ST. LOUIS − T.E.H. Realty, one of the largest owners of low-income housing in the region, could not make payroll on Thursday and laid off about 15 employees, multiple managers told the Post-Dispatch.
They said they were assured that they would be paid next week and that similar actions were being made at T.E.H. Realty affiliated properties in Kansas City, Tulsa and Indianapolis.
“They told us to collect rent and that will pay for payroll,” said one T.E.H. Realty manager who asked to remain anonymous.
T.E.H. Realty, which has roots in Israel, started buying up large and cheap apartment complexes in the region in late 2014. It recently owned more than 2,000 low-income units at about 10 properties.
Numerous tenants have complained about poor living conditions at most of the properties. Meanwhile, T.E.H. has gone after hundreds of tenants through the court system for nonpayment of rent. On a recent day in St. Louis County Circuit Court, there were dozens of T.E.H. cases being heard and processed. The benches were full. At one point, arguments spilled into the hallway between a few tenants and clerks working for the attorney representing T.E.H. that day.
On Thursday, Rob Swearingen, a managing attorney at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, said he was alarmed to hear that T.E.H. wasn’t paying its employees on time.
“If they can’t make their payroll, they certainly can’t keep up their properties and make necessary repairs to keep the properties habitable,” he said. “It sounds like their low-income housing empire in St. Louis is starting to collapse. I see it collapsing all around me. I have probably 30 cases now. They are all ceilings caving in. Leaks. Mold.”
He said a bank on Thursday was also seeking to take over Springwood Apartments, perhaps the most troubled of all T.E.H. properties in the region. A T.E.H. Realty property manager told the Post-Dispatch on Thursday that a bank was going to manage Springwood, which has been cited for hundreds of violations by Bel-Ridge officials.
T.E.H. Realty owners could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Eliram Rabin, co-founder of T.E.H. Realty, told the Post-Dispatch in an interview last spring at Park Ridge Apartments in Ferguson that the firm was poised to invest more in the properties it already owns and possibly buy more.
“The market of St. Louis, it makes sense,” Rabin said then. “We like this market. The economics are good here, and the properties are good. I believe in the future of St. Louis. It’s a good place to be.”
Then, in July, the bank foreclosed on Park Ridge.
Last week, two residents at Northwinds Apartments in Ferguson asked a judge to grant class-action status to a lawsuit alleging that T.E.H. Realty affiliates weren’t making necessary repairs there.
Both Northwinds and Park Ridge were refurbished under previous ownership with the help of millions of dollars in low-income housing tax credits. The ZIP code area has one of the highest concentrations of subsidized housing in Missouri.
This year, the Housing Authority of St. Louis County stopped allowing housing vouchers to be used at T.E.H. properties.