A series on affordable housing issues in Hall County and Gainesville. See more stories, interactive maps and videos at the above link.
While availability and cost impedes access to affordable housing, the poor physical condition of many units in Gainesville reveals the need to overhaul the existing stock.
Broken heaters. Mold on the walls. Amenities in disrepair. Unresponsive property management.
These are common complaints from residents at apartment complexes across the city, including Vista Ridge at Lake Lanier and Linwood off Thompson Bridge Road.
“Unfortunately, and this is not unique to our community, the quality of housing can sometimes be very poor at the low end of the spectrum,” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
On a recent afternoon, Rob Ruk pointed out the problems he has with his apartment at Vista Ridge.
The breezeway lights always seem to be out, for example.
Ruk said he often repairs things himself, paying out of pocket, when maintenance doesn’t respond.
“We can’t get them to fix anything,” he said.
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Ricky Scott, Ruk’s neighbor, said he’s had the run of plumbing issues and repeated hiccups with the heating and air conditioning system in his own unit. Other neighbors shared their complaints, too.
Ruk said he spoke with owners of Vista Ridge recently. He was informed that new management would be hired and given reassurances that things in the complex would improve.
Ruk said that’s all he ever wanted.
In a statement to The Times, New Millennium Property Management wrote that it had only acquired Vista Ridge last year.
“Due to the age of the property, both previous and current ownership groups invested substantial financial resources into the property and will continue to do so,” the statement reads. “A transition at the property manager position is currently underway to ensure that all tenant needs are met in a timely fashion.”
Meanwhile, Shytavia Jenkins, a single mother who works at Wal-Mart, has to stay with her family in the winter because the furnace in her apartment at Linwood has been dead for years.
“It’s not good for my child,” she said.
Jenkins’ neighbor, Tonya Teasley, said her home is a mess. Roaches, missing countertops and leaks in the ceiling are everyday troubles.
“There is so much stuff that is wrong,” she said.
Teasley, a school bus driver, said calls to local agencies for help have gone unanswered.
“They said it’s not their problem,” she said.
Beth Brown, executive director of the Gainesville Housing Authority, said she has indeed heard from residents at Linwood.
But while the complex is subsidized, the housing authority does not operate it.
Brown does understand the residents’ concerns, however.
She has partnered with a private developer on plans to demolish and rebuild the Green Hunter Homes public housing complex on Atlanta Street.
Built in the early 1950s, these homes have deteriorated so much that it would cost more to fix up than tear down and replace, Brown said.
The new complex will include public, affordable and market-rate units.
Because so many affordable apartments are decades old, renovations to complexes housing low-income residents have become a priority for some property owners.
Last year, Greenleaf Management pumped more than $2 million into upgrades at three apartment complexes off Park Hill Drive that primarily house low-income minorities and immigrants.
But every investment seems to be a reminder of what other repairs are needed. After all, renters are a huge segment of Gainesville’s population. Just 35 percent of homes in the city are owner-occupied.
For example, residents at Church Street Manor, a subsidized but privately-owned complex located across Jesse Jewell Parkway from the Northeast Georgia Medical Center, have reported wiring and plumbing issues, as well as frequent power surges.
Most residents are elderly and disabled, many of them women, and they live on fixed incomes supported by Social Security and disability checks.
But major renovations are unlikely given that the complex is poised to be redeveloped for commercial uses in the coming years.
Former Gainesville City Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said she hopes real estate investors and developers will commit to meeting the affordable, in-town housing needs of the city’s growing workforce population.
But doing so begins with rehabilitating the hard places people already call home.
“It needs to get done,” Scott said.