Life at The Alms: Crime, Bugs, Mold Daily Worries

Terri Williams, 45, of Walnut Hills, is a resident of The Alms. Williams tapes her cabinets to keep cockroaches and other insects out of her apartment.

By Lee Finn,

Duct tape covers the cracks and crevices inside Terri Williams’ residence at 2525 Victory Parkway in Walnut Hills – everything from small chinks in the baseboards to gaps in the kitchen cabinet doors and even the vent grills for the heating ducts.

“I have tape all over my house,” said Williams, 45, “because I can’t stand bugs.”

Williams moved into The Alms apartments almost six years ago and, since PF Holdings LLC of Lakewood, N.J. purchased the building and others like it in Cincinnati in May 2013, she and other residents say the living conditions within the building have steadily deteriorated.

After PF Holdings acquired the The Alms apartments in Walnut Hills, conditions deteriorated, becoming nearly unlivable for tenants like Terri Williams.
After PF Holdings acquired the The Alms apartments in Walnut Hills, conditions deteriorated, becoming nearly unlivable for tenants like Terri Williams.

Water damage from a prior leak in another apartment has been untouched as mold grows in the walls of her bathroom. Just down the hallway, the ceiling fell down months ago as a resident was exiting her apartment. The ceiling was replaced, yet leaks are still apparent from the water stains that adorn it. The walls remain soft and bubbled much like those in Williams’ apartment just down the hallway.

On Feb. 1, the properties were put into receivership as ordered by Hamilton County Judge Beth A. Myers following a suit filed by the city against PF Holdings LLC.

Residents of The Alms have seen their fair share of crime in recent years, yet if tenants complained “about safety and security, the landlord would take the locks off and get rid of security,” said Mark Mussman of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.

Court documents show that, in September of 2014, officers responded to calls of shots fired within the building. While there, officers observed health and safety concerns such as mold and water damage within the building. They referred their concerns to the police department’s Neighborhood Liaison Unit to follow up on, but little progress has been made. Instead, the owners prohibited police from entering the building unless they obtained a search warrant.

In January, a man was shot and pistol whipped at the apartment complex. Since February, the new managers, Milhaus Management LLC, have added a security guard and keyed entry into the building, which has slowed down crime within the building dramatically, residents say.

Though Williams is searching for a new place to live, if it wasn’t for the addition of the security guard, she said, “I would have moved out and put myself into a shelter.”

She fears not only for her own life, but for the children, the elderly and the 144 other residents who also live there. Williams describes the building currently as being “in chaos.” It is not just the deplorable living conditions that the residents live with day to day, she said. It’s not knowing what is going to happen next in a building where children may find another resident’s stash of drugs behind a fire extinguisher while roaming the hallways.

In 2006, the City of Cincinnati passed the Chronic Nuisance Ordinance “to target the 50 highest offending properties at any given time,” said Jon Harmon, legislative director to Council Member Chris Seelbach. These offending properties use up a disproportionate amount of police resources because landlords have failed to provide reasonable security in the buildings and around them. Under the ordinance, once a property is declared a nuisance, the owner must abate the nuisance within 30 days or face billings up to $10,000 for the cost of law enforcement.

Under previous laws, the buildings would have been condemned. That may have solved the immediate problem, “but then you have 150 people who have just become homeless,” said Harmon. The homeless coalition recently began working with local officials to improve properties such as The Alms apartment building in Walnut Hills.

The landlords, PF Holdings LLC, who declined to comment, had been neglecting The Alms and six other properties to the point where they were cited with more than 1800 health and safety violations over the last year, court records show. The owners and their partners had been receiving $500,000 a month in subsidies from the U.S. Dept. of Urban Housing and Development while the ceilings were nearly falling in around the tenants.

“Just because an individual lives on a low income,” said Justin Jeffre, editor of the StreetVibes newspaper for the homeless, it does not mean they “have to live in deplorable conditions that they certainly don’t deserve.”

Lee Finn is a photojournalist, videographer and musician. He has traveled and lived in a multitude of places working with music and film. Some of his work can be seen on MTV, CMT, ESPN and a variety of other outlets around the globe.

Lee interned with C4AD during the first quarter of 2016.