USDA housing director says limited options for Fran Manor I problems
That's how one angry resident described the situation at the Fran Manor I apartment complex in Marlinton, where residents are doing all they can to keep up their homes, but receiving little help from their landlords.
Unfortunately, the statement contains some truth. The government lends money for low-income housing construction, but has limited enforcement options if the borrower lets the property fall apart.
David L. Cain, acting housing programs director with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA-RD) West Virginia office, said the government has limited options with borrowers who take public money to build homes and let the properties fall apart.
"We only have certain teeth to make owners do what they agree to do," he said. "If they do not, they can be found in default and, ultimately, we can take them to foreclosure. So, we're just like a bank, in that regard."
Cain said foreclosure was disfavored because it could force tenants to find a new place to live.
"If we go through foreclosure, it becomes a public sale and goes to the highest bidder on the courthouse steps," he added. "Those are low-income families and individuals in those apartments. That rental assistance is no longer there if that property is sold. So, we are trying to maintain it for low-income individuals and families."
The Fran Manor I apartment complex in Marlinton was built with borrowed government money. As reported in the November 23 edition, the complex's two apartment buildings are structurally sound, but require extensive repairs. Residents have submitted hundreds of work orders to complex management and been ignored. Only five of Fran Manor I's 16 apartments are occupied.
The tax office lists the Marlinton Limited I partnership as the owner of Fran Manor I. The company lists a Marlinton post office box for an address, but an Illinois phone number that rings at Professional Property Management, Inc. (PPM), a Rockford, Illinois company that manages the property.
Calls to PPM director Jerry Walters have not been returned.
Cain said USDA-RD was aware of the conditions at Fran Manor.
"We are aware of it, yes we are," he said. "We have tried to work with the management company and the owners to alleviate the problems. Unfortunately, at this point, the owners are not willing to kick in additional money to fix the items that are necessary."
Dangerous conditions could warrant USDA-RD action, but repairs are the owner's responsibility, according to Cain.
"It's basically the owner's responsibility," he said. "If we became aware of something, we could maybe certainly address it, but those things would have to be made aware to us and what they are."
Cain said he was unaware of any condition at Fran Manor that would warrant direct agency action.
"It really goes back to the owner at this point," he said. "I mean, they do know the deficiencies, and the management company, and it's up to them to address those things, at this point."
The director said the agency was working "aggressively" to force Marlinton Limited I or PPM to make repairs.
"We are aware of it," he said. "We are addressing it with management and the owner. We're not sitting and letting it go idle," he said. "We are trying to aggressively service it."
Cain would not say whether USDA-RD was considering foreclosure on Fran Manor I.
"I can just tell you that we have servicing guidelines and we are following them," he said.
The situation at Fran Manor is an isolated incident, according to the director.
"We have 242 projects in all but three counties in the State of West Virginia and provide housing that is decent, safe and sanitary throughout the state," he said. "This is, unfortunately, an isolated case. The owner's responsibilities have not been followed through with on their end, and consequently, we have a bad situation with the public and the tenants that remain there, at this point."
PPM, the same company that manages Fran Manor I, manages 26 other housing developments in the state, encompassing a total of 557 units.
Two White Sulphur Springs residents contacted The Pocahontas Times to report poor conditions at Veronica Apartments in White Sulphur Springs - another apartment complex managed by PPM. Rita Fry, a former PPM manager, also reported that Veronica Apartments are in substandard condition, but not as bad as Fran Manor I.
A visit to Veronica Apartments in White Sulphur Springs confirmed that the complex is in serious need of repairs, placing Cain's assurance that Fran Manor is an isolated incident into considerable doubt.
The Pocahontas Times has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the USDA-RD West Virginia office for information on the agency's involvement with Fran Manor I and will continue to report on the situation.
Anyone with relevant information is asked to contact Geoff Hamill at 304-799-4973.