Update: As of the afternoon of Tuesday, May 18, one of the elevators (the one that broke the previous Wednesday) was back in service. Charlottesville Tomorrow will continue to check in with residents on any further outages.
Connie Rosenbaum loves butterflies, angels and the color purple. She has covered her tiny, tidy apartment on the second floor of Midway Manor, located at Ridge and South Streets just on the edge of Charlottesville’s downtown area, with them. Butterflies of many colors (mostly purple) and sizes and materials hang on her living room walls and float on fishing line in front of the narrow sliding glass door that opens onto her small balcony. Butterflies even cover the area rug, brightening up the apartment’s grey wall-to-wall carpet.
Rosenbaum’s son installed iridescent butterfly knobs on a small cabinet displaying some angel figurines, though Rosenbaum’s prized ones, her Willow Tree Angel Figurines, are a few feet away, atop a second small cabinet that keeps safe some of the “what-nots” that belonged to her mother and grandmother.
Wings of any functional variety would have come in handy for Rosenbaum the last few days: Both elevators in the four-story Midway Manor building have been out of service since last Wednesday, save for a four-hour window on Monday afternoon, during which one elevator worked after a repair.
Rosenbaum hesitated to take the stairs. She has colon cancer, and many days, it’s difficult for her to muster the strength and stability to move around her small apartment, never mind climb 2½ flights of stairs with her mail or groceries in her hands.
Nearly every resident in Midway Manor’s 98 apartments (94 one-bedroom, four two-bedroom) is a senior, like Rosenbaum, and some have disabilities. Many residents use walkers, rollators (a walker with wheels and a built-in seat), as well as other mobility aids, to get around. Residents living on the fourth floor must climb more than 90 stairs to get from the ground floor, where the front doors and the mailroom are located, to their apartments.
According to residents, one of the elevators has been out of service since July, and though management promised to fix it by November, it was still broken when the second elevator — the only other one in the building — stopped working.
Residents are more than inconvenienced by the elevator shutdown. Many of them have spent five days concerned for their own safety and security and for that of their neighbors. They’ve spent five days feeling forgotten about and ignored by the building’s ownership and corporate management, city leadership and some members of the Charlottesville community. And still, the problem persists.
The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority couldn’t help because Midway Manor is privately owned and subsidized with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds distributed by Virginia Housing. (Virginia Housing is also the lender on this property; it holds the mortgage for the owner, Midway Manor LLLP, and administers the Section 8 subsidy contract.)
And according to Joe Powers, Charlottesville’s deputy fire chief for community risk reduction, the fire department cannot help much because elevators do not fall within the fire code, so, in these cases, the department assumes a supportive role when called upon.
Private subsidized housing is different from public housing and comes with its own set of regulations, and with them come challenges for those folks who are low-income and participate in the housing choice voucher program.
As the owner of the building, Midway Manor LLLP, based in Williamsburg, is responsible for all maintenance and upkeep of the building. (An LLLP is a limited liability limited partnership consisting of one or more partners who are liable for the entity’s obligations, as well as one or more additional partners whose liability is protected and whose interests are usually solely financial.) When something at Midway Manor breaks, Midway Manor LLLP and its management company, W.H.H. Trice & Co., have to fix it. But because Virginia Housing administers the contract, Virginia Housing can prompt the owner to have the repairs made, so long as they’re informed by on-site management or by residents.
Because the building is subsidized by HUD, HUD sets the regulations for how buildings are to be maintained and inspected.
Since last July, W.H.H. Trice & Co. has blamed the delay on repairs to the first broken elevator on needing a specific part that’s difficult to come by, residents say.
Corporate management told Neal Rodgers, director of compliance and asset management for Virginia Housing, the same thing. Rodgers said in a phone call Monday that it’s not unusual for 40-year-old buildings still using their original elevator systems, like Midway Manor, to have some trouble finding such parts, though it is certainly unusual that both of a building’s elevators would be out of service at the same time. Typically, Rodgers said, the management companies he works with do their best to make repairs in a timely manner.
Before Wednesday, the second elevator was starting to get wonky, too, said Mary Carey, another Midway Manor resident. It had started stalling, and residents who’d gotten stuck in it for a few minutes at a time were so rattled by the experience, they started taking the stairs instead, if they could.
Carey understands that on-site building management is perhaps limited by what corporate management allows them to do, but she is nonetheless frustrated that the first broken elevator was not fixed in a timely fashion, which led to an even more dire situation.
“We are seniors, we have done our duty” to this community, she said. “But we are the last to be accommodated.”
Carey was horrified to learn that one of her neighbors, who survived polio as a child and has an unsteady gait, crawled up and down the stairs on Friday. Carey herself had a refrigerated box of medication arrive on Friday, but she couldn’t make it down to the ground floor mailroom. On Saturday, a 90-year-old fourth floor resident made the trek down to the mailroom, saw Carey’s name on the box as well as the sender’s name, recognized it as a medication, and brought it up to Carey’s door before continuing up two more flights of stairs to her own apartment.
Carey was angry that her neighbor had to make this trip via stairs at all, but she was grateful for the help: Boxes have been disappearing from the pink side table across from the mailboxes, where delivered packages are usually placed — fully visible from the all-glass entryway. With residents unable to come downstairs to fetch their mail, boxes have been piling up.
“You could come in off the street and go shopping,” Carey said.
Rosenbaum had a package stolen last week, as well, and Thursday night, yet another resident posted a handwritten note above the pink table asking whoever had stolen their most recent delivery to please put it in a plastic bag and hang it on their apartment door handle, no knock needed, no questions asked. They’d received a delivery confirmation from the postal worker, and two other residents had seen a box with their name on it on the table. “Just leave me what is left! That spray is needed badly,” the note read.
For many of these residents, especially those who don’t have a nearby emergency contact and rely on their immediate neighbors for help and kindness, no elevators means no access to their mail — to medications (though Timberlake’s Drug Store usually delivers to individual apartments, residents say), to bills and Social Security checks. No access to their cars, to JAUNT vehicles or Charlottesville Area Transit buses, to groceries.
Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry delivers food to 24 Midway Manor apartments the third Saturday of every month, and its volunteers heard about the elevator outage prior to last weekend’s delivery, said Jane Colony Mills, the pantry’s executive director.
On Saturday, Loaves & Fishes volunteers used the staircase to deliver a 30-pound box of shelf-stable food, as well as a 20- to 25-pound bag of fresh produce, dairy, frozen meat and other food goods. Mills said each household received another, approximately 30-pound, box this past week, as well, for a total of about 85 pounds of food for each of those 24 households. Volunteers schlepped it all up the stairs, to folks they’ve happily delivered to for years, to folks they’ve come to know quite well.
What’s more, lack of elevator services also slow emergency response times from EMS workers and firefighters who will have to carry their heavy gear up flights of stairs (and then quite possibly, a patient back down those stairs on a gurney).
But it’s not just the elevators, residents say.
Rosenbaum lived in Crescent Halls for a number of years, through her cancer treatments at University of Virginia Health, before moving to Midway Manor two years ago. She said that when she first moved in, necessary repairs were made fairly quickly. Now, “it has to be a downright emergency” before management will fix anything, she said, and she feels they’ve been using COVID as an excuse to avoid repairs of all sizes. At least the air filters are replaced every three months without anyone having to ask, and she said she’s thankful for that.
But still, Rosenbaum’s kitchen cabinets aren’t all that secure, and she wonders if anything other than the heating and cooling units have been upgraded since Midway Manor started leasing apartments in 1981.
Carey shares that question. Her bathroom sink leaks, and it needs more than just the caulking it’s received (“silly putty,” she calls it, because it’s too small a fix for this particular repair). She loves to bake — pies and cakes especially — but her oven is unreliable. Carey worries, too, about the brick stars at the back of the building, which lead to the Ridge Street sidewalk. The stairs have had loose bricks for years, she said, and they’ve been blocked off for a while with caution tape.
The outdoor stairs leading to Ridge Street have been in disrepair for many months, says Midway Manor resident Mary Carey. Some residents rely on these stairs to shorten their mealtime trips to the Salvation Army. Staff photo
Residents who eat regular meals at the Salvation Army, located one tenth of a mile down Ridge Street, and who can take stairs, rely on that pathway to shorten their trip. But with the stairs blocked off and the uneven nature of the sloped grass lawn too much of a risk, residents must take an alternate route, out the Midway Manor entrance onto South Street, then onto Ridge, nearly doubling the trip. Though it may be a smoother, easier walk for some, that’s not the case for everyone, Carey said.
Like Rosenbaum, Carey moved to Midway Manor from Crescent Halls, which has had its own share of infrastructure problems over the years and just recently broke ground on resident-led redevelopment. Both women say that they thought Midway Manor might be a bit nicer, and for a while, it was. In the nine years Carey’s lived in the building, she said it’s never been like this.
It’s true that time and daily life take their toll on a building, and even when folks keep their spaces neat and clean, as Carey and Rosenbaum do, things fall apart.
One resident who’s lived at Midway Manor for 35 years regularly picks up trash scattered throughout the lobby and the entryway, said Carey. “It’s his home, and he don’t want to see it dirty.”
“I am tired of these people thinking we’re less than human over here,” adds Carey, who acknowledges that because the building is privately owned, the City Council and others can’t do much. But they can put pressure on W.H.H. Trice & Co., on Midway Manor LLLP, “they can let people know that they’re inquiring on behalf of the people of Charlottesville, let them know that they’re concerned,” she said.
The elevator that broke last week was repaired shortly after Charlottesville Tomorrow began reporting on this story, which included calls to Virginia Housing. Del. Sally Hudson made calls on behalf of Midway Manor residents, as well, and on Monday, residents were notified by building management that HUD will conduct a top-to-bottom inspection in early June.
Corporate management, as well as W.H.H. Trice & Co. (which also operates as Bush Construction), have not yet replied to requests for comment made on Friday.
Carey, who has lived in both public and private subsidized housing at various points in her life, has had to fight for this sort of thing before, and she’s tired of it. “We are seniors. There are veterans here. We already did our duty. There are three stages of life, and we are in our third stage.”
Rosenbaum echoed a similar statement while turning on some of the butterfly shaped lights in her apartment after the first day of the elevator outage, moving slowly, as her lower back was bothering her despite the pain patch she’d applied earlier in the day.
“I’m getting too old for this,” Carey said. “It’s like a circle, and it’s coming back at me again. […] What’s happened the last five days, it wasn’t necessary,” she said, noting that Monday morning’s repair took all of 45 minutes.
Why couldn’t that have been done sooner, she wants to know, since no special part was needed for that particular repair. Sure, she said, she could live with her son and his family in Lake Monticello, but she likes to live independently. She likes having her own apartment surrounded by her own things, rather than her own room in someone else’s house. Plus, she’s not crazy about how far Lake Monticello is from most things, or how dark it gets out there. At least she has a place to go if things get really bad, she said … but not everyone does.
As of Monday afternoon, both elevators were once again out of service (the one that was repaired was only active for about 4½ hours), and Brian Matt, public relations manager for Virginia Housing, told Charlottesville Tomorrow that he’d call Rodgers and they’d get on it right away.
But Carey said she’s not holding her breath. She’ll believe it when she sees it, and she hopes she sees it, soon.