Residential Real Estate

Who’s Responsible for the Conditions at the Westlake Apartments? You don’t need to look very far. And now, displaced residents must leave Red Cross Shelter by Noon Monday

Category: Residential Real Estate

  Top: Westlake Apartment Complex.  Below, residents of Westlake currently at the American Red Cross shelter in Chatham County. They learned today if is closing at noon Monday.   Right, A picture of extensive mold taken only two days after hurricane passed, appearing to be far older than two days.

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

October 14, 2016 – 9:30 p.m. - The sub-standard living conditions at the Westlake Apartments (pictured above) on Westlake Avenue in Savannah have been well-known for years. But because they flooded this week, and the tenants then received a heartless and insufficient letter from the property management company to get out, District 5 County Commissioner Yusef Shabazz brought the media to see the situation. He states that he has complained about the apartments before.

But, were the complaints going to the right place? 

Mayor Eddie DeLoach, Carol Bell, and the Mayor’s Chief of Staff Martin Sullivan went along with him last week to look at the situation because the address was in “Savannah,” but in fact, this Section 8 housing was outside the city limits in Unincorporated Chatham County.  Alderman Van Johnson got involved, and tried to work with the tenants to go into the American Red Cross shelter set up post Hurricane Matthew.

And, to add to the misery of the residents who were moved into the Red Cross Shelter here, they learned today that the shelter is closing, and they must be out by noon Monday. Most have no where to go, according to volunteers who were at the American Red Cross shelter Sunday evening.

Residents allege that conditions, including mold, have existed for a long time - long before the flooding. Pictures take just two days after the hurricane (at right) appear to support the claim.

Chatham County has never created a ‘Housing Authority,’ as provided for by Georgia law going back to 1937, explains Atty. Dana Bruan, legal counsel for the Housing Authority of Savannah (HAS.)  HAS does not provide any services or any oversight of property in Chatham County outside the Savannah city limits.

Instead, across the U.S., when there is no municipal or county housing authority established, the Federal Housing & Urban Development Agency (HUD) outsources several different programs to assist those in need of housing – outsourced to a series of companies. In Georgia, one of those companies is the  Georgia HAP Administrators, Inc., a 501c (4) corporation headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, formerly known as National Housing Compliance (NHC).  Their website is https://www.nhcinc.org.

There is a ‘Multi-Family Section 8’ program – which is the contract that the owners of the Westlake Apartments hold – and a ‘Section 8 Voucher’ program where individuals receive rental assistance checks to go find their own homes or apartments.

The Multi-Family Section 8’ program properties are under the control of HUD, the federal government, which outsources inspections and rentals to the Georgia HAP Administrators, Inc. here in Chatham County. They have 8 to 12 multi-family properties they are responsible for in Chatham – two different sources gave the SBJ two different figure.s

That company is led by Valerie Todaro, MBA, CPM Chief Executive Officer, and  Jeffery Wirrick, MPA, SHCM, AHM, Chief Asset Management Officer.

In an interview Friday with Wirrick, he explained that their role inclues inspection and provision of reports to HUD.  HUD then takes any legal action against the property owner, if necessary.  Regional inspectors are employed.

Georgia HAP Administrators, Inc. does no direct property maintenance, either.  That's the responsibility of the property owner.

Georgia HAP Administrators, Inc. was specifically created by its member agencies to conduct performance-based contract administration for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, as well as provide professional services to the affordable housing industry, according to the company's website.  "As the performance-based contract administrator (PBCA), we must audit federally assisted properties to ensure that they are in compliance with their contract and all program requirements".

The firm conducts this work for approximately 900 federally assisted properties throughout Georgia and Illinois.

The Westlake Owners

The owner of the apartment complex, Treetop Development, LLC. in New Jersey, is responsible for their property and meeting all HUD standards of maintenance, condition and safety for residents.   In 2014, they received a five-year renewal through 2019.

HUD requires annual reports on every property under the federal housing program, including management of the rates of occupancy – is the owner that has the Federal Section 8 contract maximizing the available space, managing waiting lists well, maintaining the property, and many other benchmarks.  

Last year, the Savannah Business Journal published stories about the most recent ratings received with the City of Savannah that are overseen by the Housing Authority of Savannah (HAS), grades received from HUD; read those stories to gain an understanding of the HUD reporting methodology.  Savannah's Housing Authority was given a very short period of time to correct certain deficiencies. 

HAS both directly manages properties such as Savannah Gardens and Sustainable Fellwood, and grants Section 8 housing vouchers to applicants – just like the HAP corporation does in Unincorporated Chatham. 

The Westlake complex was built by Savannah resident Ed Feiler, but sold back in 1974 to owners in New Jersey.  The property has NOT been sold multiple times over the years, contrary to a local news report this week. 

Instead, the owners have set up a series of new corporate entities owned by the same two principals who purchased the property from Feiler. A strategy of creating new corporations can be for a multiple of reasons, including financial or legal, due to lawsuits.

Treetop Developers owns The Aspen Companies which owns Westlake Holdings, LLC. the current “owner” of Westlake Apartments, to who the Chatham County property tax bill is mailed to in New Jersey.  That corporation’s address is the same address for Treetop Developers, LLC.

The complex is currently assessed at $3.3 million by the Chatham County Tax Assessors.

The Aspen Companies, owned solely by TreeTop Developers, LLC. is led company principals “(and childhood friends) Azi Mandel and Adam Mermelstein,” states The Aspen Companies’ website, and “is comprised of a multi-layered network of regional and on-site multifamily professionals, leasing agents and maintenance personnel who are dedicated to fashioning the most resident-friendly and financially successful communities in the U.S.”   This division’s website is aspencos.com.

In an interview Sunday evening with Congressman Buddy Carter, he said, "We’ve been followed the situation at Westlake ... but we didn't know the shelter was closing. So, we need to find someplace for these people to go. We’re going to work with FEMA on that."  He also said that he and his staff will follow through on the involvement in this HUD housing issue in Chatham County.

Editor’s Note:   The Savannah Business Journal has filed an Open Records Request with HUD for all inspection reports prior to the renewing of their Section 8 contract in 2014, and up until last week; all reports of violations; all follow-up reports; and any legal action taken against the owners, if any.  We ll update our reporting when we receive a response.

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