Complaints about management practices at an apartment building for the elderly and disabled has triggered the formation of a coalition to deal with the complaints and other housing problems affecting the elderly.
The Coalition on Housing Concerns for the Elderly and People with Disabilities has attempted to contact both the owner of building in question, Vermont Towers, 1101 Vt., and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials about their concerns, said Julie Pitner, director of Consumer Affairs in Lawrence and a member of the coalition.
VERMONT TOWERS is a privately owned apartment building that provides subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled through HUD. Pitner says that so far, there has been no response to the coalition's inquiries.
Pitner and Sandy Strand, community services director for Douglas County Senior Services and another member of the coalition, both said they and other members of the coalition have heard complaints from up to half of the 56 tenants of Vermont Towers.
They said many of the complaints concern management of the building being unavailable to help tenants who have problems after office hours, which are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. They also said most residents who have contacted them also say they fear being evicted.
PITNER AND Strand also said a few complaints have come from elderly residents about management-tenant relationships at Clinton Place Apartments, 2125 Clinton Pkwy., another HUD-subsidized facility in Lawrence.
Vermont Towers is owned by James Albertson Jr., Wichita. Albertson could not be reached for comment. A secretary in his office said he would be out of town until next week. HUD officials in Kansas City, Mo., did not return a reporter's phone calls.
A letter to tenants of Vermont Towers was placed under the door of their apartments this week saying that Albertson would be in Lawrence to meet with tenants on Wednesday. Pitner and Strand both said they would attend that meeting, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. in the community room of the apartment building.
ANOTHER MEETING, this one called by the coalition, is scheduled for 3 p.m. the same day at Clinton Place to discuss landlord-tenant relations. Pitner said that at both meetings, coalition members hope to explain to residents their rights under the Kansas Landlord/Tenant law.
Pitner said the number of complaints from residents of Vermont Towers has increased since the February death of Norman Hamm, who managed the building. Since then, his wife, Patsy Hamm, has been managing the building, Pitner and Strand said.
Mrs. Hamm, who Pitner said works another job at night, could not be reached for comment.
"I've been getting a lot of mail, and it has increased dramatically since Mr. Hamm's death,' Pitner said. "I've been getting four or five phone calls and letters a week for the last four or five weeks. It's been continuing to escalate."
PITNER SAID a specific complaint came from a disabled man who locked himself out of his apartment and could not reach an assistant manager who lives on the fourth floor.
And Strand said a similar incident occurred this week, when a woman left her key in her apartment and also was locked out.
"Both the manager and the assistant manager were away from the building, so the woman was locked out for four or five hours with no way to get in," Strand said.
In a related development, Teresa Murphy, housing and environmental inspector for the city of Lawrence, said she was contacted Thursday by a tenant in the building Thursday about the lack of air circulation and a resulting stench in a fifth floor hallway of Vermont Towers. She said she contacted Mrs. Hamm about the problem and has asked the fire department to inspect the area.
MOST OF THE letters of complaint Pitner has received from residents of Vermont Towers are unsigned.
One letter said "I think it is horrible what is going on in the Vermont Towers. We have no security. Nobody cares, especially the management. Please help us."
One woman who lives at the apartment building but did not want to be identified, said relations between management and tenants at Vermont Towers is strained. Among her specific complaints is that a phone that used to be in the lobby of the building was taken out, that a note was sent to tenants saying they can no longer put notices on bulletin boards without permission and that management is unavailable after certain hours to help with emergencies.
"The style of management is more appropriate to a prison or a mental hospital 100 years ago," the woman said.
Members of the coalition include representatives of Independence Inc., the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Dept., the Lawrence office of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Douglas County Visiting Nurses Assn. and the city of Lawrence.