Alfreda Miller and her four children live in one of the worst apartments in Amhurst Gardens. The toilets and tubs in her two bathrooms overflow with sewage and feces every few months, she said.
She threw away countless towels and blankets trying to soak up the water. Her children help scrub the tubs after each incident.
Miller, 38, had previously shared her story with The Stanly News & Press, but on Monday night she detailed it to Albemarle City Council, at a lengthy public meeting at the EE Waddell Center where council members listened to concerns raised by social housing residents. .
“Who wants to throw dirty towels with poo on them in their washing machine?” she said, holding back her tears. “This is my day, this is my life, which I have to deal with.”
His home on Inger Street is one of several social housing units affected by collapsing pipes, which caused problems for residents.
Miller said she also had mold in her home, which made her worry about any potential long-term health effects. She is particularly worried about her 9-year-old daughter, who suffers from asthma. She said she believed her daughter’s condition had worsened since the family had been living there.
Conditions have gotten so bad that Miller is afraid to invite people into his apartment.
She signed papers at the end of May to move into a vacant property while her unit is renovated but, several months later, she and her children remain in the same unit, although all of their belongings are packed.
“My kids shouldn’t have to live like this,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to live like this and be treated like this, like it’s our fault.”
Council decided to schedule a meeting with residents after initially hearing from them at a council meeting in August. At this meeting, several council members mentioned that it was the first time they had heard of such problems. Director of Public Housing Dr Kim Scott spoke in more detail about some of the issues at the September 6 council meeting.
Victoria Ingram, who has lived on South Bell Avenue for more than 30 years, was one of the residents who spoke at the August meeting and again on Monday. Over the years, she has had many problems with household items, including her refrigerator, air conditioner, and bathroom toilet.
She has had to throw out new furniture due to a bed bug infestation and often has to throw out food because her fridge isn’t working. Her air conditioner recently stopped working and it was like “hell in that apartment”, she said.
“It doesn’t come easily to me because I’m on a fixed income,” Ingram said. “I’m at the point where I’m fed up.”
At least half a dozen residents spoke up, including some, like Angelina Kelder, who felt the city could have done more over the years to address the issues.
“What continues to bother me is that you keep shifting responsibility onto someone else instead of taking responsibility,” she said.
In response, Mayor Ronnie Michael said council was ‘very disappointed’ with the conditions many residents live in, adding that ‘we need to find answers and that’s what we hope Dr Scott can help us with. to understand. .”
Since public housing falls under the jurisdiction of the city, Scott told the council that he struggles to help his residents due to the bureaucracy he has to navigate at the municipal level. He alleged that the procurement process changes often and when he approached the finance department with funding requests, he was told he had no money to spend in his budget.
“I’ve run schools that have budgets of $6.9 million and I was able to get what I needed through the procurement process and this is the hardest procurement process I’ve never had to deal with in 25 years,” he said.
Michael stressed that Scott needs to stick to his budget and follow proper procedures, including having written specifications for what’s needed.
The city’s 63-page purchasing and contracting policies and procedures manual was last updated in January 2021 and all departments are aware of it, according to a statement sent to SNAP by the city.
“As with any level of government, the Town of Albemarle’s procurement policy is in place to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly,” the statement said. “All departments in the town of Albemarle are required to follow the town’s procurement policy. This procurement policy is based on local, state and federal laws and procedures.
Although he said he understood that rules and regulations must be followed to get necessary items to residents, Albemarle Town of Section 8 Inspector Eric Allsbrook said “some rules are made to be broken”.
When it comes to appliances like fridges and stoves that aren’t working, “it’s a 24-hour emergency,” Allsbrook said.
Councilman Benton Dry stressed the importance of everyone coming together to try to resolve issues.
“We’re here tonight to listen and do what we can to move this thing forward,” he said. “We appreciate what each of you have said and I hate as hell that you’re in this situation.”
At the end of the meeting, Michael told SNAP, “The city is dedicated to figuring out how to fix these issues and move forward and fix the issues.”
Scott’s plan to improve the public housing community
In a presentation before residents spoke, Scott mentioned that there were 10 units with existing sewer line issues.
The facilities are approximately 50 years old, as the housing community has existed since 1971.
He first discovered the problems in January, when he took over as manager and intervened in what he thought was a pool of water, but instead sewage was leaking out of it. one of the units.
Scott and his team are working with Stogner Architecture in Rockingham to determine the severity of the problem and hire contractors to renovate the properties. Since 1991, Stogner has worked on 18 public housing projects in the city, according to his website.
In addition to the collapsed pipes, Scott found 30 inoperable refrigerators and stoves and four non-functioning HVAC systems. Many HVAC units have not been serviced for six years, he said.
Scott would like to modernize and refurbish at least 20 apartments each fiscal year. This would include mold testing and abatement, drywall repair and replacement, floor, ceiling and cabinet replacement, as well as painting, fixture replacement and incidental repairs.
Stogner will work with the Public Housing Department to help identify the current condition of cast iron sewage systems in units and replace existing systems with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe.
The sewer repair project is scheduled to begin next February, Scott said.
Public Housing Department capital funding for fiscal year 2022 is $724,485, and funding for 2023-26 is projected to be $578,517 each year.
A key issue has been that several vacant units on Inger Street, which will temporarily house many of the residents struggling with sewer issues like Miller and his children, are still not ready. Scott looked at alternative options, such as hotels in the area, but they were all booked.
“My concern is that I don’t have any units to put my residents in because they haven’t been completed,” Scott told council.
He predicts that the vacant units should be finished within two to three weeks.
In addition to the sewer issues, as part of his five-year plan, Scott recently changed parts of the admissions and ongoing occupancy policy, including rent collection and security deposits.
Scott and his staff updated resident rents, which had been inconsistent in the past, and reduced the waiting list, which had been inflated due to people who had been dead for years still being included.
It also works to establish comprehensive services for many families, including health care, mental health services, youth development, child care and literacy programs.
As part of the “Change your mind; Change Your Life,” public housing will provide several educational opportunities for residents to learn about topics such as credit repair, home ownership, and workforce development.
“I love these residents and want them to have a piece of the American pie,” he said.