RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Affordable housing tenant Shaneqa Thomas has been subjected to inconsistent water and electric access, sewage flooding into her apartment and a three-month long displacement. This is all ahead of a planned displacement for renovations to her apartment complex in Richmond’s Fulton neighborhood.
Thomas lives in Fulton Apartments, a complex previously operated by the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority that was acquired by The Michaels Organization with promises of positive improvements to the buildings.
Following the issues Thomas experienced, the Legal Aid Justice Center became involved and filed a Housing Discrimination and Rental Assistance Demonstration Program complaint against The Michaels Organization. The complaint made on behalf of Thomas’s family and one other family seeks to get immediate repairs made to tenant’s apartments, damages for family’s losses and stable housing with transportation available during the upcoming renovation period.
“LAJC has heard from multiple households in these complexes about significant issues ever since the new property manager took over and began renovations, including rodent and other pest infestations, families being forced to use outdoor portable bathrooms, and having no hot water,” said Victoria Horrock, a Senior Attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center.
Over the last five months, Thomas said the conditions in her unit have been unlivable. She describes times where she has only had electricity in certain parts of the apartment, the water being shut off during business hours with only the option of a portable toilet outdoors, windows that don’t lock and her toilet causing a large flood in her apartment.
Thomas said the flooding lasted for hours and that sewage spread to multiple rooms of her apartment. Along with her dad, Thomas tried to keep the water from spreading, but even when the apartment had the water shut off, it wouldn’t stop.
The solution to that flooding was to move Thomas, who has no car, to a hotel with no support.
“The “fix” from the property managers is frequently just as problematic,” Horrock said.
Thomas said that during the extended hotel stay she would have to call the leasing office each week asking for them to continue paying for her family’s stay there. They started at a hotel on Richmond’s southside and ultimately ended up at one in Henrico County.
The hotel stay interfered with her children’s ability to get to school and now that she has returned to her apartment, Thomas is still trying to get her kids settled into a permanent school.
As of Thursday, Thomas still doesn’t have full electricity in her home. She said on Wednesday they finally restored their running water full-time. Tenants of the Fulton Apartments had to use a portable toilet outdoors between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day while they water was turned off. They weren’t provided with any alternate drinking water during the shut off.
“I don’t care how much rent we pay, we just should be treated like humans,” Thomas said.
The previously public housing units were privatized ahead of major renovation projects but tenants still pay subsidized rents through the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program.
According to a release from the Legal Aid Justice Center, the complaint also aims to prevent The Michaels Organizations from participating in future redevelopment processes. According to the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority website, Michaels Management operates five former RRHA complexes. That includes Fulton Apartments where Thomas lives, as well as Afton Avenue Apartments, Bainbridge Apartments, Oscar E Stovall Apartments and Randolph Apartments. The complaint from the Legal Aid Justice Center focuses on Fulton Apartments and Randolph Apartments.
Thomas’s apartment is one of the next to get renovated. She said sometime this month she will be moved out of her apartment and into a hotel again.
“To be honest, the worst part is I’ve already stayed in a hotel for almost three months with my kids, no school, like I’m trying to get them back in school now,” Thomas said.
Victoria Horrock, an attorney for the Legal Aid Justice Center said they are working to guarantee stability for families like Thomas’s and “not this sort of back and forth.”
“My only request has been to come home to a livable home that is sufficient and adequate,” Thomas said in a release from the justice center.
8News reached out to the Michaels Organization and the Michaels Management office in Richmond but has not received a response yet.
“We appreciate that the Michaels Organization has a tall order in restoring these buildings,” Horrock said. “But it doesn’t mean they can leave the tenants they can leave the tenants in these conditions in the meantime.”