MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The problems continue and progress is slow for the relocation of families at the Peppertree Apartments.
Lawyers for the Whitehaven complex were back in environmental court Tuesday. They provided an update on both the relocation of residents and current conditions.
Only six out of roughly 200 families have been relocated.
HUD canceled its contract with Peppertree in January and agreed to provide residents with vouchers to relocate.
In court Tuesday, attorneys for the city said the entire relocation process could take until the end of the year.
Due to the timeframe, and current conditions at Peppertree, city attorneys suggested moving the families to temporary housing as they await permanent relocation.
Environmental Court Judge Patrick Dandridge suggested that could be costly and timely as well, and encouraged the parties to work together to reach a solution.
City attorneys reiterated HUD is leading the relocation effort, but said there are multiple problems tenants report running into, including landlords refusing to rent to former Peppertree residents.
Attorneys say they’re looking into those claims and will continue to work with HUD to help families find homes.
They said the overwhelming majority of families have gone through the interview process for vouchers and another 17 might be relocated by the end of the month.
WREG Investigators asked City of Memphis Chief Legal Officer Jennifer Sink why the process was taking so long.
“HUD is taking care of this process, and there’s a number of factors that are involved in that and I think for some families, they did not want to move until the school year was over,” Sink replied. “I think that there’s a real effort to make sure that families can stay relatively close to where they’re living now.”
Sink also said they’d been working with HUD to see if there are any incentives they could provide to landlords to assist with the relocation.
We asked Sink what happened to the city’s plan to relocate families that was presented in federal court. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland also told WREG about the plan.
“Several months ago, the city was prepared to relocate it, but a lot has changed since then. HUD has abated the property and HUD has assumed control of the process,” explained Sink.
WREG reached out to HUD a day prior to Tuesday’s court appearance to get an update on the relocation efforts and the agency said we’d have to file a request for details through Freedom of Information.
HUD abated Peppertree’s contract in mid-January. At the time, attorneys stated in federal court that the process takes 120 days from the time the voucher is received and an applicant is relocated. It’s unclear at this time how many tenants have been approved for and received vouchers.
WREG also reached out to the Memphis Housing Authority which is assisting in HUD as well, but they haven’t responded.
Meanwhile, new problems have surfaced on the property at Peppertree.
Code Enforcement officers visited Monday and took pictures that show trash, debris and furniture littering the property.
They said the problems just recently surfaced.
Attorneys and code enforcement said people who don’t live on the property are “breaking down” barriers to get inside.
They showed pictures where vandals had ripped off the wood from boarded up units.
Attorneys told the judge residents said they can’t sleep at night for fear of folks through.
They said once inside, the vandals are sleeping in vacant units and even defecating inside.
With summer approaching they fear this poses a greater safety and health hazard to residents.
Sink told WREG, “Major concerns are that the Peppertree Apartments maintain a safe and habitable condition while these residents are going through the relocation process with HUD. Even though we know they are all going to be in a new apartment or housing situation soon we hope, they still deserve to have habitable conditions while they’re at Peppertree.”
Judge Dandridge said, “We can’t have conditions like this.”
Peppertree attorneys Ben Sissman and Alexander Wharton addressed the concerns.
Wharton said the owners would put measures in place to prevent that from happening again.
Wharton also said since the photos were just taken Monday, he hopes it was an isolated incident.
The judge ordered Peppertree to come up with a plan to re-board units, maintain a regular maintenance plan and increase security.
He also asked Sink if they would inquire about possibly getting MPD to patrol on site.
The parties are due back in court Thursday, May 18.