Albemarle Public Housing Director Dr Kim Scott was visiting Amhurst Gardens in January when he walked into what he thought was a pool of water.
It was sewage leaking behind one of the apartments.
Scott, who had just started work, said he was concerned after learning of several collapsed pipes under numerous units – a persistent problem that had persisted for many years.
He spoke with a maintenance worker who told him that there had been sewer problems in the community for at least six years, which left Scott dumbfounded. The issue had been raised with former housing directors, Scott was told, but never seemed to be a priority.
“It was just troubling to me that this was something that’s been going on for several years and nobody addressed it,” Scott said.
Scott said he informed City Manager Michael Ferris and several council members about the collapsed pipes. They visited Amhurst Gardens in February and were surprised by the problem, he recalled, saying they had asked why they had never been informed of the problem.
Scott was first told by a public housing specialist on city staff, who was monitoring the condition of the apartments, that only 10 units needed to be repaired.
However, after a review of past work orders revealing which units received the most maintenance calls, as well as plumbers investigating multiple properties, at least 22 units on South Bell Avenue as well as Inger and Grigg streets have been identified. as having plumbing problems. The total is about 25 to 30 families, Scott said, or about 15% of Amhurst Gardens’ 150 units.
Scott insists that the units could have already been renovated if he had known the full extent of the problem when he arrived. The public housing specialist is no longer employed by the city, Scott said.
“If we had someone in place who would have conducted consistent inspections, hopefully a lot of this would have been taken care of a long time ago,” he said.
Six of the units also have HVAC issues, including the air conditioning units not switching to heating, according to notes from a May 16 contractors meeting provided to The Stanly News & Press.
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. Albemarle Town Council approved a two-year contract with Stogner at their July 11 meeting. Since 1991, Stogner has worked on 18 public housing projects in the city, according to his website.
During the meeting, Pro-Tem Mayor Martha Sue Hall said she wanted to know when the public housing department “first became aware of these issues.” SNAP recently posed the same question to Scott, but he said he didn’t know when the department became aware of the sewage issue.
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. With facilities dating back over 50 years – the housing community has been around since 1971 – Stogner will provide further insight into modernizing the apartments.
Families living in the affected properties will be temporarily relocated to vacant units on Inger Street. While things could change, depending on the severity of existing issues or additional damage discovered, Scott said he hopes the units will be fully refurbished in three to six months.
Under a revised five-year capital action plan (2020-2024) approved by the City Council on June 21 and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this month, approximately $543,000 has been allocated to improve the public housing community this year, the bulk of which will be for damaged units. Major projects for the current fiscal year include:
- Renovation of kitchens in 20 apartments — $160,000;
- Renovation of bathrooms in 20 apartments — $130,000;
- Replacement of plumbing under the foundations of 20 apartments — $70,081;
- Replacement of kitchen appliances, including refrigerators — $42,500;
- Replacement of floor units in 25 apartments — $40,000;
- Replacement of water heaters in 20 apartments — $25,000; and
- Replacement of unit lighting in 20 apartments — $10,000.
The majority of the funds allocated for fiscal years 2023 and 2024, which also total approximately $543,000 each, will go to the same projects mentioned above.
The city said it is confident in Scott’s plans to improve the public housing community for years to come.
“Since January, when Dr. Scott took on his leadership role at the Department of Public Housing, he has been communicating with residents about their concerns,” Ferris said. “We now look forward to seeing Dr. Scott take responsibility for developing a plan that increases accountability in the operations he manages. We look forward to seeing Dr. Scott’s service produce the positive changes he was hired to deliver.
“I can’t live like this for too long”
The improvement works of the housing affected by the collapsed pipes are slow in coming for the inhabitants, some of whom are struggling to survive.
Alfreda Miller has lived with her children on Inger Street for four years. During hat hour, she said the toilets and tubs in her two bathrooms overflowed with sewage and feces every few months.
Her apartment was identified by Scott as being “by far the worst” condition.
Miller, 38, threw away countless towels and blankets trying to soak up the water. Her children help scrub the tubs after each incident.
“I worked in a nursing field,” she said. “I know what poo looks like.”
The putrid smell lingers in the house for several days, forcing Miller to keep her doors open for fresh air. Her family threw away clothes because of the pungent smell.
“I won’t put this stuff in my washing machine,” she said.
Conditions have gotten so bad that Miller is afraid to invite people into his apartment.
“It’s really embarrassing to the point where you’re ashamed to bring people into your house because you don’t know whether or not you’re going to have a plumbing problem,” she said. “I can’t live like this for too long.”
Conditions are routine for Miller and his family, which Scott said was unacceptable.
“It hits me so hard to the point that I’m embarrassed because I know it’s on my watch, but also I’m like, ‘What can I do to fix this? ” he said.
Victoria Ingram, a resident of Amhurst Gardens for over 30 years, stopped drinking water from her tap because she said it smelled, irritated her stomach and made her feel nauseous. It depends on bottled water.
“Sometimes I feel like throwing up but I can’t throw up,” said Ingram, who lives on South Bell Avenue.
Both Miller and Ingram have said they have mold in their homes, causing them to fear any potential long-term health effects. Miller, who is disabled and has diabetes, said she was worried about her 9-year-old daughter, who has asthma. She said she believed her daughter’s condition had worsened since the family had been living there.
Scott said mold was detected in a “vast majority” of the 22 units, a key reason kitchens and bathrooms would need to be updated. A June assessment by Charlotte-based Surpass Cleaning and Maintenance found stachybotrys and chaetomium, two types of mold that can harm health. The two were identified at two units on Griggs Street, according to a report shared with SNAP.
Although not all residents of the 22 units are in the same situation as Miller, everyone has been affected in some way. Scott said he was working with Stogner to come up with a plan “to address this as if everyone has a health issue because it’s a health and safety issue.”
Communicate concerns to city council
Residents spoke with Scott about issues with their living conditions, but were reluctant to contact other city officials, including council members, for fear of potential backlash.
“They feel like you’re blaming them for anything when you’re not really blaming them. You’re trying to shed some light on the issue,” Miller said.
At the August 15 city council meeting, however, several residents, including Ingram, spoke about the issues they face, including the sewer problem and mold.
Many council members expressed surprise at the issues raised.
“I have been on this board since 2014 and I can promise you right now that I have never heard the startling details of the issues, challenges and opportunities we have within our public housing department,” Bill said. Aldridge.
Views from residents came as the board planned to approve the city’s written responses to a recent compliance report from HUD’s Greensboro field office detailing several allegations, including mismanagement of HUD funds and failure to follow certain procedures, at within the public housing service.
Mayor Ronnie Michael said HUD’s findings “were based on an erroneous understanding of how Albemarle’s public housing department is structured under the city,” adding that HUD developed its findings “based on the mistaken belief that the Albemarle Public Housing Department operated as a traditional housing authority.
Hall, the interim mayor, said Scott was the first manager to contact council about issues within the public housing community.
“I’m glad we heard this and I’m sorry we’re hearing this now,” she said.
Council members said they are working with Scott to find a time when members can come to Amhurst Gardens to speak with residents and learn more about the issues affecting them.