FERGUSON — Resident Ashley Spotswood has watched cracks creep across the balcony above her first-floor apartment in the Park Ridge Apartments for six years, she said. But it wasn’t until a chunk of concrete came crashing down in front of her doorstep on Tuesday that city officials decided to condemn the entire building.
Residents of one of the buildings in the Park Ridge complex came home Tuesday to discover signs reading “KEEP OUT UNSAFE” stuck to their front doors, courtesy of the Ferguson Building Department. City officials initially told residents they needed to clear out by 2 p.m. the following day, but as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, residents were still hustling to pack up their belongings.
“I’ve been telling them for six years to fix it,” Spotswood said Tuesday evening, looking up at the jagged remnants of the walkway above her door, which was now roped off with construction fencing. “(And) the foundation is bowing out in my apartment. My kitchen is unlevel.”
Spotswood’s complaints were echoed by many of the other residents now being relocated to other buildings within the complex. They point to fractures in the walls and spidery cracks in the walkway above, saying they’ve seen the problems for years and apartment management has made only temporary repairs before now.
The Park Ridge Apartments are recipients of Section 8 funding, and in years past they’ve received below-average inspection reports from the Missouri Housing Development Commission. The complex was taken over by T.E.H. Realty in May.
Since late 2014, T.E.H. affiliates have acquired at least 2,400 rental units in the St. Louis area, including Springwood Apartments in Bel-Ridge, which has racked up scores of citations.
“This is not good,” Anita Waters, whose daughter Jen and three grandchildren live in the condemned building. “This is deplorable. These people are human, and they deserve better than this.”
Residents of the 16-unit building that was condemned have been assigned to new apartments within the complex but weren’t able to start moving into their new apartments until less than 24 hours before they were supposed to be out of their current units. Residents said there was a delay getting keys to the new apartments, and then they were provided with moving boxes only after they pressed for them. A moving truck didn’t come to the complex until six hours before the original move-out deadline.
City officials later relaxed that deadline to say residents can leave some possessions inside their old units overnight, but they had to begin residing in their new units Wednesday evening.
Employees with T.E.H. Realty said they had no comment Wednesday.
“At the city’s request, structural engineers were conducting an inspection with city staff because of concerns for that building,” Ferguson Public Works Director Matthew Unrein said Wednesday morning. “It’s just luck that everyone was there to see the (concrete) failure ... staff immediately began to notify residents that they needed to find somewhere else to go in the complex. (We) take their safety very seriously; it’s the first priority for the city.”
Sharon Hooks, 67, said she complained in 2012 about the state of the second-story walkway, and little was done except for a thin layer of concrete “like pancake mix” being pasted over the cracks. The new layer quickly crumbled away, and Hooks said her fiancé swept it up so people wouldn’t step on concrete shards.
Hooks’ fiancé died months ago, and she said she had no one to help her pack up her apartment. The new unit offered to her by management was nixed by a city inspector because it had a sagging ceiling in the bedroom, and Hooks rejected the second unit offered to her because it was too close to where a lot of criminal activity happens in the complex, she said.
“This is what they do to the people who got no choice but to run, like roaches, like rats, like rabbits,” Hooks said. “We’re running in the dark, and you never know where you’re going to go or what they’re going to tell you next, ‘Oh, this is where you’re going to live.’ Their choice, not yours. I feel the ball was dropped on us.”
Sylvia Hooker, 64, was overwhelmed by the task before her. She’s lived in her apartment for 14 years and suddenly she needed to move all of her things out with the help of her children in just a few hours. The new unit T.E.H. Realty had assigned her had a broken air conditioning unit and a broken dishwasher. Several other residents also said their new units had minor problems, such as broken shower faucet handles and nonfunctioning locks.
“They need to shut this down,” Hooker said, adding that crime was a prevalent problem in the complex. “It’s really bad over here. I didn’t think I’d say that about Park Ridge. I loved it over here until about three years ago.”
Several residents at the Park Ridge building are disabled or injured and need the help of friends and family to move all of their possessions. Spotswood is nine months pregnant. Resident Elizabeth Hopson has had four surgeries to her spine, she said.
“I was out there when that piece (of concrete) fell — it almost hit me,” she said, pausing to lean on one of the boxes packed full of her possessions. “I’m hurting, I’m in pain. And all of a sudden we’ve got to move.”