies to a noncompliant property, because it risks displacing tenants. But Greenbelt Place, built in 1971, has a long history of violations under various owners.
Enforcement action is overdue. HUD should work with the owners of Greenbelt Place, giving them reasonable time to make improvements. If they fail to comply, however, HUD should consider ending the project and giving Greenbelt tenants vouchers that would enable them to choose other privately owned rental housing.
That outcome would be unfortunate, given the federal government's appropriate commitment to preserving affordable-housing sites. Another option would be to transfer the Greenbelt contract to a local nonprofit organization.
To fulfill the promise of decent public housing in Toledo and the nation, HUD must hold landlords such as the owners of Greenbelt Place accountable.