ST. LOUIS — After more than 100 calls for emergency services in the last year alone, ranging from overdoses to shots fired, and several meetings with the owner and residents, the city has ordered most of the Hampton Courtyard Apartments closed for at least three months while the property is repaired.
Clifton Heights neighbors were cautiously optimistic about the problem property in the 2500 block of Hampton Avenue, but at least one human services organization viewed the city’s move as a quick fix that ignored deeper challenges: finding places to live for people struggling with disabilities and drug addiction.
According to the May 15 consent agreement, Cuong O. Tran, the property owner, must close and vacate most of the 37-unit complex by July 1. Two units in each of the three buildings will remain occupied, so long as those apartments pass inspection and residents pass background checks and other requirements. Tran must also hire a private security service to check on the property every night of the three-month shutdown.
Prior to new occupancy, the property must be in compliance with all applicable city, state and federal health, building and safety codes. He must pick up trash in a timely manner, maintain better lighting and install and monitor eight new security cameras.
Tran must use leases with a code of conduct and only rent to tenants with a positive recommendation from a tenant screening service. He may not use placement agencies to find new tenants, which Hampton Courtyard residents have said was a key piece of his business model.
Associate City Counselor Richard Sykora wouldn’t say which placement agencies worked with Tran.
“There are a number of agencies that have great missions,” he said. “I don’t want to disparage any of the good mission that they do.”
Joanna Morrison, 50, said most of her rent is paid by a Shelter Plus Care voucher, a U.S. Housing and Urban Development subsidy designed to help the chronically homeless. She said the voucher was administered locally through St. Patrick Center. Residents said other organizations involved included Places for People and Queen of Peace Center.
“I am glad it’s over,” said Morrison, who found a different apartment in the area that accepts the voucher. “The bugs are ridiculous. You have to buy chemicals to keep them from crawling on your company.… Good night, don’t let the bedbugs bite, you know they are real, boy.”
But she said she was desperate when she moved in four years ago. She’d overstayed her limit at a 21-day shelter for women and children before finding an opening at Hampton Courtyard. She said the central location was desirable over another option in Walnut Park.
“It was just easy to get in here with the time frame,” she said. “I am grateful for Mr. Tran because he was here when I needed him.”
Queen of Peace declined to comment. St. Patrick Center said it couldn’t disclose if it it had people there or not, but in general its clients have the right to choose where they live and most subsidized programs require inspection.
Joe Yancey, executive director of Places for People, said none of the people actively enrolled in his organization’s services have been placed at Hampton Courtyard. He said it’s possible that the organization processed a Shelter Plus Care voucher for a tenant, but he wasn’t aware of one.
Still, he took issue with the “broad-brush” approach taken in the agreement that forbids the landlord from using tenant placement agencies.
“That’s a little concerning because it says the problem here is people with disabilities,” he said. “It needs to be more individualized. Most of our places are extremely successful when we help people get housing.”
Clifton Heights residents near Hampton Avenue had been fed up with the complex. There have been hundreds of calls for police and medical service in recent years. Three people died from opioid overdoses in 2016. In 2018, Christine Floss, a professor at Washington University, died there from an overdose. In recent weeks, officials determined that Michael Quarles, 55, who was found unresponsive Feb. 2 in a car parked at the complex, died from heart disease exacerbated by cocaine and methamphetamine; he also had fentanyl in his system.
“My daughters and grandchildren weren’t going to live under these conditions, constantly looking over the back fence, (seeing them haul) dead bodies out,” said George Bell, who has attended neighborhood meetings about the property.
He said he was compassionate about the residents and their situations in life; that everyone needs a place to stay.
“But what Mr. Tran is doing isn’t helping them,” he said.
Tran didn’t respond to calls for comment this week. His attorney, Christopher Basler, declined to answer questions, but said, “Mr. Tran is committed to cleaning up the problems and getting it up and running to how it should be run, and how the city wants it run.”
Tran, of south St. Louis County, said in an interview last summer that he endured months of hardship when he fled Vietnam near the end of the war by boat. He eventually landed in St. Louis, where he has a handful of apartment complexes that serve low-income tenants, including refugees and others trying to get on their feet.
Tran also faces public nuisance notices for apartment complexes at 4200-10 Meramec Street, 4515 Gravois Avenue and 3923 Chippewa Street. This week, the complex on Meramec had trash strewn throughout the parking lot and in the stairwells. A few people there spoke about an uncouth property manager, and problems with bugs and rodents.