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Complaints at low-income senior apartments being addressed, management says

ST. PETERSBURG — City Place Senior Living apartments opened to much fanfare in September. Mayor Bill Foster and other officials joined the celebratory crowd. Early residents beamed at their luck.

They loved the granite countertops, laundry hookups in apartments, library, computer room, shuffleboard court, covered parking and other amenities in the four-story affordable housing development at 298 Eighth St. N. There was even a small playground for visiting grandchildren.

Months later, some residents have a litany of complaints. The promised washing machines and dryers for the laundry hookups never materialized. The shuffleboard court is unusable, with equipment arriving only as the season ended. Security is lax. Most irritating, they say, is that the apartment complex still being advertised as a haven for adults over 55 is overrun with noisy children playing in the halls and commandeering the computer room. There are allegations of drug dealing and prostitution.

The complaints stunned Peter Leach, senior vice president with Southport Financial Services in Clearwater, the company that developed the project.

"We pride ourselves on being really good managers. Believe me, I was in shock,'' he said.

He recently met with about 60 residents and said that "well over three-quarters'' of them said they were happy at City Place.

"I've got a pretty good idea of what the issues are that we're going to address and I think that in the next couple of weeks, you're going to hear that those issues will be addressed,'' he said during an interview.

"Some of them are pretty serious. Some of them have to do with security that we need. I'm reviewing all of that stuff. I gave everybody my card and they can call me directly.''

"He really listened to us," said Kathleen Glode, 63.

"Since the meeting, good things have been happening. The building is clean, materials are going to be coming such as the washers and dryers within two weeks, and the manager said that he just got approval for the money to be released for the lighting for the halls and inside our apartments."

Glode, who moved to City Place after losing her home to foreclosure, said she thought getting the apartment was a godsend.

"My main concern is safety,'' she said.

"There's a criminal element in here, and they are leaving the (exterior) doors open with crushed beer cans.''

She and her friend, Mary Leggett, 49, whose husband is 57, spoke of an early evening fight between a resident and a visitor on March 26.

"We were all terrified that if the gun had gone off, some innocent person would have been killed. We heard the fight. We actually saw the gun and everything,'' Glode said.

The incident, though, has not been corroborated by police reports, which show few calls to the City Place address since it opened.

"I and my management people really looked into the issues that were raised,'' Leach said.

"In terms of the reports of prostitution and gunplay, I can find no evidence that this happened.''

Concerning the matter of drugs, though, police recently arrested two City Place residents. Lorenzo Lynch, 39, was arrested in his apartment and charged with possession of crack cocaine with intent to sell, according to the Pinellas County sheriff's website. He had 1 gram (0.03 ounces) of crack cocaine and admitted to officers that he had been selling the drug to support his own habit, St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz said. The other resident, Laquay Coley, 35, whose alias is Laquay Hollmon, was charged with possession of cocaine, according to the sheriff.

Leach said the two have been given eviction notices.

"We have no tolerance for drug use on our property of any kind,'' he said.

Besides security, Leggett said she was bothered that the complex that bills itself as a place for people over 55 also allows children. When she and her husband signed the lease for their apartment, they were told that no one under 18 would live in the complex, she said.

"They have little toddlers running around with just diapers, no shoes, no clothes,'' she said, estimating that there are probably 15 to 20 children regularly in the building.

"We've been told in a meeting that some of them are visiting grandparents, but some of them never leave,'' Leggett said.

Leach said the building manager received one complaint about a resident who babysat her grandchildren after school and allowed them to run around unsupervised. The grandmother was spoken to and the person who reported it had no additional complaints, Leach said.

"I've got to tell you that there are two or three people that are malcontents that don't like living there. I don't want unhappy people. We'll just let them out of their lease and give them their money back. I've got a waiting list of over 50 people,'' he said.

Glode said she was told practically the same thing by the building manager.

"I've been told that many people in the building are upset with Mary and I. They think of us as troublemakers and if we are that unhappy, he will talk with corporate and make arrangements so we could leave,'' she said.

"All we were trying to do was make this a safe building. We feel all we've done is tell the truth.''

Diane Stewart, 65, had a difficult four years before moving into City Place.

"I feel like I'm home, finally,'' she said, the day of the ribbon cutting.

But there have been a few problems since. The turnover of managers hurt services, she said. For instance, she couldn't use the shuffleboard court.

"The surface is not the right surface and it's got a dramatic slope,'' she said.

"There are kids running up and down the hall. I don't know that we intended it to be a day care center.''

By law, Leach said, the complex is allowed to lease 20 percent of its 82 units to residents under 55.

Glode said she wished she had been told.

Brochures for the apartments boast of "setting a new standard for the mature renter,'' and a banner flying on its exterior last week said the complex was now leasing to the 55-plus community.

Joshua Johnson, St. Petersburg's director of housing and community development, said that when the city was asked to help fund the project, it was told the apartments were for seniors. Johnson said he has since learned from the Pinellas County office of Human Rights that developments for residents over 55 allow 20 percent of the units to be allocated to those who are younger.

He, too, has heard complaints about City Place.

"We're interested in finding out and getting to the bottom of this. According to the owner, he has his management company preparing a report about anything that may or may not be going on in the facility,'' Johnson said.

"We are going to see what happens in the next two weeks.''

The $15.5 million project was developed by Southport Financial Services with help from the Florida Housing Finance Corp., the agency that administers the low-income housing tax credit program. A $500,000 loan from the city at 1 percent interest aided its tax credit application. Pinellas County and Regions Bank also were involved in the project.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Complaints at low-income senior apartments being addressed, management says 04/16/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 16, 2011 5:31am]
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