‘Hurry and wait’: Residents of Southside’s doomed apartments in limbo as town explores demolition

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Shown is one of the buildings at Oak Manor on Southside. Courtesy photo

Ronald Ireland sits in a chair and smokes a cigarette outside his apartment facing South 11th Street in Oak Manor.

His “Vietnam Veteran” cap is reminiscent of where he was. He pauses in his luggage to find out where he is going.

“I must be out on the 1st,” Ireland says, noting that is when her lease expires. “I’ll be moving to Georgia to live with my daughter… at least for a while.

Ireland, 75, moved to Oak Manor in 2011 and is one of 18 residents still living in the 61-unit complex. City council declared the property a threat to public health and safety in October and ordered its demolition “immediately” – although a date has not yet been determined immediately.

Ireland is not waiting to find out. Moreover, he agrees with the city’s decision.

“If I had had my druthers they would have demolished it when I came here 10 years ago,” he said. “If the management or the owner doesn’t do better than them, then take it apart and start over. … I don’t understand how a responsible American could allow his property to be in such disrepair.

Ireland said “the electricity is disgusting”, the plumbing is poor and overall maintenance is “less good”. During the summer, the grass was mown only once a month and often rose to the knees.

“The brick is good,” he said, looking outside his apartment. “It is more or less that.”

Living in a building in central Oak Manor, Charla McCruter couldn’t disagree more with Ireland or the city.

The retailer has lived in the complex for two years and said she had homeschooled her two children there since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t know why they would want to demolish it,” she said, upset. “I am a hardworking person. I pay my rent. I am not a wreck. … I really enjoy this place. “

Also, said McCruter, maintenance has always been quick to respond to problems in her apartment, and she maintains that the other structures in the complex “aren’t that bad,” with obvious exceptions. She pointed to a building adjacent to hers that she said had been badly damaged by fire, admitting it was likely uninhabitable. A vacant building to the north, she noted, had several leakage issues.

Across the parking lot, with windows hurriedly shut, was another vacant building. According to McCruter, a homeless person used to sneak up and sleep before being “taken to a halfway house.” His name was Dennis, she recalls.

If she is forced to leave, McCruter has no idea what she will do.

“It’s really not a bad place,” McCruter said. “This is my sanctuary. No one has ever disrespected me and no one has ever assaulted me or my children.
“Where can I get 5 acres for myself?” She asked later. “Where am I going to find a three bedroom unit to rent for $ 365 per month?” And where I don’t have (any) neighbor? ”

Known unknowns
She may have some time to figure out this last part, as city officials cannot schedule what they call a “very difficult situation” and “a big business to be demolished”.

Debate over the resort’s fate began in October, when it appeared on the abandoned property register at the mid-month council meeting. After a heated discussion, the council voted 4-3 to demolish the complex due to uninhabitable conditions and high criminal activity. Mayor Keith Gaskin broke the tie in favor of demolition.

Robert Merchant, who lives in California, has owned the resort for about three years and told council via Zoom on November 2 that he had spent $ 70,000 on the Oak Manor rooftops since September. He asked for more time to make larger repairs, saying the property fell into disrepair when tenants stopped paying their rent during the moratoriums on evictions that lasted most of 2020 and part of that. year. The council was unfazed, leaving the vote for “immediate abatement” in place.

Merchant has since sent a letter to city hall outlining clearer plans and timelines for exterior and interior repairs, which council will consider on Tuesday.

Mark Alexander Jr.

Acting chief operating officer Mark Alexander Jr. said the city “had no idea” how much it would cost if it were to ultimately demolish Oak Manor. He could hire a contractor or do the job himself. In either case, the city would assess a lien for the cost of the work on the property listed on the tax roll.

“If we do this there is a real deterrent to paying for these liens because there is no more structure on the property to improve,” he said. “In some cases, demolition is favorable to the owners, but you cannot rehabilitate a building that is not there.

Any effort to bring it down will be long, Gaskin said, and will have to start with an asbestos assessment and possible repair.

Relocation of residents
Then there is the question of what to do with the residents. Gaskin and many board members said they would like to help them relocate, but the exact way is unclear. City attorney Jeff Turnage said the city could not provide direct financial assistance.

Jeff Turnage

“The Mississippi Constitution says you can’t donate, that would be what it would be,” he said. “But we can call the housing authority, Habitat for Humanity, and any other appropriate (non-profit) agency. This is the help I would expect to see.

Gaskin has said he’s determined to help with the relocation, but he’s not sure what form that will take. He would like to work with Ward 1 Councilor Ethel Stewart, since Oak Manor is in his neighborhood, as well as Community Outreach Director Glenda Buckhalter-Richardson, who works with homeless and displaced residents.

“(Richardson) helps people with these kinds of financial issues,” Gaskin said. “We also need to assess the situation there, how many residents are there and what their situation is and what they are paying for rent.

Keith Gaskin

“We will not demolish it as long as there are people who have nowhere to go,” he added. “It will not happen.”

Gaskin said he would similarly commit to helping relocate tenants in future situations where landlords have allowed properties to become derelict at the point of city-ordered demolition.
“If there is another situation similar to this, we will treat it the same,” he said. “We are very sensitive to people in these situations. “

Gaskin said he had not been to Oak Manor or contacted residents, but intended to do so soon.

Stewart said she also did not speak to the tenants there, but was also committed to helping them.

Ethel stewart

“The owner said there were people living there paying $ 500 (per month),” she said. “Are there other places they can go for this?” I do not know yet.

Whatever happens, Stewart said she would like to see this place boast of decent accommodation.

“We would need to do some research, to see if the earth is stable there,” she said. “Years ago there was a dump there. When we had a gymnasium there, there were cracks in the foundation because the ground was not stable. If it’s stable enough, I would like to see more apartments, more housing there.

The other council members The Dispatch spoke to – Joseph Mickens from Ward 2, Rusty Greene from Ward 3, and Stephen Jones from Ward 5 – all agreed the town needed to help tenants move out, and all said they would work. with all the entities that could legally help find more housing.

“People deserve decent housing, especially if they are renting,” Jones said. “The owner lives in California and I guarantee there is nothing like (Oak Manor) next to his house.”
Meanwhile, the people of Oak Manor must wait.

“I didn’t hear any noise,” Ireland said. “Not from the owner. No maintenance. Not from the city. Nothing except “Hurry up and wait.” It’s like being in the military. If you don’t hear it from another soldier, you don’t know what’s going on.


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