Weeks after a six-day dual elevator outage left Midway Manor residents without safe passage between the building’s four stories and ground level, without access to their mailboxes containing bills, checks and life-saving medications, residents remain frustrated with living conditions in the building.
Those six days were “hell,” said longtime resident Mary Carey last week, sitting in the living room of her impeccably kept one-bedroom apartment decorated with vases of immortal flowers, floral pillows, family photographs and a dish of peppermints and Easter candies and scented with some sort of delicious-smelling air freshener. But the elevator outage is only half-solved (for now). And with each passing day, residents grow increasingly concerned for their immediate safety and long-term security.
Midway Manor, located at 100 Ridge St. on the corner of Ridge and South Streets is a privately-owned, publicly-subsidized apartment building with 98 units (94 one-bedroom, four two-bedroom) occupied almost entirely by seniors and folks with disabilities who use mobility aids such as walkers, wheelchairs and rollators to get around.
The building is owned by Midway Manor LLLP, a company based out of Williamsburg, more than 100 miles away from Charlottesville. Virginia Housing is the lender on the property (it holds the mortgage for Midway Manor LLLP), and it distributes the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds and administers the Section 8 subsidy contract between HUD and the owner. The property is managed by W.H.H. Trice & Co., also based in Williamsburg, as well as a local on-site property manager and a maintenance person.
As the property owner, Midway Manor LLLP is responsible for scheduling and paying for repairs, though Virginia Housing can prompt them to make repairs if on-site property management or residents make them aware of any complaints, as it did while Charlottesville Tomorrow was reporting a story on why Midway Manor’s two elevators — one of which had been broken since July 2020 — had both been down for nearly a week.
That story was published May 17, and the next day, the more recently broken elevator was repaired. It worked for just a few hours before shutting down again, at which point Charlottesville Tomorrow made another call to Virginia Housing and a second repair was made.
That particular elevator remains functional (the one that has been down since July 2020 is still down), but residents hesitate to take it. Residents have been trapped in malfunctioning elevators a few times over the last four or five years, and this latest incident only reinforces fears of it happening again, especially now that one elevator is doing the work of two. But some folks have no choice — if they can’t use an elevator, they can’t leave the building without serious physical assistance, something not all residents have access to.
After the initial story ran, a number of Midway Manor residents, residents’ family members and even nonprofit workers who assist residents in various ways, called and wrote us with their own stories and concerns, further confirming Charlottesville Tomorrow’s initial reporting on the state of the building and its physical and emotional effects on residents. After a surgery at UVA Hospital that week, one resident, who asked to remain anonymous, arrived home to no functioning elevators. She had to crawl up the first flight of stairs on her knees while pulling her suitcase, then had to go back down and up once again to get her rollator to her apartment.
“I truly did not have access to my apartment any other way,” she wrote to us, “so [this] old senior did what had to be done. I love my Midway neighbors and where I live, but the corporation [needs] to fix or replace elevators, as they have been breaking down for years. If they are keeping the old [elevators], then at least fix both so we have two for when one breaks down.”
The framed yellow certificate of inspection inside the currently functioning elevator shows that the elevator had been inspected every February and August since February 2016, by the same inspector, but the most recent date showed August 2019. But, residents say, it’s not just the elevators.
The outdoor brick staircase to Ridge Street appears to be fixed — gone are the rickety bricks, the gaps and yellow caution tape — but some residents are not confident that it was repaired by a mason. Carey said that toilets, sinks and garbage disposals are backing up more and more frequently.
When the intercom broke not long ago, it was a safety hazard for residents who cannot make the trek down the stairs to see who’s asking to be admitted, and for those who are hard of hearing and cannot recognize the voice coming through the system. Another resident is worried about the dark spot at the parking lot entrance, where a streetlight has been out for a long time. Carey finds the tattered American flag on the flagpole very disrespectful to residents who are also veterans.
A few days into the elevator outage, residents received flyers about HUD inspections. After reading it, some residents were under the impression that the building was to be inspected soon, likely as a result of them speaking out. But as of last week, HUD’s Richmond field office said it did not have an inspection for Midway Manor on the books, and so the timing of the flyer seems to be coincidental. If tied to anything, it was likely tied to an April 23 announcement by newly-appointed HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge that HUD would soon “substantially increase” the frequency of its inspections.
The flyer informs residents that “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will substantially increase inspection of assisted properties and units on June 1st, 2021 to help ensure the overall health and well-being of HUD-assisted households. An inspector from HUD may inspect your home soon. Residents will be notified in advance by property management of their inspection date and time.” It also includes information on residents’ rights, among other things.
Charlottesville Tomorrow visited with a couple of Midway Manor residents on June 1 and saw two members of a cleaning crew wearing blue polo shirts cleaning the ground floor lobby area as well as one of the staircase landings. Carey and another resident were surprised to hear about the cleaning crew, saying that they haven’t seen a cleaning crew in on a regular basis for at least a few years. They have an inkling the cleaning had something to do with HUD’s increased inspection frequency. Yet another resident, however, says that she’s seen a cleaning crew maybe once or twice a month, cleaning common areas and elevators.
Many residents and supportive community members wonder if Midway Manor’s private owner is intentionally ignoring these deteriorating conditions and putting profits before people. The building, completed in 1981, is located on what is now prime Charlottesville real estate, right on the edge of the downtown area. Currently, residents have a full view of multiple massive commercial construction sites from the parking lot and from their apartment windows: the CODE building, Apex Plaza and 3Twenty3, among others, and the employees of those businesses will want/need places to live.
Residents worry that Midway Manor’s owner is running down the building so that it will become unlivable, residents will not want to renew their leases, and the owner will be able to either sell the building for massive profit, or renovate and rent it at market rate, leaving current residents with few other options for independent living in Charlottesville.
Public discussion about the city’s private subsidized housing buildings — and when their Section 8 affordability contracts expire — have fueled these very legitimate worries. In a City Council meeting last year, councilors discussed some of the properties whose Section 8 contracts were set to expire soon, including Midway Manor. (That came up again in the May 17 meeting, when citizens expressed to council their concerns about the elevator outage.)When a building’s Section 8 contract expires, the owner can choose to either renew the contract or not.
It is true that Midway Manor’s Section 8 contract expires this fall, and “as far as we can tell, there is no other external affordability period,” such as a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) affordability period or otherwise, said Sunshine Mathon, executive director of Piedmont Housing Alliance (a private owner of publicly subsidized housing at Friendship Court).
“As required by HUD one year before the Section 8 contract ends, the owner did submit a notice to HUD that they intend to renew. It is my understanding that this decision is irreversible,” said Mathon.
A letter obtained by the Legal Aid Justice Center via a FOIA request and shared with Charlottesville Tomorrow shows that the owner did declare its intent to renew. On Aug. 6, Midway Manor Apartments c/o W.H.H. Trice & Co. sent a letter to residents, and to Virginia Housing, about its intention to renew. “Dear Resident(s):” the letter reads,
“The Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidizes the rent of your apartment through the project-based Section 8 program. Federal law requires that owners provide tenants with a one-year notification before the expiration of a Section 8 contract. The Section 8 contract that pays the government’s share of your apartment rent at Midway Manor Apartments expires on October 1, 2021.
“While there will be no immediate change of your rental assistance, we are required to inform you of our intended actions when the contract expires one year from now.
“This letter is to notify you that we intend to renew the current Section 8 contract when it expires.
“If Congress makes funds available, which it has in the past and is expected to in the future, we will renew the Section 8 contract. However, in the unlikely circumstance that we cannot renew the contract, it is our understanding that, subject to the availability of funds, HUD will provide eligible tenants currently residing in a Section 8 project-based assisted unit with tenant-based assistance.” The letter, which also refers residents to Virginia Housing, HUD’s Richmond field office, as well as the “rental assistance” tab of HUD’s website, is signed by Vera C. McPherson, managing director of Midway Manor Associates LLLP.
“At this point, we understand that the owner is requesting renewal of the Section 8 contract,” wrote Brian Matt, media and PR specialist for Virginia Housing, in an email on Monday.
“The next step that I am aware of is that the owner is also required to notify both HUD and the residents [of] the kind of Section 8 renewal they intend to pursue — there are a few options, mostly dealing with length of contract,” said Mathon.
That particular deadline is 120 days before the current Section 8 contract ends. (Though there is some discrepancy as to when that contract ends. The above letter says Oct. 1, whereas Mathon has seen Nov. 30. Either way, Midway Manor residents should hear more specifics on that Section 8 contract renewal sometime in June or July.)On a different — but related — note, Mathon said he has “strongly encouraged the City, through the City Manager’s office as well as [Councilor] Michael Payne to connect with the owner [to] express the City’s strong desire for continued affordability” at Midway Manor. A call to the Williamsburg phone number listed for Midway Manor LLLP went directly to voicemail. Charlottesville Tomorrow left a message, hoping that ownership and management would share their intentions with the contract, or at least tell us when residents can expect to hear from them about the contract, but as of publication time, ownership and corporate management has not called us back.
Residents and community members have also asked why the city isn’t doing more. Because the building is privately owned, city officials say there’s not much they can do. Some folks have asked about inspection records, and where residents and relatives of residents can direct complaints, said city spokesperson Brian Wheeler.
In general, “the city does not have an inspection program that routinely visits rental properties. […] There aren’t any records relating to building maintenance issues, beyond the recent elevator concerns, but in part that’s because the building management is the primary contact,” said Wheeler, and it’s building management’s job to bring those concerns to corporate management and ownership. But, said Wheeler, serious concerns about, say, a building code violation, can be directed to Neighborhood Development Services at (434) 970-3081.Knowing that the city doesn’t have much authority in the matter doesn’t alleviate frustrations. Carey and another resident pointed out that the majority of the money the building owners receive both from the Section 8 contract payments, as well as the portion of the rent that residents themselves pay, is not going back into the city of Charlottesville. Yet Charlottesville city residents, many of them lifelong residents, are the ones affected. Residents like Carey will continue speaking out, seeking out people in power and asking for their help. But others are afraid to talk, or to have the details of their individual situations made public in case they can be identified. They feel vulnerable. They fear retaliation.
Most residents cannot afford to lose their subsidies, or their apartments. They cherish their independent living situations, their neighbors, their community. For a number of folks, Midway Manor will be their last home, said Carey, and they want to enjoy it.
One resident, who has lived at Midway Manor for 18 years, believes that retaliation has already begun. “I know what retaliation is, and I suspect that’s what’s going on here,” she said. For instance, vaccinated residents want to start gathering in the common areas to watch television together, or play pool, she said, but those areas remain closed. Carey agrees. “Seniors need to cohabitate,” she said about the common areas, particularly when the pandemic has kept them apart for so long.
And when outside temperatures rose last week, they did inside, too, and that 18-year resident, said that while the ground floor lobby area, which includes the mail room, blocked-off common areas, and the management office, was cooled, she felt no air conditioning in the hallways, even after requesting it be turned on. Whenever she opened her apartment door, a wave of hot and humid air tumbled quickly into her apartment, requiring her HVAC unit to kick up its cooling process, which means it’s using more energy, which means a higher electric bill. And for someone like her, whose monthly disability check covers her rent and not much more, a higher electric bill can lead to even more troubles. And, for her health, so can a hot apartment. “I just want to be able to stay cool,” she said. “This is my health they’re messing with here.”
Residents and their allies are frustrated by the walls they run into when trying to get information and answers to their pressing questions, when advocating for better living conditions in their homes. They’re eager for a HUD inspection, which they hope will help.
Who, residents want to know, can — and will — hold ownership accountable? And to what end?
After all, “they get to go home to their nice houses,” said the 18-year resident, “and we’re stuck in this building. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”