BY LEJLA SARCEVIC
Several residents of a Takoma Park high-rise addressed a recent city council meeting and accused building management and builders of “abhorrent treatment” during recent renovations of their building.
City council and staff were shocked when residents of Parkview Towers rose at the Nov. 25 council meeting and made allegations of inappropriate behavior.
Parkview Towers, 7667 Maple Avenue, owned by Montgomery Housing Partnership, has been under renovations since about mid August.
Residents say that they appreciate the renovations and they understand that they are being made for their benefit; however, they are concerned about the process.
Several complained that builders had free access to their apartments, including keys to let themselves in.
Up to management
However, Michael Nemo, Hamel Builders project executive at Parkview Towers, said that this was not the case.
Nemo said that their contract is with the owner of the building, not the residents and that they give notice to building management of upcoming work and when they will need to be in specific units. From there, it is up to management to keep residents informed.
Many are upset at having holes in their ceilings. Some say that the dust and dirt are causing asthma irritation.
Others said that they were walked in on while getting dressed, or woken up and forced out of their homes as builders entered apartments to do work without giving notice.
Montgomery Housing Partnership bought the 49-year-old building in 2010 and has been planning its renovation since.
Montgomery Housing Partnership, a private non-profit developer of affordable housing, contracts the management of the building to Equity Management and they contracted Hamel Builders to work on the renovations.
Building supplies at rear of Parkview Tower.
Robert Goldman, President of Montgomery Housing Partnership, said that they have invested over 40 million dollars through public and private investments in the Takoma Park and Silver Spring area and they own other buildings on Maple Avenue.
“When we inherited it, it had some very serious conditions that need to be addressed,” Goldman said.
There were many problems with the pipes and leaking holes. They have had to completely replace the water line, the heating line and the boiler.
“The pipes that serve the heating line and the boiler system were clearly crumbling,” Goldman said.
There was also no sprinkler system in the building and Montgomery Housing Partnership felt it was important to put in a sprinkler system for the long-term safety of the residents.
Residents say their ceilings have been uncovered with temporary light fixtures for over a month.
Some residents are concerned with the duration of the repairs, with several saying that their ceilings have been gaping open for over a month.
When The Voice visited some of the apartments, many of the ceilings were covered with black sheets of plastic.
All of the residents The Voice spoke to said they did not realize the extent of the work.
“I did not realize they were going to open the ceilings,” said Michael Girmay, a resident.
Sometimes given notice
Residents are frustrated by what they say is a disregard for their privacy.
“This has not been my house since August,” said Worqite Workicho, another resident. “I have 20 new roommates and they’re bad roommates.”
Residents said that sometimes they are given notice of when builders will be in their apartments, and sometimes they are not.
However, another resident Kedir Abdlla said that he has always had adequate notice.
Parkview Tower’s front.
Under the Takoma Park Municipal Code, tenants must be given a 48 hour written notice before entry into their units.
“The city has got only certain parameters under which the city can participate in a situation like this,” said City Manager Brian Kenner.
Goldman said that he first heard tenant complaints at a Nov. 12 tenant meeting.
“This is information we were provided by the tenants and it concerned us deeply,” Goldman said.
Since then Montgomery Housing Partnership have added extra procedures to ensure that such a situation did not happen again.
“We have hired tenant coordinators, we made it clear that the tenant coordinators and the management company are the only people that should have a key to the units,” Goldman said. “We set a time when the contractors are coming. We’re very clear on notifications to the residents when we’re coming.”
“We’ve made it abundantly clear that we should not be hearing these reports and that it should not happen,” Goldman said.
Montgomery Housing Partnership and Equity Management held another tenant meeting on Dec. 4, to inform residents of how they planned to move forward with the rest of the renovation. About 60 people attended.
Nemo said he was blindsided by the uproar in the building and that he had not heard any complaints until last week’s tenant meeting.
Nemo admitted that Parkview Towers is a difficult project.
Building materials and structures at rear.
“This is a construction project, a major renovation of its heating and cooling system plus water pipe infrastructure,” Nemo said.
Nemo said that the builders had to get the heating system up and running by October 15th – a delicate and tedious job – and that it was a fine line between doing the renovations unoccupied and letting the residents remain in the units.
Since the tenant meeting, Montgomery Housing Partnership has said that they would move residents to identical, unoccupied units in the building so that workers can continue to work in unoccupied units.
“It will add time to the job,” Nemo said. “It could be into June that we’re done. They’re pondering which scenario they want to take.”
Hamel Builders recently met with Montgomery Housing Partnership and offered up a couple of different scenarios on how they may proceed with the rest of the renovation.
Residents unhappy with management
At the City Council meeting, many residents voiced their displeasure with the treatment they had received from the leasing specialist.
Residents, many of whom are of Ethiopian descent, some of whom have a language barrier, complained of unfavorable treatment by the leasing specialist in the building.
Residents said that they were spoken to in a condescending manner and were not treated respectfully.
That person had only been in the building for about three months, around the same time that the renovations started, Goldman said.
The leasing specialist in question has since been reassigned to a different building.