Rep. McEachin calls for speedy HUD intervention at Essex Village after woman’s fall

Jeremy Lazarus | 6/2/2017, 10:35 p.m.
During heavy weekend rains, odorous and toxic raw sewage once again flowed freely over the lawn in Essex Village, ranked ...

During heavy weekend rains, odorous and toxic raw sewage once again flowed freely over the lawn in Essex Village, ranked as Henrico County’s worst apartment complex.

And last week, a pregnant woman toppled to the ground when a railing on her second-floor balcony gave way. She and her unborn child survived and are in recovery.

These incidents have led Congressman A. Donald McEachin to demand action at the sprawling apartment complex from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

He wants HUD either to force the owners to make essential improvements or to provide vouchers to residents so they can move elsewhere, according to his spokeswoman, Jamitress Bowden.

Ms. Bowden said neither HUD Secretary Ben Carson nor a member of his staff has yet responded to the congressman’s request for a meeting to discuss conditions at Essex Village, located off Laburnum Avenue near the Richmond International Raceway.

Rep. McEachin, whose 4th Congressional District includes the apartment complex, requested the meeting in his latest letter to Dr. Carson.

Earlier, he had complained that HUD has allowed the complex to deteriorate while providing millions of dollars a year to the private owners of the 496-unit complex. The funding, which HUD stated runs $4.2 million a year, subsidizes the rent for Essex Village’s low-income residents who qualify for rental assistance under Section 8. Essentially, the complex is public housing with a private owner.

Essex Village is notorious for a long list of violations.

While Henrico County inspectors repeatedly have cited the complex owners and management for code violations since 2012, HUD had ignored the conditions until recently. The county has reported issuing 140 citations in the past 12 months for violations of the housing maintenance code, 78 of which have been corrected.

Last month, for the first time, HUD notified the complex that it had failed inspection and needed to make improvements to meet the agency’s minimum housing standards. HUD had requested the complex management submit a plan of action before Memorial Day.

HUD did not respond to a Free Press request for comment on steps it is taking.

Rep. McEachin wants HUD to move more quickly to get the owners to make improvements or to revoke the subsidies.

Citing the fall from the balcony involving the young mother, he wrote to Dr. Carson on May 25 that “this accident is proof that responsible parties urgently need to address the appalling, dangerous conditions” at the complex.

The congressman stated that following a tour he took of the complex in April in which he viewed leaky apartments, mold and other problems, “I communicated to HUD that the situation there is unacceptable.

“All people deserve access to safe, affordable housing,” he continued in his latest letter. “We should never have to worry that our floors or railings are going to collapse because of someone else’s negligence.”

He noted that Essex Village operator, P.K. Management, knew about the condition of the balcony for several months, but only made “minor fixes that were not enough to make the balcony safe.”

In a statement, P.K. Management claimed the company was in the process of fixing the balcony and had warned the tenant to stay off the balcony until the work was completed.

However, Henrico Deputy County Manager Douglas Middleton, who is overseeing the county’s efforts to secure improvements at the complex, said the woman was interviewed in the hospital and denied the company’s claim that representatives told her to stay off the balcony.

County officials reported that P.K. Management did not post any warning nor did it seal the door to the balcony to ensure tenants did not use it until repairs were completed.

The bottom line, according to Rep. McEachin: “It is totally unacceptable for residents in a HUD-subsidized complex to endure unsafe and unhealthy living conditions.”

The conditions, particularly the woman’s fall, “demand immediate answers,” he wrote, in urging Dr. Carson to work with him and county officials to provide a solution.

He said the residents need to know what HUD is going to do about “the numerous code violations and life safety issues.”