Block-watch captain Sy Kreais listens to a resident's complaints at Greenbelt Apartments.
The Blade/Andy Morrison
Robert Ault’s apartment is so infested with cockroaches that he runs a vacuum several times a day to battle the insects that swarm all over his kitchen.
“At night, it’s really bad,” he said.
He has removed the doors from his kitchen cabinets in a futile effort to keep the roaches from hiding in the cupboards. When he moves his refrigerator to show a visitor the problem's severity, a cascade of dozens of cockroaches runs over the wall and ceiling while his two children play on the kitchen floor.
Mr. Ault is one of many residents at the Greenbelt Place apartment complex who say they are fed up with unsanitary and unsafe conditions there. Their complaints include infestations of cockroaches, bedbugs, and mice, unlocked exterior doors that allow anyone access to building hallways and stairwells, management demanding rent that residents say they have already paid, missing fire extinguishers, and generally unresponsive management.
Nicole Devers, who lives in the complex at Cherry Street and Greenbelt Parkway with her three children, said she also battles cockroaches all day long.
“I’ve tried everything — bombing, sprays, traps,” she said. Neither Ms. Devers' nor Mr. Ault’s apartments appeared to be dirty.
Ms. Devers, a student at Owens Community College, has also complained to management about two rooms of her apartment not having electricity for the last two months. She said many of her neighbors are afraid to speak out about the conditions, but she has reached a breaking point.
“I don’t want to be evicted,” she said. “But something has to be done.”
The 176-unit complex on downtown Toledo's northeastern edge is owned by Hampstead Cherrywood Partners LP and is managed by California-based Intercoastal Financial, according to records from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.
Greenbelt management did not respond to messages left by The Blade.
The buildings are project-based Section 8 — housing that is owned by a private entity but subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for low-income tenants. Greenbelt’s owners receive up to $140,772 every month in payments from the federal government to provide housing for the low-income residents there.
North Toledo community group United North and its One Village Council have organized a community meeting Thursday for discussion about how to to improve conditions at Greenbelt Place. The meeting is to be at 6:30 at the Zablocki Senior Center, 3015 Lagrange St.
Sy Kreais, a block-watch captain who lives nearby on Michigan Street and who is known for mowing the grass in the neighborhood's vacant lots, urged Greenbelt Place residents on a recent morning to attend the meeting.
“We want the quality of life better in this neighborhood,” he said.
Jai Scott, who has lived in the complex for three years, said his primary concern is that main entry doors to buildings don’t lock.
“We want the main doors to the buildings locked for security,” he said.
Delores Harmes, another resident, said her home was without a fire extinguisher for more than two months, after management removed the extinguishers from apartments.
Toledo Fire Department Lt. Matthew Hertzfeld said his agency has received complaints from other residents about missing extinguishers. The company was given 30 days to correct the problem but failed to do so, he said.
Lieutenant Hertzfeld said the fire department is trying to work with the complex’s management to make sure enough working extinguishers are available.
“Technically they are in violations of code by not having those there,” he said. “We’re working with them to try to correct that.”
Resident Kisha Vinson, who moved in at the beginning of last month, said management is ordering her to pay an additional $450 in rent she said she doesn’t owe, a complaint echoed by several other residents.
Jasmine Taylor said she believes the building’s cockroach infestation is to blame for her daughter’s asthma. Two-year-old Kale-Jah was recently hospitalized for four days because of breathing problems, and her parents must now give her breathing treatments with a nebulizer twice a day.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, children with cockroach allergies can develop acute asthma attacks.
“The frequent hospital admissions of inner-city children with asthma often is directly related to their contact with cockroach allergens,” according to information on the foundation’s Web site.
When asked why he would remain in such a home, Mr. Ault responded, “You don’t have much of a choice. When you don’t have money, you got to live where you got to live.”
The apartments, built in 1971, have long been plagued by complaints of poor upkeep.
In 1993, a dozen tenants took the owner of the complex, then known as the Cherrywood Apartments, to court claiming unsanitary and unsafe conditions, including rats, cockroaches, unsafe outdoor lighting, and broken locks that allowed criminals and vagrants easy entry. They paid their rent into an escrow account during the litigation, which took five years to resolve.
At the time, a judge noted “along with the benefits of receiving guaranteed rental income and other government-paid expenses [the owner] must accept the attendant responsibility of maintenance.”
The buildings have also changed owners numerous times, being sold in 1997 by Cleveland businessman Henry Meyer to Home Properties Inc., of Rochester, N.Y. It was subsequently sold to Northwood Associates, a New York-based partnership.
In the early 2000s, many hoped the complex had seen a rebirth when it came under new ownership again, received about $2.8 million in new investment and upgrades, and the name was changed to Greenbelt Place. The city of Toledo issued about $4.5 million in revenue bonds to help finance the deal; HUD also forgave a $1.7 million mortgage pending against the property.
Because of the tax-credit loans the building’s owner received in 2001 to rehab the property, several other companies or parties became limited partners or investor partners in the property. One group was North River Community Development Corporation, a predecessor to United North.
United North inherited the 0.05 percent interest as a co-general partner in the development, but United North Chief Executive Officer Terry Glazer noted his group has been given no say in how the complex is managed.
“We’re not getting a check,” he said. “We’re not getting any say. But it’s in our neighborhood.”
In addition to helping organize residents to fight for improvements at the complex, Mr. Glazer said his group is investigating whether it has any legal leverage with its small stake.
Because of one of the investor partner group’s bankruptcy, another company is acquiring a stake in Greenbelt Place. Mr. Glazer is hoping by refusing or delaying in signing off on the transfer, United North can help improve conditions there.
“We want to make sure if we are going to sign off on this, they are going to manage the properties properly,” he said.
In the meantime, residents say they are living in conditions that are unacceptable.
Said Ms. Devers, “I shouldn’t have to live like this. I pay my rent. I’m not dirty.”
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