Residents of The Shelton, an affordable housing development in the Green Valley neighborhood, are raising concerns about property management and poor treatment of residents.
“We are having problems in my apartment complex,” Frank Duncan, who has lived there since it opened, told members of the Tenant-Landlord Commission earlier this month.
He described an exorbitant water bill, errant late fees, a whole week without hot water and disrespectful management staff. He articulated a feeling among residents that their housing situation is not guaranteed because rent has been paid month-to-month since the pandemic started.
The testimony before the commission comes as AHC Inc. says it is making it easier for residents to report complaints. Some current and former commission members say these complaints reinforce their powerlessness to do more than advise residents. ARLnow has previously reported on how limited mediation options in Arlington, compared to Fairfax County, dissuade residents from bringing up issues.
Duncan said residents feel mistreated when they try to raise issues with management, which causes them to let issues go unresolved.
“When you go to the rent office, the manager is so disrespectful,” Duncan said. “She does not have the time to listen to what we have to say. So, they don’t go in there. They come to get me to go in there and talk.”
Disrespectful management was one of the complaints levied against management at the Serrano Apartments on Columbia Pike two years ago. AHC received public and county scrutiny after ARLnow reported on complaints about poor living conditions at the complex.
Since then, AHC made changes to its operations, including getting new leadership and committing to third-party management at The Serrano, though advocates and some residents say issues persist, WAMU/DCist reported in April.
The nonprofit developer says it is working to address concerns at The Shelton.
“AHC’s mission is to put residents first. Thus, we value resident feedback, take resident concerns seriously, and do not tolerate poor customer service from anyone interacting with residents,” AHC President and CEO Paul Bernard said in a statement. “When we learn about issues, including disrespectful behavior, we act swiftly and follow up with our property management companies.”
AHC spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said the nonprofit developed and distributed a Resident Concern Guide for all residents at all Arlington communities to ensure residents know how to report — and, if needed — escalate issues.
She says the management company, Harbor Group is working extra hours and through staffing shortages to certify residents meet income eligibility requirements to live there. After this is done, Smith says, eligible residents can get back on year-long leases.
Harbor Group is also trying to make bills and late fees for rent easier to understand, she said. The company also scheduled a meeting with residents to discuss concerns and issues. This was planned before the Tenant-Landlord Commission meeting, Smith notes, and was attended by AHC staff and Bernard.
Elder Julio Basurto, a former Serrano resident who has advocated for improved affordable housing conditions, said the issues at The Shelton are like déjà-vu.
“I would like to see some kind of action taken so that we don’t keep repeating the same thing,” he said. “We can always call somebody to say ‘Hey, this is an issue happening at this building, but why is AHC not reaching out to their buildings and checking on what’s going on? Obviously nothing has changed at the Shelton.”
Other issues raised back in 2016, like loitering and substance use, do continue to be an issue around The Shelton. Some neighbors called on the county to address illicit and noisy behavior they say some of the people who hang out in the John Robinson Town Square across the street engage in.
AHC said it installed more cameras and extended an offer to the Arlington County Police Department for a substation on one of its properties, among other security upgrades.
Meanwhile, some say Duncan’s complaints point to the need for county mediation services.
“There’s a clear power dynamic here,” says Mike Hemminger, who sits on the Housing Commission and is president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP.
“Folks that are living in committed affordable units shouldn’t have to face the full weight or strength of county government to fix their water bill,” he continued. “They shouldn’t have to come to the Housing Commission or the Tenant-Landlord Commission to raise the issue.”
The county was supposed to look into in-house mediation this year, per a report outlining how it can strengthen its oversight of affordable housing — prompted by The Serrano saga. Progress may be stymied, we’re told, by unresolved legal hurdles.
Tenant-Landlord Commission member Ryan Whitaker urged fellow members to ask the Arlington County Board to hold entities like AHC accountable for the condition of their properties.
“I know they hire property management groups, like Harbor Group and others, but as a client, essentially, they have a right to say to Harbor Group, ‘You’re not doing what we need you to do,'” Whitaker said. “The county, as the funding source for these entities, has the right to say, ‘You guys need to exercise a lot more clear diligent oversight.'”
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