Poor Tenants in East Columbus Forced to Relocate
As managers of an east Columbus housing complex prepare to shut the apartments down, some 400 families - many receiving federal rent assistance - are looking for new places to live. To add to their problems, Woodland Meadows tenants learned on Wednesday that their natural gas service likely will be disconnected at the end of the month because the complex did not pay the bill. WOSU's Sam Hendren prepared this report.
"Okay, this is my living room," says Barbara Whiteside, who stopped packing long enough to show the small third-floor apartment she's lived in since 2003.
"You can come into the kitchen and this is my eating arrangements in here These are my sleeping arrangements I had to put blankets up on the windows because they are not insulated. And believe me, it's cold in here even though I have heat, it's the coldest apartment that I've ever paid rent on. And I hope it's the last," Whiteside said.
Whiteside -- like many other residents here -- receives rent assistance from the federal government. But because Woodland Meadows failed to meet maintenance deadlines, the federal Housing and Urban Development agency is rescinding $2 million in subsidies. Now tenants have learned they'll probably lose the natural gas they use for water heating and cooking unless they pay the bill themselves. It's pushed Whiteside over the edge.
I'm going to get out of here if I've got a place or not. I'm not going to set in here and pay rent and gas. I will pay my electric, but the gas was included," she says.
Whiteside described the past three years at Woodland Meadows as "hell," living around prostitution, drug-use and gunfire. The executive director of the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, Dennis Guest, says losing HUD subsidies for maintenance failures is unusual.
"In my experience at CMHA I've never known a situation like this. I've known of individuals who've had to be moved out of developments because HUD was withdrawing a subsidy, but it hasn't been a situation where there's been a threat of a utility cutoff or because of maintenance," Guest says.
Across the street from Whiteside's building, the wind blows a glass door that hangs from one hinge. Many of the apartments on the 50-acre complex are completely boarded up. As workers removed appliances from another building and loaded them onto a truck, Barbara Whiteside said she'd buy a hotplate, if she had to, to get by.
"They say it's everybody out here that's got to pay for their own gas now; you're responsible for it. They don't care if your gas gets cut off or not! They don't!"
HUD is canceling subsidies on 350 of the 440 occupied units at Woodland Meadows according to Dennis Guest. He says the agency will provide vouchers that former tenants can use elsewhere in Columbus. Sam Hendren, WOSU News.