Henrico leaders call Essex Village ‘not a place anybody should live’

Posted at 11:03 PM, Apr 18, 2017

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Words come naturally to Tianti Gaines' daughter Nia, and they seem to provide the little girl an escape from the problems at home, like a hole in her brother's room.

Nia's mom invited CBS 6 into her apartment at Essex Village to see what she is upset about. Her concerns include cockroaches, mice, and a black substance growing on the wall.

"They don't want to fix the stuff," Gaines said.

Tianti Gaines and Nia

She even mentioned a previous sewage system overflow that flooded the hallway right outside her door.

"It was coming up like a fountain. It was really disgusting," Gaines said.

About 1,600 low-income people live in Essex Village, a Section 8 housing complex next to the Richmond International Raceway in Henrico's East End.

Some residents told CBS 6 investigative reporter Melissa Hipolit the place has not been maintained by its owners.

Black substance growing on the wall

"This is why my daughter can't play in her room... when you let it go, it's just (bam)," Martesha Gregory, who lives above Gaines, said while showing Hipolit a window in her daughter's room that won't stay open, and won't lock.

While showing Hipolit the window, the blinds suddenly fell to the floor.

"I would not be able to explain to my kids why other kids live in the conditions they live in, in this complex, and it's not the fault of the kids," Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas said.

Vithoulkas said after a visit to Essex Village last summer, he decided to take action.

Essex Village

"There is a wrong that has been committed here, and the wrong is individuals have made a lot of money, and they've not kept a complex to the specifications they were supposed to," he continued.

Vithoulkas put Deputy County Manager Colonel Doug Middleton in charge of a task force aimed at improving the quality of life at the complex.

"It's not a place that anybody should exist and live in," Middleton said.

In November, county building inspectors opened 140 code violation cases at Essex Village.

The fire and police departments found that they are roughly two times more likely to respond to calls for service there than anywhere else in the county.

"We can't be effective in providing for a safe community if the community is not being maintained," Middleton said.

Holes in wall

Then in January, inspectors from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave Essex Village an "F" grade.

HUD said the owner, California-based GHC Housing Partners, which, according to its website, is the fourth largest affordable housing provider in the nation, receives nearly $5.4 million in taxpayer dollars a year to subsidize the rent of residents at Essex Village.

GHC Housing Partners owns more than 20,000 affordable housing units in 24 states.

Middleton and Vithoulkas said they want to know how that money is being used.

"It's disgusting to me that anyone drawing federal funds to the level they were drawing them to get into the condition it was in and not care," Middleton said.

Martesha Gregory

Hipolit took their concerns to the head of GHC Housing Partners, Greg Perlman, who spoke to us via Skype.

"Would you say you've made good use of taxpayer dollars at this property so far?" Hipolit asked.

"Good use?  We've maintained this property well since we purchased it in 2012, and over the last few months I think things, like I said, were not up to our standards," Perlman responded.

Perlman faults a former Regional Vice President of the management company GHC Housing Partners owns, PK Management, for not maintaining the property up to his standards.

He said that employee has been terminated.

"We're putting this as the number one property for our management company," Perlman said. "There's no amount of funds we won't spend on this property to bring it up to our standards."

During a recent visit to the complex, the new Regional Vice President told CBS 6 that things are changing for the better, and asked us to talk to certain residents who said they were happy.

Among them was Chauita Oliver, who showed us her brand new refrigerator, new tiles in her bathroom, and a recently repaired leak.

"I love the new people,” Oliver said. “Old management weren't too good, the new ones, I'm very pleased with."

Although, while inside her apartment, we discovered part of her ceiling in the bathroom was still leaking.

Chauita Oliver

"It's leaking, there is a water puddle right there," Oliver said after we pointed out the possible leak.

Still, Perlman promised that all residents will see major changes by the beginning of May.

"Once the 100 percent maintenance is over, will you come to town and give us a tour of the property?" Hipolit asked.

"I will be happy to show you the property and make sure it is moving up to our standards," Perlman responded.

Perlman said the building needs a $19 million renovation and he wanted to do one using tax exempt bonds and tax credits, but he said the county would not support the plan.

But, county leaders said they did not feel comfortable giving GHC Housing Partners massive tax credits when they had not handled the taxpayer dollars they were given by HUD appropriately.

The county and Perlman are planning to meet in May to work toward a solution.

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