Tenants in low-income housing left out of the loop

It was news to several residents that funding for the Queen Anne Gardens Apartments was in question, they said. The tenants all said they first learned of the problem only after reading a story in the News.

The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) sent out 500 "courtesy" letters about funding to the surrounding neighborhood and to community organizations, according to LIHI program coordinator Lisa Zahn.

But the notice apparently didn't include tenants in what is considered to be low-income senior housing, said longtime tenant Judy Miller. "To my knowledge, no one got a copy of the letter, and nothing was mentioned."

Zahn disputes that, saying the funding issue was brought up in several meetings in the past year. "I'm not sure why tenants didn't know."

But the snafu over the letter is symptomatic of deeper problems in the 38-unit building since LIHI took over from the Senior Housing Assistance Group (SHAG), according to Miller and fellow tenants Donnamarie Palermo and Frank Rich.

"From my standpoint, the main problem LIHI has is the inability to manage this place," Rich said. "That's the whole problem here."

Indeed, all three tenants had horror stories about the building, and they point to former resident manager Torrio Manning as the cause. LIHI executive director Sharon Lee stressed that Manning has been fired, and it's no wonder.

A new tenant in the building wasn't sure whether to make her deposit check out to the Queen Anne Gardens Apartment or LIHI, and Manning told the tenant not to worry, he had a stamp, Palermo said.

But Manning allegedly filled in his own name, endorsed the check and cashed it, Miller said. The tenant found out what happened by checking her account online, she added.

Lee said LIHI was shocked to find out about Manning's alleged theft. "What we're trying to do is confirm if he did this with anybody else," she added.

Forgery charges aside, Manning wasn't very good at his job during the approximately two years he worked for LIHI, according to Palermo. "He was supposed to be the resident manager, but most of us knew he wasn't there at night," she said.

"At least the last six months, he was gone far more than he was here," Miller added. And even when Manning was there, he didn't do his job, according to Palermo.

"He was responsible for housekeeping and maintenance," she said. But an elderly tenant did all the work, included changing burned-out light bulbs, Palermo said. "All this was told to LIHI. We were just dismissed." Manning also bullied and threatened some of the tenants when they complained, Rich charged.

Manning was subject to "progressive discipline," executive director Lee said. "It takes awhile [to fire someone]; you have to give someone a chance to improve."

But Lee declined to go into details about the resident manager's discipline and the reason for it because of confidentiality restrictions on releasing information from personnel records.

But smoking is another issue at the apartment building. There's a sign next to the front door that notes that says "No Smoking" and "Violators will be punished."

And a June 2006 memo from management to tenants warns that Queen Anne Gardens had become a non-smoking building and that smoking was not allowed in front of the building, on the rooftop patio and in individual apartments.

"Virtually every smoker in the building now smokes in their apartment," said Miller, who added that an elderly tenant with respiratory problems was forced to move because of smokers.

"And they're all new people," Palermo said of the smokers. A smoking tenant with mental disabilities next door to her has left cigarette burns on the hallway carpet, she added. "I've got renters' insurance, but I'm afraid I'll get burned out."

Lee insisted that it is difficult to evict existing tenants who have always smoked in their apartments. "We are giving people a grace period," she explained.

"That has been a tough issue," Zahn said of the supposed smoking ban. But LIHI does have the right to issue a 10-day notice to tenanta to comply with the smoking ban or face eviction, she said. Still, it takes three such notices before a tenant can be forced out of the building, according to Zahn.

The 2006 smoking ban is included in two pages of rules that also mandate quiet hours from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., Miller said. "It's wonderful when you look at," she said. "But almost nothing in that [list] is enforced."

A meeting with tenants is scheduled for Thursday, March 1, Lee said. "We want to update the tenants about the funding and the change in management."

Palermo doesn't hold out much hope that things will change at the Queen Anne Gardens Apartments. "The sad thing about it is, we used to be a community [when SHAG ran the building]," she said. "Now it's trashed."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at rzabel@nwlink.com or 461-1309.

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